Anglesey tomb excavation

Tuesday, 22nd April, 2014


Anglesey: Mysterious artefact discovered at Neolithic tomb
Find at  Perthi Duon excavation site near Brynsiencyn could prove existence of a British Copper Age says archaeology expert

The discovery of a mysterious copper artefact at a Neolithic tomb on Anglesey could help to answer one of  archaeology’s burning questions.
Dr George Nash, who led the excavation at Perthi Duon near Brynsiencyn says the find could lend  weight to the idea of a British Copper Age, which is currently being  debated by archaeologists.
Perthi Duon – described by Dr Nash as Anglesey’s “least known  Neolithic chambered tomb” – is believed to have been a portal dolmen,  a type of single-chamber tomb  mostly built in the early Neolithic  period, and dates to around 3,500BC or earlier.

The site was examined as early as  1723, when antiquarian Henry Rowlands visited and drew the tomb,  which then stood upright.
Dr Nash, of Bristol University, said  the monument was in a “ruinous”  state by the early years of the nineteenth century and had been incorporated into a boundary hedge.
An international team of archaeologists from the Welsh Rock Art Organisation recently excavated the  site and uncovered “several significant features”, said Dr Nash.
Among them was the “curious”  copper artefact, which could be a  piece of jewellery worn thousands  of years ago.
Dr Nash said: “This item could be  an important discovery which may  reinforce the notion of a Copper Age  in the British Isles. Copper items  from the British Neolithic (c. 4,000 – 2,000BC) and Early Bronze Age (c.  2,500 – 1,800BC) are considered  rare.”


Perthi Duon in 1802, sketched by the Reverend John Skinner

The Copper Age followed the Neolithic Era and is considered a part of  the Bronze Age. The period is  defined as a phase of the Bronze Age  in which metallurgists had not yet  discovered that bronze could be  made by adding tin to copper.
While a Copper Age has long been  recognised in Europe, the question  of whether Britain experienced such  a period is still debated by archaeologists.
Dr Nash said: “The big question in  archaeology at the moment is  whether there was a Copper Age in  Britain.
“Did copper come to Britain before bronze?
“This discovery helps to suggest  that we did have a Copper Age.”
The copper artefact will be subject  to scientific testing in a bid to learn  more about its origins.
Ploughing around the monument  during the latter part of the 20th  century caused “a lot of disturbance”  to the archaeological remains, said  Dr Nash.
However, other finds made at the  site included areas of compacted  stone which would once have  formed a kidney-shaped mound  around the chamber, and a rare circular stone socket which would have  supported a kerbstone used to delineate the shape of the monument.  Shards of pottery were also found.
Dr Nash said: “These discoveries  clearly show this monument to be a  portal dolmen, one of the earliest  Neolithic monument types in  Wales.
“More importantly, the architecture of Perthi Duon appears to be a  blueprint for other portal dolmen  monuments within what is termed  the Irish Sea Province. From this  excavation, we now have a better  understanding of the burial and ritual practices that went on at this site  some 5,500 years ago.”
In Neolithic times, the dead would  have been deposited within the  chamber as a cremation or, in later  years, as disarticulated remains.


Silver Viking pendant

Monday, 7th April, 2014

Old news, but new exhibition.


This pendant, found in 2002, has been on loan to the National Museum, Copenhagen for their Viking exhibition last year. It has since been returned to be one of the many exhibits in the Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition which opened at the British Museum in March this year.

