St James Church in Jacobstowe, Devon

Monday, 16th March, 2015

Historic Devon church find ‘as rare as hens’ teeth’

The remains of an ancient structure described as being “as rare as hens’ teeth” has been uncovered under the floor of a Devon church.

Excavations at St James Church in Jacobstowe have unearthed the ruins of what is believed to be the building’s original foundations, complete with a rear Western apse formation.

Only two other similar structures have been recorded in Britain – including one at Canterbury Cathedral – and on-site archaeologists say it could provide new insight into the South West’s church-building history.

Rod Lane, who is overseeing the excavations, said the “shock” discovery could date the church back as far as pre-Anglo-Saxon times.

What has been uncovered are the foundations of a western apse, together with the foundations of the former Eastern limit of the early church,” he explained.

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This takes our knowledge of the development of church history in the southwest back much further than is currently known.

We know that Irish monks were coming to the West Country in the 5th-7th centuries so perhaps they came here too and formed a Christian community.

We really didn’t expect to find this when be took up the floors – it’s a find is as rare as hens’ teeth.”

The remains were exposed during works to replace St James’ pew platforms, which have been threatening to collapse for several years.

The refurbishment project only recently got the go-ahead after the church secured financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Devon Historic Churches trust.

But when the floor and topsoil were removed, they revealed the building’s original Eastern wall and a semi-circular wall – or apse – at the Western end.

The potentially significant find has already attracted specialists from across the country, including teams from English Heritage.

But Mr Lane said the church was hoping to use it as an opportunity for residents to learn about local history.

We want to get the word out and involve the wider community,” he said.

In April work will start and the remains will be covered up, never to be seen again. So before that we want to hold a open day to allow people who are interested to engage with their heritage.”

Anglo-Saxon pendant, South Norfolk

Friday, 27th February, 2015

A stunning gold and jewel Anglo-Saxon pendant has been uncovered in a Norfolk field in one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries for years, it can be revealed today.

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The stunning Anglo-Saxon pendant emerges from the Norfolk mud.

In her role as one of the experts in Channel 4’s long-running Time Team series, Dr Helen Geake saw many exciting finds come to the surface. But the discovery of the stunning gold and jewel pendant, dug out of a muddy South Norfolk field and announced today, tops the lot.

It’s the single most exciting discovery I have ever been present at,” Dr Geake said.

She is an expert on the early Anglo-Saxon period, that time when the new Kingdom of East Anglia was being established after the chaos following the end of Roman Britain.

That means she is also an expert on the world-famous Sutton Hoo burial – thought to be of King Raedwald from the early seventh century – and was also involved with research into the fabulous Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard discovered in 2009.

Now the South Norfolk pendant, the latest in a long line of spectacular discoveries from Norfolk, is set to join that famous list. “It’s going to be a nationally-important thing,” Dr Geake added. Nothing else has been found quite like it.

The exquisite 7cm pendant is stunningly made with gold ‘cells’ and red garnet inlays. Some of the garnets have been cut to make animal ‘interlace’, a popular and highly-skilled design technique from the period where representations of creatures are stretched out and intricately interwoven.

But all of these discoveries were still in the future when Tom Lucking, a first-year UEA landscape archaeology student and keen member of the Suffolk Archaeological Field Group, was exploring the field – with the landowner’s permission – just before Christmas.

His detector found a large and deep signal, and he dug down just far enough to reveal the top of a bronze bowl. Instead of carrying on he did exactly the right thing: carefully re-filling the hole and calling in the Field Group’s geophysics team to survey the site, and Norfolk County Council’s Heritage Environment Service to assess any finds.

Dr Andrew Rogerson and Steven Ashley from the HES then asked Dr Geake to join in the excavation, which took place over two cold days in January.

The bowl turned out to be at the foot of a grave with the badly-preserved bones of an adult Anglo-Saxon. As the excavation continued it was clear that this was a female because of the jewellery being discovered. It included a ‘chatelaine’, a long strip with probably silver rings which would have been hung from a girdle.

The pendant is the undoubted star find from the excavation, but there are other items to indicate that this was a noblewoman of wealth and taste. Some of them were made in the Kingdom of the Franks, part of what was to later become France.

They include two pendants made from re-used gold coins. One of them has been dated to between 639-656 when it was minted for Frankish king Sigebert III [example] probably near Marseilles, so we know the grave must be dated to just after this. The pendants, along with two gold beads, formed part of a ‘choker’-style necklace.

It’s that theme that we see running right up to the present day, where we turn to France for style and cultured items,” Dr Geake explained. The finds also included the beaten bronze bowl, which may be another French import, a wheel-thrown pot which Dr Rogerson has identified as a definite import, plus a tiny knife and iron buckle.

So who was the mysterious noblewoman? We will never know her name but we can tell that she was someone who was living at the very highest levels of society. “She’s going to have known the kings of East Anglia, and France,” Dr Geake said. The noblewoman may even been alive when burials were still going on at Sutton Hoo.

Steven Ashley, from the Gressenhall-based Historic Environment Service, was the archaeologist who actually brought the pendant to light after 14 centuries.

They were terrible conditions to dig in over the two days,” he said. “Lots of mud everywhere, and cold and wet! But I think it’s the most exciting discovery I have ever uncovered – one of those things you dream of finding.

