Friday, 31st October, 2008
Hampton Court Palace’s history uncovered
The recorded history of Hampton Court Palace could be about to change after archaeologists uncovered what they believe is the earliest surviving building on the site.
Teams working at the riverside palace found highly significant 13th and 14th century remains – including the largest medieval building, other than the Great Hall, constructed at the site earlier this month.
The discovery was made during the biggest excavation project ever undertaken at Hampton Court Palace by conservation and heritage charity Historic Royal Palaces, as part of a project to represent one of Henry VIII’s Tudor courtyards for the 500th anniversary of his accession to the throne in 2009.
The ruins, stone foundations and walls of a substantial medieval structure, were uncovered at Base Court, the primary and largest interior courtyard of the Tudor palace and are believed to date from around the mid 14th Century, making it the earliest building ever identified at Hampton Court.
Archaeologists are currently speculating as to what the buildings were and how they were used with suggestions they may have been a simple barn or possibly a hall or residential building that was part of the large manor of Hampton Court when the site was in the hands of Knights Hospitallers, a revered order of military monks.
And as well as the ruins a medieval water feature complete with 500 year old lead plumbing still in place has also been discovered by a team from Oxford Archaeology – who will continue to analyse and study the results with curators from Historic Royal Palaces after the excavations have finished.
And just for Halloween: Does anyone remember the Hampton Court Ghost?
Thursday, 30th October, 2008
Wreck of Titanic’s sister ship to become underwater museum
The wreck of the Titanic’s sister ship the Britannic could be turned into an underwater museum for tourists.
Simon Mills, a British marine historian who bought the wreck from the UK government in 1996, plans to give submarine tours of the well-preserved Olympic-class ocean liner.
The hospital ship sank off the Greek island of Kea in November 1916, while on its way to collect soldiers wounded in the Balkan campaign of the First World War.
Because the wreck lies at a depth of 122 metres (400ft), visitors will reach the ship in small submersibles.
“Our plan is to start off with three- or four-seater submersibles,” said Mr Mills. “The Titanic lies in the cold waters of the north Atlantic and is rapidly disintegrating because of iron-eating bacteria. In a couple of hundred years there will be very little that is recognisable. But the Britannic is completely different.
She lies in warm waters, is very well preserved and wonderfully intact. For so long she has been eclipsed by her older sister but she has her own story to tell.”
The four-funnel liner, modified to correct the defects that had contributed to the speed with which the Titanic went down, sank in under an hour after an unexplained explosion.
Thirty people were killed after lifeboats were sucked into the ship’s churning propellers. Recent sonar scan studies indicated that the ship had been sunk by a mine, but some historians have maintained that she was torpedoed by a German submarine.
“This project is not just about tourism but also about education, conservation and marine archaeology,” said Mr Mills. He also stressed that special care would be taken to preserve the integrity of the wreck, out of respect for those who died in its sinking.
Wednesday, 29th October, 2008
Update to Thames Wrecks
THE wreckage of a 17th century warship, which lies off the Southend coast, has been given official protection.
Culture Secretary Barbara Follett has officially designated the wreck of HMS London.
This bans any interference with the wreck by drivers.
The move to designate the wreck was recommended by English Heritage, which feared the rediscovered warship would be plundered of valuable artefacts. HMS London blew-up and sank in the Thames Estuary in March 1665, as she was being brought up the river from Chatham, in Kent, killing more than 300 people.
Historians say the ship blew up accidentally, possibly as the gun crews reloaded old cartridge papers with gunpowder.
Alice Taylor, south east regional spokeswoman for English Heritage, said: “The ship was at very high risk of further uncontrolled salvage, following the recovery of a bronze cannon from the vessel last summer.
“The 90-gun [64-gun second-rate?] warship is historically important. It is the only wreck site identified from this period and served in the Commonwealth Navy at a time when British naval power was emerging on the European stage.
“HMS London is known to have played a role in the [First] Dutch War between 1652 and 1654.”
The ship later formed part of an English Squadron which was sent to collect Charles II from the Netherlands and restore him to the throne, following the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658.
Wessex Archaeology and the Port of London Authority, which regulates the river, use 3D survey equipment to locate the wreck.
The site is off the coast of Southend, but its exact location will not be revealed.
Mrs Follett added: “These rare and well-preserved remains provide a unique insight into one of the most significant periods in England’s history.
“I am delighted we can extend the proper protection to this shipwreck.”
Tuesday, 28th October, 2008
Six spectacular Welsh Iron Age hill forts are being protected as part of a scheme costing 1.5 million pounds.
