Leiston Abbey and ‘Black Shuck”

Wednesday, 21st May, 2014


Are these the remains of the legendary beast known as Black Shuck?

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 Churchthe giant dog’s existence has been reserved to the annals of folklore.

claw marks
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.”

The Digitised Diseases website

Monday, 9th December, 2013


Online in 3D: the ‘grotesque beauty’ of medieval Britons’ diseased bones
Digitised Diseases site makes 1,600 specimens available for doctors and members of the public to study for free
The bones of a young woman who died of  syphilis more than 500 years ago, the reassembled jaw of a man whose corpse was sold to surgeons at the London hospital in the 19th century and the contorted bone of an 18th-century man who lived for many years after he was shot through the leg, are among the remains of hundreds of individuals which can now be studied in forensic detail on a new website.

The Digitised Diseases website, to be launched on Monday at the  Royal College of Surgeons in London, brings together 1,600 specimens, many from people with excruciating conditions including leprosy and  rickets, from stores scattered across various university and medical collections. The original crumbling bones of some specimens now available in 3D scans are too fragile to be handled. The database is intended for professionals, but is also available free to members of the public who may be fascinated by the macabre specimens.
“We believe this will be a unique resource both for archaeologists and medical historians to identify diseases in ancient specimens, but also for clinicians who can see extreme forms of chronic diseases which they would never see nowadays in their consulting rooms, left to progress unchecked before any medical treatment was available. These bones show conditions only available before either by travelling to see them, or in grainy black and white photographs in old textbooks,” said Andrew Wilson, senior lecturer in  forensic and archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford and the lead researcher on the project. He added: “I do think members of the public will also find them gripping – they do have what one observer called ‘a grotesque beauty’.”
Some of the conditions were thought to have been almost eliminated but are now on the increase, including diseases of poverty such as tuberculosis and rickets.
“If the vivid evidence of these bones flags up the importance of taking these conditions very seriously and tackling them early, so much the better,” Wilson said.
Bradford University holds the remains of 4,000 men, women and children dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, including bones from the Battle of Towton, the bloodiest ever fought on English soil, in Yorkshire on Palm Sunday 1461. Those bones were consulted by the team which excavated the remains of Richard III in Leicester last year, as evidence of the terrible injuries inflicted on medieval battlefields.
Other specimens came from the cemetery of a 12th-century hospital in Chichester that treated leprosy, one of the most dreaded diseases of the middle ages. Bones also came from a cemetery in Gloucester, excavated in 1991, which as well as the Dominican friars whose churchyard it was, included hundreds of people buried between 1246 and 1539. These included the skull showing signs of advanced syphilis, including loss of bone around the nose, jaw and cranium, of a woman aged between 18 and 25.
Other bones came from a previously unknown burial ground at the London Hospital and excavated in 2006 by archaeologists from the Museum of London. They were the remains of the unfortunate poor who died in the hospital and were dissected by its surgeons. They died in greater number than the hospital’s own anatomy school could use: some were sold to other hospitals, and body snatchers targeted the burial ground. The Bradford team manage to reunite three fragments of the same jaw, found in a jumble of bones from many individuals tipped into the same grave, which showed clearly the straight cut marks of the anatomists: their 3D film of the reassembled jaw was seen in the  Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition at the Museum of London last year.

One long leg bone was evidently turned on a lathe – “for purposes we can only speculate on,” Wilson said.

He takes comfort from the fact that many of the individuals, including people who would have been bent double by spinal damage, or left too lame to walk or work, lived for many years with their conditions. “It’s important to remember that these are not just academic specimens, but the remains of real human beings – and in many cases it is clear that they were not just discarded as useless or shunned but accepted and cared for. This is by no means just a freak show.”

Inscribed stone found at West Down, Devon

Monday, 25th November, 2013

Ancient Celtic stone unveiled in Barnstaple Museum

A ‘CELTIC’ stone which is thought to be more than 1,200 years old has been unveiled in Barnstaple Museum.
The stone, which bears the inscription of the name ‘Guerngen’ [GUERNGENI - of Gwerngen] is one of only two* that have been discovered in the whole of North Devon.