It’s so beautifully made. The garnet cells even have scored gold ‘foil’ at the back of them to catch the light. And you can’t see the back of the pendant in the photograph but it has rivets going through from the bosses on the front – and these have been decorated with garnets too.”

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An X-ray of the Anglo-Saxon gold and garnet pendant discovered in South Norfolk in January 2015, showing its intricate design.

The bones of the noblewoman have already been taken to Norwich Castle Museum for analysis. We should be able to discover more about her lifestyle, including her age and clues to her diet and medical conditions. The finds will be considered at a special inquest to decide if they are Treasure.

The debate will then begin about what happens next to this amazing discovery, and whether the finds can be kept in Norfolk. This is a story 14 centuries in the making, and there’s a lot more to come yet.

Anglo-Saxon sculpture

Wednesday, 14th January, 2015

Museum of Somerset in Taunton buys £150,000 Anglo-Saxon sculpture

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MUSEUM visitors will be able to inspect a unique Anglo-Saxon sculpture that had been used as a tombstone on a cat’s grave.

A builder had the artefact in his garden at Dowlish Wake, near Ilminster, until it was realised how important it was.

It has now been bought for £150,000 by The Museum of Somerset, in Taunton , with the help of a £78,600 Heritage Lottery Fund grant and assistance from other groups.

The 45cm square limestone panel, which depicts St Peter, probably dates from about 1000AD.

The builder died over ten years ago, so no-one knows exactly where he found the item, although experts believe it was created for a religious building in South Somerset – possibly Muchelney Abbey, which is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul.

Steve Minnitt, head of museums for the South West Heritage Trust, said: “We were keen at the time to acquire it for the museum, but the price was beyond us.

So when it recently came up for sale again we were determined to raise the money if we could.”

It will go on permanent display in the museum from Saturday.

Tom Mayberry, chief executive of the trust, said “We are delighted that this unique and beautiful sculpture has returned to the county.

Working with Somerset County Council we want to make sure that objects as outstandingly important as this one can be preserved in Somerset for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.”

Commenting on the grant award, HLF’s head of South-West Nerys Watts said: “We were delighted to be able to help the Museum of Somerset acquire this unique object from the county’s past, ensuring that it can be understood and appreciated in the future by local people and visitors alike.”

Anglo-Saxon stone and Roman sarcophagus

Wednesday, 3rd December, 2014

Gardener unearths Anglo-Saxon carving in job lot of rockery stone

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.

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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.

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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.

Viking hoard Dumfries and Galloway

Tuesday, 14th October, 2014

 Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church land

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A hoard of Viking treasure described as the largest found in modern times has been discovered on land owned by the Church of Scotland.

The historically significant find was made by Derek McLennan, a committed metal detector enthusiast who has been searching around the area in Dumfries and Galloway for the last year. The hoard contains more than one hundred artefacts, many of which are unique. They are now in the care of the  Treasure Trove Unit and considered to be of international importance.

Derek, who’s 47, says he was rendered speechless when he made the discovery. He became so emotional when he phoned his partner, Sharon, to tell her the news that she thought he had been in a car crash. Derek is no stranger to finding treasure. He was part of a group which discovered more than 300 medieval silver coins shortly before Christmas last year. He says his latest discovery has enthused archaeologists, who believe it has the potential to reveal many new insights into the Vikings and other cultures of the time.

Among the objects within the hoard is an early Christian cross thought to date from the ninth or tenth centuries. The solid silver cross has enamelled decorations which experts consider to be highly unusual. Derek believes they could represent the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He says “I think they are remarkably similar to the carvings you can see on St Cuthbert’s coffin

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in Durham Cathedral. For me, the cross opens up the possibility of an intriguing connection with Lindisfarne and  Iona.”

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Housesteads latrines

Friday, 10th October, 2014

Housesteads Roman Fort is tops for historic Roman toilets says English Heritage

JS48141384Reconstruction drawing of the interior of the latrines at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

The loo legacy left by the Romans has made Northumberland tops when it comes to historic toilets.

English Heritage has awarded the number one spot to Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall which, it says, has the best preserved Roman loos in Britain.

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.

A spokesman at English Heritage’s Housesteads site said: “We have the best preserved Roman toilets in Britain [p.5], which still ‘flush’ when it rains.

“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.

Toilet seatWooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda

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“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.”

Lyminge excavation

Thursday, 4th September, 2014

My Photos Tayne Field 2014 excavation.

Lyminge Archaeological Project

Archaeologists from the University of Reading, along with local volunteers, archaeological societies and university students have working here each summer until 2014 to uncover Lyminge’s Anglo-Saxon past.

Colchester Roman jewellery

Thursday, 4th September, 2014

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Colchester: Roman find of ‘national importance’ discovered under Williams & Griffin store

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.”

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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.

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Viking runestones

Thursday, 31st July, 2014

Rare Runic Stone Discovery

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/

 

And:

Viking runestone found on medieval scholar’s farmland


The runestone found at Naversdale, Orphir. (Picture:www.theorcadianphotos.co.uk)

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”]

The complete stone. (Picture:www.theorcadianphotos.co.uk)

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.

Oakington Updates

Friday, 4th July, 2014

More excavation details of Oakington Anglo-Saxon cemetery on the website, including a 3D cruciform brooch scan.