In what has been described as an “amazing coincidence”, a viking runestone with a religious inscription has been discovered on a farm owned by archaeologist Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, an expert on Norse church history.
Found by Dr Gibbon’s father, Donnie Grieve, a retired teacher from Harray, the runes on the broken stone are a 19-character Latin passage of part the Lord’s Prayer — “who art in heaven hallowed” [*(s)insilisantifi(t)s(i)(t)or – ‘…s in caelis, sanctificetur‘ with the runic “s” in place of the Latin “c”]
Measuring approximately 8cm by 24cm, it was discovered by Mr Grieve at Naversdale farm in Orphir while he was gathering building stone from a field on September 26.
He said: “I recognised it right away as being runes. It’s very recognisable and very clear.
“It’s unusual, because it’s a Latin inscription — part of the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think there’s any record of any inscription like that in Orkney or Shetland, so it’s unusual.
“There are plenty of runes, but they are mostly Viking graffiti. This is something a bit different.”
Mr Grieve said that since the find he has been looking out for the remaining parts of the stone.
“When looking for other stone, I’ve been keeping my eye open for the other piece, but I think there’s little likelihood of it turning up,” he said.
“It could have come from anywhere, and it’s probably long separated from the other half.”
Dr Gibbon said: “Dad’s discovery of the runestone is really exciting and, as far as I know, a first for Orkney. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the stone. We have sent photographs to Professor Michael Barnes, expert on Orkney runic inscriptions, and I am looking forward very much to hearing what he has to say about the find.
“I am hoping he will be able to shed light on the date of the inscription so that we can begin to put it in its proper local and wider ecclesiastical contexts.”
Dr Gibbon said it was not known how or when the runestone came to Naversdale, but there were a number of possible scenarios.
“Was the inscription carved on a stone in a medieval structure on the farm, or was it brought here at a later date from somewhere else, perhaps from elsewhere on the Swanbister Estate?” she said.
“It would be fascinating to find out more about the history of our farm and the buildings on it, and we would be delighted to hear from anyone with information.”
Dr Gibbon added: “I am looking forward to discovering as much as I can about the runestone, especially as the preliminary findings indicate it is from a medieval Christian context, which is my main area of interest. The fact it was found where I live, by my dad, just makes this even more fascinating.”
Julie Gibson, Orkney county archaeologist, said: “The stone is a very beautiful one, each character evenly placed. I love that it is a religious inscription, and what an amazing coincidence that it should turn up at Dr Gibbon’s house.
“We are so lucky Sarah Jane’s father found it, and that Sarah Jane could recognise its value right away.”
Mrs Gibson added that photos of the stone were sent to Terje Spurkland and Professor Michael Barnes, at Oslo University, where a year long runology project is under way.
“Terje confirmed suspicions that the runes represented slightly corrupted Latin, and he translated them as meaning ‘who art in heaven hallowed’,” she said.
The stone is currently with the Orkney College archaeology department, but it is hoped it will soon be on display at the Orkney Museum.
Wednesday, 3rd December, 2014
Looking for some natural stone for a rockery in his garden, John Wyatt thought he had found a bargain when he saw a job lot advertised for £50.
He was more right than he knew. For when he took the ton and a half of rock home he discovered that it contained an ancient stone carving worth thousands of pounds.
Mr Wyatt, 32, was cleaning mud and moss off the pieces when he spotted one with a Celtic cross carved on one side and a mythical birdlike beast on the other.
He had the 21 by 15in piece examined by an expert, who told him it dated from Anglo-Saxon times.
It is believed to have once formed part of a cross-slab from an early Christian monument.
It is possible that it was smashed by Viking invaders in the 9th century, in a deliberate act of desecration against Britain’s Christian population.
The rock is now being sold at auction with a pre-sale estimate of £10,000.
Mr Wyatt, of Chester, said: “I was doing a bit of work in my own garden and saw an advert for some natural stone. I phoned the people up and went to collect it in my pick-up. There must have been a ton and a half and I paid about £50 for the lot.
“The stones were covered in mud and moss and when I got home I saw what I thought was the tail of the dragon on one of them. It was lucky I was looking.
“I cleaned it off and realised it was carved. It looked like some of the things you see round here in museums so I contacted a museum and the archaeologists got very excited.
“No one could really say exactly what it was but they knew it was important.”