Last year 15-year-old Jack Lawrence made the discovery in the wall of Shutes Cottage in West Down, where he lives with his parents.
He reported it to the North Devon Archaeological Society [pp. 3-4], and the stone was taken to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon to be cleaned, drawn and studied.
Terry Green, who has researched the ancient find, said it was believed to be a memorial stone made from locally sourced sandstone.
“It is possible it could be a pillow stone which is placed at the head of a grave,” he said.
“It could have found its way from its original position to the churchyard, where it was built into the church in the 10th century.
“This was until the chancel was rebuilt in the 17th century and the tower in the early 18th century.
“These would have been two occasions where there would have been a lot of rubble available, and at some point this was built into the wall beside Shutes Cottage.”
Oliver Padel, of Cambridge University, said it was most probable the inscription dated back to the eight century, before the Anglo Saxons took over in Devon.
“This man who was commemorated must have been in the upper reaches of society for his family to afford such an expensive memorial,” said Mr Padel.
Jack, who was 13 when he discovered the inscription, said he hopes to pursue a career in archaeology or history.
He said: “I spotted some marks on the other side of the stone and they looked quite interesting we decided to turn it over – that’s when we found the inscription.
“The wall was knocked down before we moved in 12 years ago but it is amazing to think the stone has been sat in the pile of rubble all that time.”
The stone will remain in the museum until the spring, when it will be displayed in West Down Church.

*CARAACINEPUS, Winsford Hill [p. 2].

‘The Caratacus Stone’ 


‘The Cewydds Stone’



There is also a linear cross within a lozenge-shaped ring, scratched on one end of the stone. Four stones with this rare cross and lozenge pattern are known in Wales. One of them is at St. David’s Church in Llanllawer, the another is the re-discovered Silian 3 stone at St. Sulien’s Church, Ceredigion, mid-west Wales, and there is  a cross on a shaft from St Tanwg’s Church, Llandanwg.  A cross incised stone from St. Tecwyn’s Church, Llandecwyn, Gwynedd, is  the closest match to the West Down stone, with one leg of the cross extending beyond the lozenge. The West Down stone is also comparable to the more local wheel-cross on the 7th- to 9th-century Culbone stone, Porlock.

Cardiff Castle Mill Leat moat

Friday, 25th October, 2013

Discovered castle treasure hopes to fill in history gap
Archaeologists who unearthed artefacts dating back to the 16th century say the discovery will help to understand Cardiff’s history.
The historic items including a tobacco pipe and sword sheath were found during the excavation of the Mill leat moat around Cardiff Castle.
“The Mill Leat has been a watercourse since at least the  medieval period, and is thought to have powered a watermill located close to the west gate of the castle, however remarkably little is known about the history of this part of Cardiff in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
To find such a quantity of artefacts is remarkable, particularly given the range of materials recovered, and will shed significant light on life in Cardiff in the early modern period.”
– Dr Amelia Pannett of Archaeology Wales