It was aquired by Ipswich Museum in 2003: Rare pendant added to collection
IPSWICH Borough Council has added a rare early Viking pendant to its heritage collection – thanks to financial support from The Friends of Ipswich Museums.
The silver pendant is probably an Anglo-Scandinavian product, dated to the time of the main Danish settlement in East Anglia after around 879.
It shows a male [! cf. images below and National Museum captions] warrior wearing a long dress-like tunic holding a shield and sword. It was found near Wickham Market last year [2002] by a local medal detector and declared Treasure Trove. Ipswich Museum has managed to purchase it with financial assistance from the Friends of Ipswich Museums.
The pendant can be compared with a series of similar, early Viking-period, usually female figures of the 9th century from Scandinavia and England.
Danish Vikings plundered eastern England from the 8th century onwards, before settling in East Anglia after around 879. This can be seen in local place names. Suffolk’s Viking place-names are Ashby, Barnby, Eyke, Lound, and Risby. Ipswich’s prosperity in the late Saxon period was probably responsible for the fact that it was frequently the target of Danish raiders; they plundering the town in 919 and again in 991. The town was among the last targets of Danish raids on East Anglia in 1069.
Viking metal-detector finds from East Anglia easily outnumber those from other parts of the country. Mostly from the late 9th, 10th and 11th centuries and are predominantly small objects of personal adornment – brooches, buckles, pins etc, manufactured both in Scandinavia and locally in Scandinavian styles.
Sally Dummer, Registration and Collections Manager at Ipswich Borough Council, said: “This is an exciting acquisition, as the archaeology collections has very few objects from the Viking period. The Museum is very grateful to the Friends of Ipswich Museums for their assistance with this purchase. The pendant is now exhibited in the Viking display in the Ipswich Story at the High Street Museum.

Some other Viking valkyrie pieces:

1ccb0b9e19Figure depicting a valkyrie. In Norse mythology the valkyries took fallen warriors to Valhalla. Photograph: The National Museum.

Piece of jewellery depicting a valkyrie. Found at Tissø.

Four views of the Valkyrie, cleaned and to scale

3D Hårby  valkyrie figure

Anglo-Saxon royal site?

Thursday, 27th March, 2014

Archaeologists’ excitement at discovery of ‘exceptional’ royal site linked to Sutton Hoo
Fields on a Suffolk farm have yielded small but hugely significant finds which have led archaeologists to believe they have found a royal home and one of the most important settlements in Anglo-Saxon East Anglia.
A series of archaeological investigations over the past six years on land at Rendlesham have revealed items from around 14 centuries ago which show the site was inhabited by high-status Anglo-Saxons and used for international trade for around 300 years.
Archaeologists believe the site – covering more than 100 acres – was possibly home to a royal palace, a wooden hall surrounded by other buildings with a magnificent dining hall at its heart. This would be where travelling kings stayed, possibly including Raedwald, who is [believed to have been] buried atSutton Hoo.
It is thought the site was possibly home to those who carried out the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, where Raedwald –  head of the [Anglo-] Saxon kingdom across Suffolk and Norfolk – is thought to have been interred among his belongings, including precious and intricate gold jewellery.
Archaeologists who uncovered the internationally-important ship burial chamber in 1939 discovered metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield [fittings] and sword, and many pieces of  silver plate from Byzantium.
Findings at Rendlesham – where the investigations have been kept secret while archaeologists tried to gather their evidence – have been less dramatic in scale, but still highly significant, possibly the most significant since the burial ship.
One archaeologist described the site as “exceptional” and another told the EADT the site was “internationally significant” and would have been as big as Ipswich in the 7th Century.
By the 9th Century the Rendlesham settlement was in decline and Ipswich, by then an established trade and industry centre, took its place as the main town in the area.
No remains of any royal palace or buildings have been found but evidence of their existence has been proven. However, the fragments of jewellery and coins found have been enough to convince archaeologists that they may have found the site which the Saxon historian Bede cited as being a royal village.
Bede wrote about “the king’s country-seat of Rendlesham” and it has long been thought that King Raedwald’s hall stood in the village.
Mike Argent, chairman of the Sutton Hoo Society, said archaeologists working on the project were “very excited” about what has been unearthed.
The investigations are expected to carry on for at least another year, with much scientific work to be done and the detailed papers explaining the finds still to be written.
However, the National Trust, in conjunction with Suffolk County Council’s archaeological service, which has been carrying out the work, will be staging an exhibition of the finds at the Sutton Hoo visitor centre this spring*.
The Sutton Hoo Society helped fund some of the work and also contributed to the cost of purchasing some of the finds by the county museum service in order to keep them local.
The surveys began in 2009 after  nighthawks – treasure hunters using metal detectors illegally – began looting the fields.
Mr Argent said the finds suggested the area may have been a settlement, meeting place or trading station for a variety of Saxon people including those of high-status, probably kings.
Those who buried King Raedwald at Sutton Hoo around 625AD may have lived at the site, an elite inhabiting a place which is known to have Roman connections, reinforced by the discovery of coins and other artefacts, giving it a continuity of use – and of international importance – for more than 300 years.
Mr Argent said the investigations took place around the diary of the working farm, waiting until fields had been harvested, with a team of four authorised and responsible metal detector enthusiasts combing the fields in all weathers.
He said: “The finds are extremely interesting. They consist of mainly tiny pieces, not the big sparkly stuff discovered at the ship burial.
“But the finds show there has been human activity at the site over a long period, high status activity. It doesn’t confirm one way or another that there was a big royal palace – it doesn’t show there was and it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.
“It shows there were high-status people at the site and there was trading with places that were very far away. It is fascinating and very exciting.”
Jude Plouviez, lead archaeological officer at the county council for the project, said there was an “exceptional Anglo-Saxon settlement here, and that it was flourishing at the time of Raedwald”.
Writing in the society’s newsletter, she said: “What has been lost from the field at Rendlesham is suggested by the finds that were recovered by the survey, such as a number of 6th Century copper-alloy items which (Time Team archaeologist) Helen Geake has helped identify.”