He intends to pay off part of his mortgage if and when it is sold.
Guy Schwinge, an auctioneer, said: “The Anglo-Saxon stone is an important find and the stylistic vocabulary on the cross is indicative of an Anglo-Saxon origin and it probably dates from the 9th or 10th century.”
Also going under the hammer at the same sale is a Roman sarcophagus that for years acted as a plant pot in an Oxfordshire garden. The estimate for that is £25,000.
Mr Schwinge said that the sarcophagus dates from the 2nd or 3rd century AD and, although damaged, remains a rare and important find.
Made from white marble, it depicts two river gods holding horns of plenty while reclining on the back of dolphins and flanked by palm trees.
In the centre is Cupid embracing a mourning figure, who in turn is holding a quiver of arrows.
Mr Schwinge said: “We can only speculate on how this important Roman artefact ended up in an Oxfordshire garden, but in all probability it was brought back in the 18th century by a gentleman on the Grand Tour.
“It had been used for bedding plants to bring a bit of colour to the garden.
“Both these lots [1139 and 1140] show just what value can be found in gardens across the country.”
Both pieces are being sold in Dorchester, Dorset, on Friday.
Friday, 10th October, 2014
The loo legacy left by the Romans has made Northumberland tops when it comes to historic toilets.
The accolade comes only weeks after the first wooden toilet seat in the Roman empire was found at another nearby fort, Vindolanda.
Housesteads at its height garrisoned 800 men, who would have used the loo block which can still be see today.
There weren’t any cubicles, so men sat side by side, free to gossip on the events of the day.
The loos were flushed by a channel running anti-clockwise, which used rainwater and draining surface water.
Water was also collected in a stone cistern.
“All our visitors make sure to visit this part of the site, which makes for a great talking point.”
Meanwhile toilet seat manufacturer Tosca & Willoughby, based in Oxfordshire, have pledged a cash sum towards the preservation of the Vindolanda toilet seat.
The company will be producing a special Vindolanda edition version of their most popular Thunderbox seat, with a percentage of the sales going to the Vindolanda Trust.
James Williams, director of Tosca & Willoughby said: “We are absolutely fascinated by the discovery of a perfectly preserved ancient loo seat.”
Mr Williams offered to help support the conservation of this seat when he discovered the Vindolanda Trust was funded by visitors to the site.
He said: “We realise our donation is a drop in the ocean when you consider the overall cost of excavation and the preservation of these fascinating artefacts but we hope our pledge will help.”
Patricia Birley, trust director, said: “The work undertaken at Vindolanda which includes annual excavations, conservation and public display of artefacts can only happen with the support of the public.
“The trust is therefore delighted to receive a donation towards the cost of preserving our Roman toilet seat.
“The discovery of such a personal everyday item from nearly 2,000 years ago has intrigued people across the world and its legacy will now continue with a special edition Vindolanda Thunderbox seat being launched by Tosca & Willoughby in time for the ancient loo seat going on public display.”
Thursday, 4th September, 2014
Thursday, 4th September, 2014
Roman jewellery uncovered during the renovation of a Colchester department store is thought to be one of the finest ever finds in Britain and has been described as “of national importance”.
The treasure was discovered as part of excavations by the Colchester Archaeological Trust beneath Williams & Griffin in the High Street during £30million expansion works.
The collection, thought to be that of a wealthy Roman woman, includes three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace and two silver bracelets.
A substantial silver armlet, a small bag of coins and a small jewellery box containing two sets of gold earrings and four gold finger rings were also in the find, and conservation work is expected to reveal more objects.
Philip Crummy, Colchester Archaeological Trust director, said: “This discovery is of national importance.
“We have been working on the site for six months and this remarkable Roman jewellery collection was discovered on the third to last day of our dig.
“Our team removed the find undisturbed along with its surrounding soil, so that the individual items could be carefully uncovered and recorded under controlled conditions off-site.
“The find will be transferred to a secure laboratory, where a conservator will clean and stabilise the items and deal with the fine traces of delicate organic remains that survive, such as leather and wood.”
The Roman treasure was buried in the floor of a house which was subsequently burnt to the ground during the Boudiccan Revolt in AD61.
It is likely the owner, or one of her slaves, buried the jewellery for safe-keeping during the early stages of Boudicca’s revolt.