Historic castle moat at iconic Welsh landmark is brought back to life

NEW LEAT OF LIFE FOR MOAT; Dammed-Up Section at Castle to Be Re-Flooded

Mill leatMill leat - midMill leat leftMill leat R

Update Cardiff Castle moat to be re-flooded after excavation

Norton Priory monk

Tuesday, 1st October, 2013


The 21st century descendant of a medieval monk has come face to face with his ancestor thanks to researchers from Lancaster University.
The skull of a man buried at Norton Priory in Cheshire was used in the facial reconstruction by forensic artists Richard Neave and Denise Smith, responsible for the reconstructions in the recent BBC series, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The skeleton is believed to be that of William Dutton, a man born into the important Dutton family who were benefactors of the Priory at the time, and who himself took monastic orders and became a canon at the priory.
Living relative Peter Moore Dutton from Shropshire, who has traced his family back to the original patrons of the Priory, sees some family resemblances.
He said:  “He has the typical Dutton nose!”
The research into the man, who was at least 46 when he died, also shed light on what may have been a more eventful life than might have been suspected for a holy man.
A William Dutton from this period was accused of a number of thefts, of cattle and also of horses, carts and axes.
According to Dr William Cook of Lancaster University,  this same William also appeared in court in 1307 for “ takinge away Matilda, one of the daughters and heyres of Richard Stockport… whence they tooke her out of her chamber into the Courte, & there stript her of all her cloathes but her smocke…”.
Did this William, later in his life, regret his crimes and take holy orders? Or was it another William Dutton, a parson of Thornton church who lived a less colourful life?
Whoever he was, his skeleton tells us that he clearly suffered from Paget’s disease and Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH).
Research is continuing into William and the many other fascinating individuals who once lived here.
Two PhD graduates in Medieval History, Dr William Cook and Dr Michele Moatt are working with the Trust’s Senior Keeper, Lynn Smith, and Director, Frank Hargrave, to research the backgrounds of key individuals in Norton’s history whose skeletal remains have been excavated at the Priory.
Lynn Smith, Senior Keeper at Norton Priory said: ‘We’re delighted that Lancaster University thanks to funding from the AHRC, is bringing all of these secret histories back to life. To be able to look into the eyes of someone who saw the grandeur and beauty of the 14th century Abbey at Norton is something very special.”
The research and facial reconstruction will all feature in Norton Priory’s Arts Council England funded £100,000 project, which includes multi-media guides, projections, film and more facial reconstructions.


Medieval house discovery, Conwy

Wednesday, 26th June, 2013

Workmen find remains of ancient medieval wall and house in Conwy
SEWERAGE contractors have uncovered the remains of a medieval wall and house in Conwy.  Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water’sWilliam Hughes had been working in the historic town’s Castle Street for several weeks.
Now the contractors, alongside Gwynedd Archeological Trust (GAT) experts, have unearthed the cobbles from the wall and a medieval building’s foundations which could date from the time of the world famous 13th century Conwy Castle.
GAT will carry out carbon dating.
The discoveries have delayed the sewerage works but it is not known for how long.
A Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water spokesman said: “During the course of our work on Castle Street, we have found items and features of archaeological  interest.
“These have included remains of a medieval road, coins and pieces of pottery.” The company has been at pains to employ experts to look after the sites properly. He said: “To ensure any finds were preserved and accurately recorded, we employed the services of Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. Their team has remained with us on site during the course of the work.
“The finds have naturally slowed the progress of the work so we have ensured businesses in the area are kept fully updated on developments.
“We would like to thank them for their continued co-operation.”
Andrew Davidson, GAT chief archeologist, said: “It’s exciting. We will try to carbon date the mortar if we can (to determine the age of the medieval building – thought to be a house – and road). We would hope that the deposits (of the building) that have been uncovered within the trench would be contemporaneous for the castle but we can’t say how old the road is.
A cesspit and pottery have also been found in the project. But it is not thought that the discovery of the wall and new building relate to the abbey or monastery which once graced the town – until Edward I had the Cistercian Abbey relocated further down the Conwy Valley, as Maenan Abbey.
Diggers unearthed the newly-found wall, and dug a trench to expose it, beside Castle Tea Gardens. Sue Hartley, who works in the tea shop, said: “It’s part of our history. It would be a shame if they just covered it over.”
But she claimed the roadworks had blighted trade as they block the pavement on her side of the road, making it harder for customers to reach her shop. “There has been a dip in trade and it’s getting into the busiest time of the year.”