*The National Trust exhibition of the Rendlesham finds at Sutton Hoo opened on Saturday, March 15, and runs until October.

Also, related news:

Sutton Hoo HelmetSutton Hoo Helmet. Photograph: Trustees of the British Museum

British Museum’s revamped gallery casts light on Dark Ages
Room 41, which houses Sutton Hoo treasure, reopens after refurbishment to mark 75 years since its discovery in Suffolk
[video link]

Iron Age cauldron

Wednesday, 19th March, 2014

Chiseldon village’s replica Iron Age cauldron unveiled
A full-size replica of an Iron Age cauldron found in a Wiltshire field as part of “the biggest Iron Age find to date” has been unveiled.
The large cauldron is one of 17 found by a metal detector enthusiast near the village of Chiseldon in 2004.
 The cauldrons, described as “too fragile and important ever to return to Chiseldon”, are at the British Museum.
But in 2011, a local history group commissioned an exact copy to be made as a lasting memory of the find.
The bronze and iron vessels, excavated by the British Museum and Wessex Archaeology, were discovered “carefully placed” in a pit along with ox skulls.
“At first we thought there would only be one or two cauldrons but to find this many is without parallel, not just in Britain but across all of Europe,” said Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology.
“It’s a unique find – but they’re very fragile and aren’t really in a condition to go on display.”
With the Chiseldon cauldrons, never expected to return to the village, local residents raised £2,000 to commission local blacksmith Hector Cole to make an exact replica.
“The tools don’t change, the techniques don’t change, I did exactly the same as the original makers would have done,” said Mr Cole.
“There are 17, and the one they liked was one of the more expensive cauldrons.
“It’s a top of the range cauldron. Whichever tribe owned it, they were important.”
The replica cauldron was unveiled at the weekend and is due to go on permanent display at the village museum, next year.



6a00d8341bf67c53ef017d3eb5341c970c-800wiManufacture, wear and repair of the Chiseldon Iron Age cauldrons
Some other cauldrons:
 Bronze Age Cauldron from Shipton-on-Cherwell

Cauldron from Llyn Fawr

Iron Age metal cauldrons from Glenfield Blaby, Leicestershire
Late Iron Age ceramic cauldron found at Wick Avenue, Wheathampstead.

A Middle Iron Age cauldron, dating from around 200 BC. Only the La Tène II/III iron cauldron collar and rim are original. It was found in a ditch at the Iron Age settlement at Blackhorse Road in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire.