Colchester was subjected to a two-day siege before the small force of soldiers stationed in the town folded. A number of noble women were taken to sacred groves and killed horrifically.
The revolt left a distinctive red and black layer of debris up to half a metre thick under the centre of much of modern day Colchester, consisting of the remains of the burnt clay walls and other fragments.
Human remains are rarely found amongst this layer, but the Williams & Griffin excavation produced a small but important collection, including part of a jaw and shin bone.
These appear to have been cut by a heavy, sharp implement such as a sword, suggesting that at least one person fought and died in the vicinity during the revolt.
Mr Crummy added: “We also discovered food that was never eaten on the floor of the room in which the jewellery was found, including dates, figs, wheat, peas and grain. Others will almost certainly be identified when soil samples are examined by specialists.
“Foodstuffs like these do not generally survive, but in this instance they were carbonised by the heat of the fire, which perfectly preserved their shapes.
“Evidently, some of the food had been stored on a wooden shelf, which had collapsed on to the floor. The dates appear to have been kept on this shelf in a square wooden bowl.”
Hugo Fenwick, trading director at the Fenwick Group which owns Williams & Griffin, said: “We were pleased to fund this excavation at our store as part of its redevelopment programme.
“There was always a very real possibility of unearthing a significant find in the centre of Colchester, with its antiquity and stature as Britain’s oldest recorded town. We are delighted that the archaeologists found this treasure during the very last week of their excavations, strengthening our understanding of this important Roman town and the ferocity of the Boudiccan raid.”
The find has been reported to the coroner who will rule on its legal status.
Fenwick Limited said it wishes to waive its right to any reward it might be entitled to under the Treasure Act and wants to offer the treasure to a local or national museum at no public expense.
Thursday, 31st July, 2014
A newly uncovered runic stone-carving was brought to light by Jane Harrison (Senior Associate Tutor working in our Archaeology programmes) working as part of a project team for the intriguing ‘Languages, Myths and Finds‘ programme.
‘Languages, Myths and Finds: Translating Norse and Viking Cultures for the Twenty-first Century’ is a Collaborative Skills Development Programme that brings together graduate students and full-time researchers from across the UK and Ireland to explore the translation of Norse and Viking cultures into the modern day. The project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and is based in five communities with Norse heritage: the Isle of Lewis, Cleveland, the Isle of Man, Dublin and Munster.
The fragment of inscribed runestone was found in the Tees Valley at Sockburn, in the grounds of a ruined church, having been used as building stone. The inscription on it reads: Line A … (ept)ir molmu; Line B… (re)isti krus …
Jane said, ‘We compared this inscription with a formula used in many Scandinavian runes from the Isle of Man: ‘X raised this cross in memory of Y’. The inscription on our stone therefore translates as (line B, then line A) ‘…raised cross… in memory of Máel-Muire/Máel-Maire’. Sadly, the name of the patron is lost.’
Máel-Muire or Máel-Maire is a personal name from the Goidelic – which is an Insular Celtic language from the dialect continuum stretching from Ireland through the Isle of Man to Scotland. The name is linked to the place-name Melmerby (found in Cumbria and in North Yorkshire) and also seen in a runic inscription from the Isle of Man [Br Olsen;215 – Kirk Michael (III)].
‘The runestone is relatively small, measuring approximately 22 cm long, 16 cm wide and 9cm deep,’ said Jane. ‘But it’s a very exciting find, despite its small size: Scandinavian runic inscriptions in England are rare – there are fewer than 20 known.’
‘The character of the runestone suggests links with the west from the north-east. The Tees Valley has been relatively neglected in studies of the period but that’s likely to change. For “Vikingologists”, this runestone is a great find and one that makes a fascinating contribution to understanding the Viking settlement of the North-East.’
Also remarkable is the fact that the stone was found in an area with a high concentration of Norse place names, but little in the way of archaeological and historical evidence – apart from unique hogback sculptures (large stone-carved Anglo-Scandinavian sculptures from 10th-12th century England and Scotland usually found in churchyards).
The Languages, Myths and Finds programme draws on the research ideas behind the Vikings Exhibition at the British Museum to generate new research and an understanding of the Viking Age in areas of the country where that period is important but rarely discussed. Jane worked with project leads Professor Heather O’Donoghue (University of Oxford), Dr Pragya Vohra (Aberystwyth University) and PhD students Ellie Rye, Jo Shortt Butler and Nik Gunn (from Nottingham, Cambridge and York Universities).