As part of a Heritage Lottery funded project, footpath improvement and erosion control work has been carried out at Moel Arthur hillfort on the Clwydian Range.
A floating ramp is being built over the large earth banks to help protect them from damage.
The innovative construction includes building a wooden frame into which stones are set to provide a safe walking surface, without any disturbance to the ground or the archaeology below.
Samantha Williams, Hillforts Conservation Officer, says “Moel Arthur has the most impressive ramparts, the large banks, of all the hillforts within the Clwydian Range and it is important that we protect them for the future.
“They have been there for over 2,000 years and with careful management like this they may be there for another 2,000. “
Next year will also see the start of a major programme of works on Moel Fenlli hillfort.
David Shiel, Countryside Officer for the AONB, said, “It has taken many years of planning but we are now looking forward to beginning the repair work needed on the paths to make access up to the hillfort easier, as well as protecting the monument for many years to come.”
The scheme aims to to protect and to increase the enjoyment and understanding of the natural and historic upland environment of north-east Wales.
Itt will help to restore the patchwork of heather moorland that will provide better grazing for sheep and habitat for upland bird species such as the black grouse, the red grouse, hen harrier and ring ouzel.
Important access and management work will also be completed at six spectacular Iron Age hillforts.
Walking Britain Clwydian Hills
Monday, 27th October, 2008
The Vikings’ burning question: some decent graveside theatre
The average Viking lived a life in which spirituality and thoughts of immortality played a far more important part than the rape and pillage more usually associated with his violent race, according to new research. A study of thousands of excavated Viking graves suggests that rituals were performed at the graveside in which stories about life and death were presented as theatre, with live performances designed to help the passage of the deceased from this world into the next.
Neil Price, Chair of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, who will be presenting his findings at a lecture at the university tonight, believes that these rituals may have been the early beginnings of the Norse sagas, which told stories about men and gods in the pagan world. He said that close study of the graves and the artefacts they contained, as well as contemporary accounts of Viking funerals, presented a far more complex picture of their lives than the simple myth of the Viking raider.
Detailed analysis of the burials revealed a remarkable variety of objects found alongside the bodies – from everyday items to great longships, wagons and sledges, together with animals of many different species and even human sacrifices.
Professor Price said: “Close analysis of Viking burials not only gives us an insight into the workings of their minds, but most importantly how slim they perceived the boundaries to be between life and death, and between humans and animals.”
He said that the burial rituals suggested the Vikings had no defined religion, but instead made up a set of spiritual beliefs, which were then acted out at the graveside. These became a form of theatre that pre-dates the sagas and may have contained the origins of Norse mythology – the inspiration for Wagner’s operas.
Professor Price said: “There seem to have been something like stage directions dictating how these rituals were to be enacted. Eyewitness accounts suggest that there were as many as ten days of ritual, with enormous time and effort put into the performances.”
The artefacts buried with the dead varied enormously. “No two graves were the same,” he said. Some bore evidence of a military career, with whole ships containing the corpse left open. Other graves were found to have had animal remains – one had no fewer than 20 decapitated horses – and occasionally there were human remains as well. Some Vikings were buried with their wives and families, others were laid to rest in more simple single graves.
Professor Price said: “What emerges from these studies is that these were an immensely sophisticated people, with a complex set of beliefs, and a strong interest in poetry. It was an utterly different world from ours. They were aggressively pagan, and strongly anti-Christian, perhaps as a reaction to the Christian missionaries. But there is great richness in this non-Christian world.”
Most of the existing records on Norse mythology date from the 11th to 18th centuries, having gone through more than two centuries of oral tradition that is thought to carry the seeds of Germanic legends such as the Valkyrie, the Nibelungen and Siegfried. Hundreds of place names in Scandinavia are named after the gods.
“The research focused on the examination of excavated material and Old Norse texts, combined with eyewitness descriptions of Viking burial ceremonies found in contemporary literature,” said Professor Price. “The study demonstrated the significant role that storytelling and dramatisation played in the Viking disposal of the dead. It seems clear that public enactments took place on these occasions, intended to provide the deceased with a poetic passage into the next life.
“The work suggests that Vikings used these funeral stories as a way of connecting the world of the living and the worlds of the dead. It is likely that these dramas, which were created and acted out using objects that were placed with the body in the grave or on the cremation pyre, form the beginnings of what we know today as Norse mythology.”
Professor Price’s lecture, Passing into Poetry: Viking Funerals and the Origins of Norse Mythology, takes place this evening at 6pm at the Kings College Conference Centre, University of Aberdeen.