 The Lisdrumturk Cauldron

Also in the News:

 Iron Age woman’s footless body found near West Knoyle

A skeleton of an Iron Age woman with her feet chopped off has been discovered in a field in Wiltshire.
The remains were found along the A303, near West Knoyle, by archaeologists ahead of a new water main being laid.
Wessex Water said the woman’s feet were found “reburied alongside her” along with the carcasses of at least two sheep or goats “on her head”.
Peter Cox, from AC Archaeology, said: “We’re unsure why – but it must have some link to beliefs at the time.”
The female skeleton was found alongside the remains of a child aged about 10 and two males with sword wounds to their hips.
Wessex Water is currently building a 40-mile (64km) pipeline to carry water from a Dorset treatment plant into Wiltshire.
It was during a pre-work survey of the West Knoyle area that AC Archaeology unearthed the Iron Age burial site.
“Human remains from these periods are very rare and indicate the long period of settlement that has occurred in the area,” said Mr Cox.
“But we’re unsure why the female skeleton has been found without her feet or why she may have been buried with sheep, but perhaps it was to protect her soul from bad spirits.”
The bones have been removed from the site and will undergo radiocarbon dating to determine their age.

A20 Anglo-Saxon garnet brooches

Tuesday, 25th February, 2014


Sheperdswell metal detector Greg Sweetman finds valuable Anglo-Saxon artefacts next to A20 near Maidstone

A rare collection of Saxon artefacts has been found by a man from east Kent.
The Anglo-Saxon findings could be part of a grave date back to the sixth century and are said to be worth more than £40,000.
Two Saxon pins, part of a buckle or belt and seven brooches were found on land next to the A20 towards Maidstone.
Greg Sweetman, of Westcourt Lane, Shepherdswell, was the first person to find one of the brooches when metal detecting.
Mr Sweetman said that the finds were made at his first club dig with the Medway History Finders.
On finding a large square-ended Saxon brooch,  Mr Sweetman [Link to his pics] and the group decided to dig further and discovered the hoard of artefacts including hair pins and circular and square brooches. The brooches are mostly silver with red garnet.
He added: “The first find was a broken Saxon pin at about six inches down. Not being too knowledgeable as to what it was, I showed Kevin Reader, the vice-chairman of the club, and he advised me to re-check the hole as it was not a common find.”
Pete Clarke, a member of the Medway History Finders, added: “It’s a very significant find. Chances are they might be able to find who is in there.”
Mr Clarke said that usually, with a Saxon burial of someone of high status, they would be buried with a spear, so the excavators will be looking for signs that will reveal whether or not the site is part of an Anglo-Saxon grave.
The group cut a metre by metre square hole, so the rest of the area will need to be searched.
The hoard has now been passed on to a coroner who will confirm the date of the artefacts and offer them to the British Museum.
Mr Clarke, 53, said that he didn’t want the first time the public saw the findings to be when they’re polished and cleaned in the British Museum.
He said: “It’s far more exciting to see them dug up from the ground.”


 Shield-wearing [?!] skeleton, necklace and grave goods found in early Saxon inhumations
The discovery of nine bodies in Cambridgeshire could reveal much about the little-known early Saxon period.
An early Saxon man who fell on his shield [?!] has been found buried with a knife and spear alongside a jewellery-clad woman during a dig on a residential site in a Cambridgeshire village.

4234202691large bead

The discoveries [pics]  follow the excavation of 11 skeletons in the village in 1990. Grave goods, weaponry and everyday items from the 6th century surfaced during the excavation in Haddenham, where similar remains – including a double burial of a man and a woman – were first identified more than 20 years ago*.

“A total of nine inhumations were discovered, ranging from the very young to fully grown adults,” says Jon House, of Pre-Construct Archaeology, thanking local residents for their “great interest” and “warm and welcoming” approach to the team during unfavourable weather conditions.

“The burials included an adult male, found lying upon a decorative shield and with a knife and a spear.

“A beaded necklace was found around the neck and upper torso of an adult female, who was also buried with a belt or girdle with copper and iron fittings.

“Projects such as these prove how even the smallest developments can yield a wealth of archaeological information and, in the case of this particular site, details not only of how people lived but also of their treatment towards the dead over 1,400 years ago.

“This is especially important during those periods, such as the early Saxon era, which have left little or no historical data.”