 14th-century merchant’s house, Conwy
 Conwy’s medieval town walls

Rediscovered medieval carved stone

Thursday, 13th June, 2013


Long-lost stone found in stream by archaeologists

A LONG-LOST medieval stone has been rediscovered in a stream north west of Lampeter.
The stone which dates back to the ninth or 10th century, was found just south-west of St Sulien’s Church, in the village of Silian.
The church site is home to two further medieval inscribed stones [Edwards 2007: 188-91] and thought to have been of high-status having been in use for at least 1,500 years.
Archaeologists Nikki Vousden, who works for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and Dr Roderick Bale of University of Wales Trinity Saint David University Lampeter, came across the stone while walking.
The stone named ‘Silian 3′ [in Professor Nancy Edwards’ Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales: Volume II: South-West Wales (2007) - p. 192] consists of a linear Latin cross with a lozenge shaped ring at its upper end.
It measures some 70cm x 38cm and the pattern is rare, with only two other definite examples of crosses in lozenge shaped rings in Wales  [Llanllawer 3, St David's Church - Edwards 2007: 346-7 and Llandecwyn 1, St Tecwyn's Church].
Ms Vousden said: “How the Silian 3 stone ended up in the steam is a mystery, especially as someone obviously once knew of its significance and took a cast.
“We are currently awaiting information as to the provenance of the cast and photograph, and will provide an update when this becomes available. Amazingly, the stone lay hidden in the stream until one day the water on its wet surface helped highlight the inscribed pattern and it was spotted.”
The rare stone was first noted by Nash-Williams in The Early Christian Monuments of Wales. A cast of its incised face was kept at the National Museum of Wales.
It was ascribed to Silian because of the label on a photograph, also at the National Museum of Wales.
The stone is now being kept in St Sulien’s Church.


Monday, 13th May, 2013

I have posted about  Dunwich previously on The Attic, but now medieval Dunwich is back in the news and on the map.

 Archaeologists map lost medieval Suffolk town of Dunwich under the sea
The streets, churches, market place and town walls of Dunwich, a major town in Suffolk which vanished into the North Sea centuries ago, have been mapped using acoustic imaging to peer through the murky silt which now buries the remains.
A few houses, a museum, a pub and legends of the sound of drowned church bells still ringing from beneath the waves are all that remain today of a port which once rivalled London. However, over the past five years archaeologists, historians, local divers and scientists have joined forces, funded by English Heritage, combining hi-tech equipment, underwater exploration and study of old charts and navigation guides to  trace the ruins of what has become the world’s largest underwater medieval town site.
In the Roman period the shoreline was at least 2,000 metres further out.


The town’s slow death began in 1286 when a three-day storm which started on New Year’s Eve wrecked much of the settlement and blocked the river mouth. Further storms silted up what had been an international port, destroying the town’s prosperity, and the erosion of the coastline was remorseless.

As recently as 1736 All Saints [pic 7]was a handsome church with a tall tower: by 1912 only the ruined tower remained teetering on the edge of the cliff, and now nothing remains on dry land.
P077 Dunwich Church_large
Although the ruins are only between three and 10 metres (9.8ft to 32.8ft) below the water, visibility is atrocious. Prof David Sear, of the geography and environment department of  Southampton University, who led the project, described the Didson acoustic imaging used as “like shining a torch on to the seabed, only using sound instead of light”.

3D visualisation Chapel of St Katherine: The survey revealed ten buildings of medieval Dunwich, including the location and probable ruins of Blackfriars Friary, St Peter’s, All Saints and St Nicholas[pic 2] Churches, and the Chapel of St Katherine.
The new map locates ruins including major churches and a large house which may have been the town hall, scores of other archaeological sites including several windmills, wooden port structures and a town wall which may have been Saxon in origin.

Dunwich map


The third volume of A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales has recently been published. This final volume focuses on the  inscribed stones and stone sculpture of north Wales c. AD400-1150.

The first two volumes were published in 2007 by University of Wales Press.  Volume I by Mark Redknap and John M. Lewis covers South-East Wales and the English Border. Volume II by Nancy Edwards covers South-West Wales. Each volume consists of a full analytical introduction and a catalogue of individual monuments with discussions and numerous illustrations, both photographs and line-drawings.