Having just this weekend witnessed a presentation by Professor Price, entitled The Ritual Hall in early medieval Scandinavia, this will be quite an exciting lecture.
Friday, 24th October, 2008
A glimpse of Preston past has come to light beneath the site of the city’s £700m future thanks to archaeologists investigating the Tithebarn regeneration. They have found medieval pottery and the remains of a mill and trenches have been dug to see how much hidden heritage the site contains.
Among highlights were the cellars of Lord Street cotton mill, pottery from the Middle Ages and brickwork in the Fish Market area, possibly built in the late 18th century.
Archaeologists will now keep a close eye on the development when Grosvenor and Lend Lease begin transforming the city.
County council planning officer (archaeology) Doug Muir said: “We will be insisting they go back to those areas, open them up to a greater extent and record what is there.
“There’s evidence of terraced housing but it’s what might lie beneath that terraced housing we’re interested in.”
In total, some 75 sites of “archaeological significance” were found on the 32 acre site. Of those 36 will be directly impacted by the proposed development, 27 sites will be potentially indirectly impacted and a dozen will not be affected.
Several were said to have “high cultural heritage value,” including the covered market, Golden Cross Hotel, the Old Dog Inn, Princes Buildings and the fish market.
English Heritage also believe Roman remains may be buried in the area proposed for the new bus station, on the corner of Church Street and Manchester Road.
A Roman road linking Lancaster and Wigan is thought to run under the existing station.
Thursday, 23rd October, 2008
This is a bit of old (c. a month) news as a friend, from Devon, sent me a newspaper clipping via snail-mail!
Horrible Science author claims to have found Viking battle site
A children’s author believes he has found the long-lost site of a battle which saved Britain from the Vikings more then 1,200 years ago.
Horrible Science writer Nick Arnold has spent years tracing the location of the Battle of Cynuit in 878.
A Saxon army routed an invading force of Vikings which besieged them in a fortress in North Devon or Somerset, the site of which has been the subject of speculation.
England’s ruler, Alfred the Great was not present in person at the battle in which the Saxons were led by an Alderman named Odda.
King Alfred later routed a second, larger Viking Army at the Battle of Edington in the same year.
Most historians believe Cynuit to be modern day Cannington, near Bridgwater, Somerset, but Mr Arnold believes the site of the fortress was in fact at Castle Hill, near Beaford, Devon.
A hamlet nearby is known as Kenwith, which could be a modern version of the Saxon Cynuit.
Mr Arnold said the fort matched the description given by Bishop Asser, a friend [and biographer] of Alfred the Great, and was in a location that fitted the account of the battle.
The perimeter was shortened to fit a unit of measurement used by the Saxons when they planned forts.
Nick Arnold revealed his theory about the location at Appledore Book Festival in a talk entitled, Who Killed King Ubba? on October 3rd.
Wednesday, 22nd October, 2008
Gold brooch find a first for Norfolk
The first example to be recorded in Norfolk of a very rare gold Roman brooch was found by a metal detector, it hasd been revealed.
Norfolk Museum and Archaeology Service (NMAS) is now keen to acquire the “significant” piece, which dates from the third or fourth century, in order to keep it in the county after it was found in a field in Gunthorpe.
Dr Andrew Rogerson, head of the Finds Identification and Recording Service within the NMAS said it was unique within the county and important in the context of our understanding of the late Roman period.
“It is very rare, extremely unusual and probably very significant. Gold brooches of this type are never common and this is certainly the first to be recorded in Norfolk. We are meant to be cold, calculating professionals who are not supposed to get excited but I was when I saw this.”
The piece, which was found by metal detector user Paul Buckenham on land owned by Stephen Mitchell and his family, is known as a crossbow brooch.
Dr Rogerson said that this style was not particularly rare but no gold example had been seen by professionals in Norfolk, pointing to a former owner’s high status, possibly within the military ranks.
“Most are 90pc copper alloy and very occasionally we see a silver one but never a gold one, just on those grounds alone it is important, and it is quite pure gold.
“It is hard to say exactly who would have worn it but certainly it would not have been sported by just anyone and it would have been someone of quite high status, man or woman, at the end of the Roman period which becomes very interesting.
“This ties in with a lot of other evidence from that period.”
The find was declared treasure by Greater Norfolk coroner William Armstrong.
It is currently in the hands of the British Museum waiting to be valued. NMAS hopes to then make an offer for its acquisition to Mr Buckenham.
He said it was just one of several treasure finds he had unearthed over the past few years, but it was undoubtedly the rarest.
The brooch is reported as incomplete, missing its crossbar and pin.