*Robinson, B & Dunhig, C. 1992. ‘Anglo-Saxon burials at the “Three Kings”, Haddenham, 1990′, in Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, Volume LXXXI: 15-38

Abstract: One intact double burial of the pagan Anglo-Saxon period and several disturbed burials were excavated. Three apparently later rectangular pits containing pig burials were also discovered. There is a report on ‘The skeletal material’ by Corrine Duhig (24–32). The burials are thought to date from the first half of the sixth century and there is some speculation as to the location of the settlement they served. Gravegoods included amber beads, glass beads, an iron shield boss, studs, buckle, ferrule, spear head, knife, and latchlifter, a bone comb and spindle whorl, and bronze brooches and tweezers. Finally ‘Appendix A’ (36–7) provides an artefact catalogue, ‘Appendix B’ (37) a burial catalogue, and ‘Appendix C’ (38) an outline of the site matrix.

Reinterpretation of a Viking metal rod

Wednesday, 19th February, 2014


A Viking metal rod which left experts baffled for more than a century has finally been identified as a ‘magic wand’ used by a witch [O.N. volva or Icelandic völva] to cast spells.
The staff, which was found in a ninth-century grave, is curved at the end – causing it to be misidentified as a fishing hook or a spit for roasting food.
However, archaeologists have now concluded that it was in fact a magical item belonging to a sorceress who was ‘on the margins of society’.
It had been buried next to a woman’s body alongside other valuable items including an unusual plaque made of whalebone, implying that the person in the grave had a high status in Viking society.
They suggest that the reason it was bent before being buried with its owner was to remove its magical properties – possibly to prevent the witch coming back from the dead.
The 90cm-long rod has been part of the British Museum’s collection since 1894, when it was discovered in Norway’s Romsdal province.
Its unusual shape, with a knobbly ‘handle’ and a hooked end, originally led historians to believe that it was a practical object used for catching fish.

They later decided that it was in fact a skewer for roasting meat – but after comparing the rod with other similar objects*, experts have now reached a different conclusion.
British Museum curator Sue Branning says that it was probably a magical staff [vølvestav] used to perform ‘seithr’ [seiðr], a form of Viking sorcery predominantly practiced by women.
‘Our rod fits with a number of these rods that turn up in the ninth and 10th century in female burials,’ she told The Times. ‘They normally take the form of these long iron rods with knobs attached to them.’
The curve in the end of the staff is likely to have signified that it was being put out of use, a common practice in the medieval period for grave goods which were routinely broken when they were buried.
Bending or breaking the buried possessions of the dead could have served to neutralise their magical properties – preventing their former owners from casting spells from beyond the grave.
‘There must have been some kind of ritual,’ Ms Branning said. ‘This object was ritually “killed”, an act that would have removed the power of this object.’
Although Viking society, like most medieval societies, was dominated by men, some women were believed to have special powers which made them influential figures.
Ms Branning said: ‘These women were very well respected, but they were quite feared as well. They may have been on the margins of society.’
Because the Vikings were not converted to Christianity until around 1000 AD, there is strong evidence for the importance of magic in their society at a time when the rest of Europe had largely abandoned the practice.

Cross fragment from kirk Michael, isle of Man, bearing a female figure with a staff, often interpreted as a wise woman with a staff.

Cross fragment from Kirk Michael, Isle of Man, bearing a female figure with a staff, often interpreted as a wise woman with a staff.

* A seeress from Fyrkat

Further reading:
Gardela, L. (2009) ‘A Biography of the Seiðr-Staffs. Towards an Archaeology of Emotions. In L. P. Slupecki, J. Morawiec (eds.), Between Paganism and Christianity in the North, Rzeszów: Rzeszów University, 190-219.