In addition to the runic discovery, the team produced a research booklet, spoke at a conference and performed public engagement work with local societies.
For full information on the Languages, Myths and Finds project, please see the programme website, at languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk On the website you can download and enjoy the booklets produced by each of the project teams, including Jane’s team’s work in Cleveland, which can be found at: languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk/north-east-england/
Friday, 4th July, 2014
Tuesday, 24th June, 2014
“A substantial strap mount cast in bronze and decorated with roundels of yellow and red enamel. Both in the casting and the enamelling, this object would require considerable technical skill and is characteristic of the 1st – 2nd centuries AD.
An object like this would have been part of a larger suite used to decorate the trappings of a horse and associated vehicle such as a chariot. It is a symbol of the wealth and power of the owner and symbolic of the warrior elites who were a significant part of Iron Age culture.
Allocated to East Lothian Museums Service.”
Thursday, 12th June, 2014
East Lothian skeleton may be 10th Century Irish Viking king
A skeleton discovered on an archaeological dig in East Lothian may be a 10th Century Irish Viking who was king of Dublin and Northumbria.
King Olaf Guthfrithsson [Óláfr Guðfriðarson][Ánláf] led raids on Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame shortly before his death in 941.
The remains excavated from Auldhame in 2005 are those of a young adult male who was buried with a number of items indicating his high rank.
They include a belt similar to others from Viking Age Ireland.
The find has led archaeologists and historians to speculate that the skeleton could be that of King Olaf or one of his entourage.
A jaw bone was part of the remains found at Auldhame which may belong to King Olaf
Olaf was a member of the Uí Ímar dynasty who, in 937, defeated his Norse rivals in Limerick and pursued his family claim to the throne of York.
He married the daughter of King Constantine II of Scotland and allied himself with Owen I of Strathclyde.
The theory that he could have been buried close to the Auldhame battle site was revealed as Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop visited a Neolithic monument in County Meath, Ireland.
The tour of Newgrange is being used to highlight archaeological links between Scotland and Ireland.
Ms Hyslop said: “This is a fascinating discovery and it’s tantalising that there has been the suggestion that this might be the body of a 10th Century Irish Viking king.”
Dr Alex Woolf, a senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews and a consultant on the project, admits the evidence is circumstantial.
But he said: “Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf’s attack.”
Wednesday, 21st May, 2014
Since the middle-ages, legend has spread of a fearful beast once said to stalk the region’s [East Anglia’s] countryside and coastline. Despite tales of a fiery-eyed monster showing up in graveyards, forests and roadsides – and an account of claw marks appearing on the door of Blythburgh Church – the giant dog’s existence has been reserved to the annals of folklore.
Until now, perhaps, as archeologists have revealed evidence of huge skeletal remains unearthed by a member of the public in the trenches at Leiston Abbey last year.
The DigVentures team are set to return to the site this summer, and are again inviting amateur history hunters to take their place alongside the experts from July 8-20, with the prospect of coming across an equally exciting discovery.
Of course, the giant carcass is more likely to be what remains of someone’s beloved canine companion, and is currently being analysed to find out how long it was buried in the grounds of monastic ruins.
The site was left almost untouched until last year, when site managers, and chamber music academy, Pro Corda teamed up with DigVentures to run only the second ‘crowdfunded’ community project of its kind.
DigVentures managing director Lisa Westcott Wilkins said: “We’re still waiting for results from specialists but we believe the bones are from when the abbey was active – so they could be medieval.
“The dog is huge – about the size of a Great Dane – and was found near where the abbey’s kitchen would have been. It was quite a surprise. We’re all dog lovers and we have a site dog with us on our digs, so it was quite poignant. Even back then, pets were held in high regard.”
It is hoped the skeleton will be exhibited as part of this year’s dig, which has received financial backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund to allow organisers to replace paper context sheets with a digital recording system, tailored to meet the needs of a worldwide community archaeology team.
Mrs Westcott Wilkins, whose team includes former Time Team archaeologist Raksha Dave, said: “There is evidence of a prehistoric age at the abbey, which even English Heritage had been unaware of. We’re really looking forward to going back. This year we can involve the public much more. They can get immediate online access.”