It is decorated, with part of the report, compiled by Dr Rogerson for the British Museum, stating: “There are three v-sectioned notches on both edges and between them an engraved saltire and single horizontal line.”
Wednesday, 15th October, 2008
AN iconic Roman cavalry tombstone will be returned to Lancaster and officially unveiled by Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Museums Service at Lancaster City Museum on Wednesday 15 October 2008.
The long awaited unveiling will be attended by a number of county councillors and partner agencies to witness this special event in celebration of its return to Lancaster.
The impressive tombstone, dating back to 100 AD, was discovered in Lancaster in November 2005 during an excavation in Aldcliffe Road by the Greater Manchester Archaeology Unit which is based at the University of Manchester.
Described by a number of scholars as ‘unique’ and of ‘significant archaeological importance’, the massive stone – almost six feet in height and approximately 1500lbs in weight, depicts a quarter master or junior officer of the ala Augusta [p.8] riding with the severed head of a barbarian enemy in his hand.
Since its discovery, Lancashire County Council and the Museums Service together with Lancaster City Council secured funding from the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) Purchase Grant Fund, Haverfield Bequest (supporting research on Roman Britain), and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Specialist staff at the county council’s conservation studio in Preston have since worked to conserve the tombstone so it is suitable for permanent public display in Lancaster, where it will be placed in its most fitting setting at Lancaster City Museum, not far from the site where it has lain for almost 2000 years.
County Councillor Anne Brown, cabinet member for adult and community services said:
“It is fantastic that we have been able to save this important piece and keep it here in Lancaster for the people of Lancashire to learn from and enjoy. This is a great example of how Lancashire County Council along with the city council and other public bodies and agencies have worked in partnership together to preserve part of Lancashire’s heritage and continue to offer interesting and exciting exhibitions through our Museum’s to local people.”
Stephen Bull, curator of Military History and Archaeology for Lancashire Museums, added:
“I am extremely pleased that the tombstone has become part of the local collection in Lancaster and will now be on permanent display after a lot of hard work and effort from all involved with the project.
This stone provides a crucial insight into the history of the county, and an iconic piece of Lancaster’s dramatic past.”
City’s pride on line over Roman find
The plaque is in memory of Lucius Nisus Vodullius, a trooper in the Roman army, and depicts a figure on horseback carrying the head of a decapitated man.
A remarkable Roman find
Historian, Professor David Shotter, recently retired from Lancaster University, told The Visitor: “Such a decapitation scene is very rare on similar tombstones from Roman Britain, and is particularly significant because we are told in the accompanying inscription that this Roman soldier came from Trier (in Germany] and was, therefore, presumably a Celt.
“Celtic people traditionally believed that, by decapitating an enemy, the perpetrator would absorb the dead person’s mental and physical powers.
“It was common in western Europe in late pre-history for the doorposts of Celtic temples to be adorned with niches containing severed heads.
“The date of the stone is not given, but for a number of reasons, it is thought to have belonged to the later years of the first century AD.”
Tuesday, 14th October, 2008
Coroner declares brooch is a medieval treasure
A MEDIEVAL silver gilt brooch found in a north Hampshire field has been declared treasure by a coroner.
The jewellery, which could be from the 13th century, was found in a field near Hook. It has a circular frame with four bosses and one lozenge, and is thought to be worth hundreds of pounds.
North East Hampshire coroner Andrew Bradley ruled, at an inquest held at Basingstoke and Deane’s Civic Offices, that the brooch was treasure.
The find has now been handed over to the British Museum for valuation, under the Treasure Act of 1996.
It will be offered, for a price, to the Hampshire Museums Service to go on display in the county.
Kay Ainsworth, keeper of archaeology at the trust, said: “We have a number of medieval brooches and nearly all of them are individual. Most are worth a couple of hundred pounds.
“It’s of a particular style that you get in that period. It’s a delightful little brooch and certainly we would like to buy it if we can afford it.”
At the inquest, Mr Bradley said a man with a metal detector found the piece in February 2008.
Thinking it was valuable, he handed it over to the British Museum, where James Robinson, curator of medieval collections, appraised it.
In a report, he stated the brooch dates from the late 13th or early 14th century. He said the decorative bosses have lost their detail over time, and that a second lozenge on the brooch has been lost.
Neither the finder of the brooch, nor the owner of the land where the brooch was found, attended the treasure trove inquest.
Mr Bradley said: “I will find in the absence of representation to the contrary that it is treasure because it complies with all the requirements.
“It’s now forfeited to the Crown. The finder and/or landowner will be compensated to the value of it.”