Volume III provides fresh insights and new interpretations of over 150 monuments, many of which have been found since V. E. Nash-William‘s  Early Christian Monuments of Wales was published in 1950. The introductory discussion analyses the historical and archaeological context of the monuments, early research, geology, their form and function, ornament and iconography, and the language and lettering of the inscriptions, as well as their cultural connections, dating and chronology. The well-illustrated catalogue provides more detailed descriptions and analyses of individual monuments.

Nancy Edwards is Professor of Medieval Archaeology at Bangor University. Her research is focused on the early medieval archaeology of Wales and Ireland, particularly on stone sculpture and the Church.

Volume III is published in association with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and the University of Wales Institute for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. Research for Volume III has been generously funded by the British Academy through their grant of a Research Leave Fellowship to Nancy Edwards (2006–8) and a Small Research Grant to finance geological identification of the monuments. Financial assistance has also been received from the University of Wales Board of Celtic Studies and the  Cambrian Archaeological Association. Nancy Edwards is also grateful to All Souls College Oxford for a Visiting Research Fellowship, Michaelmass Term 2007, during which time much of the more specialized comparative research was conducted.

St George and the Dragon

Tuesday, 23rd April, 2013


Did 15th Century knight own this jewellery found near Carlisle?
His startled-looking foe turns to face the impending death blow from England’s patron saint.
Experts think these rare and exquisite figures of St George and the Dragon found in the Carlisle area last year may have adorned the clothing of a 15th-century knight.
Stuart Noon, a Portable Antiquities Scheme finds liaison officer for Lancashire and Cumbria, said: “It’s a really unusual piece, incredibly detailed for something of this size.
“I don’t know how they made it. It really is a work of art.
“Because it is so beautifully made I would think it more likely that this was the emblem of a knight rather than a pilgrim’s badge*.
“It’s quite a high status piece made by a top craftsman and I suspect it would belong to someone high up.”
This discovery, which has been designated as a find of note, has been dubbed the Cumbrian Dragon.
The finely detailed silver gilt cast figures possibly marked its owner as a member of the mysterious chivalric order of St George.
It is thought that it could have been worn on the doublet over the knight’s gambeson. The prestigious knightly order of St George of which he could have been a member dates back to 1326 but little is known about it.
The objects are still being valued but Tullie House on Castle Street has already registered an interest in acquiring them.
Tim Padley, the museum’s keeper of archaeology, said: “We expressed an interest because it is local and it would form an unusual addition to our medieval collections.”
He added that the museum could not make a decision on whether to acquire it until after the valuation.
A small loop on St George’s back suggests that the emblem was attached to cloth rather than metal.
A metal detectorist made the discovery in April 2011.
It is understood that he found the dragon first and came back to find St George.
The two would have originally been locked together in combat but became separated.
St George’s now broken lance may have run through the coils of the dragon’s tail or the knight may have gripped his enemy by the tail. The knight’s hands are covered plated mitts and he is wearing full plate armour which would be a feature of this period.
George stands a mere 40mm tall and weighs 8.43g – just over half the weight of a 50 pence piece.
The length of the dragon is 30mm and weighs 6.33g, about the same as a 10 pence piece.

*Pilgrims’ badges:-


Medieval pilgrim badge found in Appleby

A medieval silver pilgrim badge has been found in a garden in Bolton, near Appleby.
The 15th century badge, commemorating St George, is now being held by The Friends of Penrith and Eden Museum.
Dr. Sydney Chapman is the Curator of the museum, he said:
“The badge has been valued at £400 by the Treasure Valuation Committee and thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Museum it has been purchased and added to our current displays.
“The badge shows the Saint on horseback with a sword in his right hand raised above his head; beneath the feet of his horse lies the dragon.
“The cult of St. George flourished in England in the 15 Century in particular when pilgrims would visit St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, which held the relic of the Saint’s heart.”
People can now view the pilgrim badge for free at the Penrith and Eden Museum.


Pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon

Pewter pilgrim badge of St George.
Silver gilt pilgrim badge depicting St George slaying the dragon

r1Fragment of a gilded silver medieval pilgrim’s badge which would have represented St George in combat with the dragon.