St Piran’s Oratory, Cornwall

Monday, 17th February, 2014

 Excavation begins to uncover St Piran’s Oratory
Followers of Cornwall’s favourite saint will be donning their boots and raising their shovels next week as the operation to unearth  St Piran’s Oratory from the dunes gets under way.
The week-long project, to be carried out by a team of volunteers led by archaeologists, is the culmination of a 15-year campaign by St Piran Trust. Buried “for its own protection ” in 1980, the 5th century stone structure [probably later, although a stone bearing a fragmentary inscription (PERNP/1) of probable 5th or 6th century date is featured upside down in the wall of the oratory] set in sand dunes above Perranporth is claimed by some historians to be the oldest Christian building in Britain.
Truro and Falmouth MP Sarah Newton will be joined by diggers and archaeologists at the site on Monday to officially launch the excavation. Trust founder, Eileen Carter, has been invited to cut the first turf in recognition of her huge contribution to the campaign.
“I’ve waited 15 years for this and there were times I thought I wouldn’t live to see it,” she said. “I think if I’d known it would take this long I might never have started. But I’m glad we kept on going and I am confident we will find the oratory in good condition. It is heartwarming how Cornwall, despite the many delays and setbacks, has continued to keep the faith, pulled together and given so generously.”
Being located in one of the most ecologically sensitive sites in Europe meant it took the trust longer than expected to obtain the various legal permissions to excavate the building, which is encased in a concrete shell. The project is supported by Cornwall Council [link includes short film], Perranzabuloe Parish Council, English Heritage, Heritage Lottery,  Cornwall Heritage Trust [p.5], the Duke of Cornwall and private donors.
The dig itself has been made possible thanks to the generosity of businessman David Barrie. Mr Barrie – who is also an artist, painting under the pseudonym Piran Strange – said that as a child he had become fascinated by the legend of the Irish holy man who came to Cornwall and discovered tin. He explained that he first came across the story at the age of nine, when he started at St Piran’s School in Berkshire.
“St Piran has provided me with the happiest times of my life and I owe him a lot,” he said. “You have to be on the dunes at Perranporth to know that he is there. His presence is all around you. It is mystical, magical and, above all, holy. By uncovering the oratory we are creating a place of pilgrimage to the patron saint of Cornish tin miners at a place that represents one of the earliest places of Christian worship in the UK.”
It was some years after leaving school and pursuing a successful career that Mr Barrie came across St Piran’s Trust and contacted Eileen Carter.
“Eileen gave me the background to the organisation and its ambitions and it just struck a chord,” he said. “I loved St Piran’s School and had enjoyed huge success through the name Piran Strange. So I decided it was time to give something back. The trust’s aim to raise the oratory from its burial place became my passion and I was happy to contribute.”
A decision on the next stage of the operation will be made when archaeologists and structural engineers have submitted their report. Trust company secretary Ian Saltern said: “After 15 long years of campaigning, the oratory will finally be uncovered. This is a momentous development and one to be savoured.
“Once uncovered, we will assess its conservation needs and potential and then prepare an application for funding for the second stage. Depending on what we find, it will see the oratory conserved and an exploration of the wider area of Lanpiran, the medieval monastic site which grew up around the oratory. The second stage will also see the production of resources for schools and community activities.”
An annual pilgrimage to the oratory and cross takes place each year on the Sunday closest to St Piran’s Day [5th March]. Several hundred people are expected to attend on March 2, when they will be able to view the excavations.

Updated post from last year

Saturday, 8th February, 2014

Whitehorse Hill cist Dartmoor

“Beachy Head Lady”

Thursday, 6th February, 2014

 Centuries old Beachy Head Lady’s face revealed

An exhibition exploring the origins of ancient skeletons in Sussex, including a woman from sub-Saharan Africa buried in Roman times, has opened.
The face of the so-called Beachy Head Lady was recreated using craniofacial reconstruction.

 Eastbourne Borough Council‘s museum service was awarded a grant of £72,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the  Eastbourne Ancestors project.
The aim was to identify the gender and age of each skeleton in its collection.
Detailed scientific analysis of more than 300 skeletons of people who lived in the south of England thousands of years ago has undertaken by scientists and archaeologists.
Testing of the bones and teeth has identified the national or regional origins, age, gender, state of health, diet, and in some cases, how they died.
3D reconstruction techniques have allowed faces to be put to some of the museum’s skulls
Most of the skeletons are Anglo-Saxon, from about 1,500 years ago, but some are Neolithic and more than 4,000 years old.
The Beachy Head Lady was discovered in the East Sussex beauty spot in 1953, and she is thought to have lived around AD245.
Jo Seaman, heritage officer at Eastbourne Borough Council, said: “This is a fantastic discovery for the south coast.
“We know this lady was around 30 years old, grew up in the vicinity of what is now East Sussex, ate a good diet of fish and vegetables, her bones were without disease and her teeth were in good condition.”
The Beachy Head Lady forms part of an exhibition at the Eastbourne Museum which is opens on 1 February at the Pavilion.