Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered in Norfolk

ARCHAEOLOGISTS FROM MOLA HAVE UNCOVERED AN IMPORTANT ANGLO-SAXON CEMETERY IN AN EXCAVATION FUNDED BY HISTORIC ENGLAND IN ADVANCE OF A CONSERVATION AND FISHING LAKE AND FLOOD DEFENCE SYSTEM AT WENSUM VIEW IN NORFOLK.

The waterlogged conditions of the river valley led to the remarkable preservation of burials that are extremely rare in the archaeological record, including plank-lined graves and tree-trunk coffins dating from the 7th-9th century AD.

Archaeologists have revealed evidence that this may have been the final resting place for a community of early Christians, including a timber structure thought to be a church or chapel, of which there are few examples from this period. The wooden grave markers, east-west alignment of the coffins and the evident lack of grave goods all support the Christian origins of the cemetery.

Anglo-Saxon coffins seldom survive because wood decays over time. Evidence to date has largely consisted staining in the ground from decayed wood.

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The 81 dug-out coffins discovered comprise oak trees split in two length-ways and hollowed out. This type of coffin is first seen in Europe in the Early Bronze Age and reappears in the early medieval period. From Britain they are mentioned in antiquarian records from the late 19th century, but this is the first time they have been properly excavated and recorded by modern archaeologists. The burials, in hollowed out logs, were positioned in the lower half and the upper half rested on top to form a lid. Although they are not decorative, it would have taken considerable effort to hollow a single coffin, an estimated four man days. The fact that evidence for similar burial rites is also found in earlier cemeteries may signify the blending of pagan and Christian traditions.

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The six plank-lined graves found are very rare in in this country and are believed to be the earliest known examples from Britain. The graves were cut into the ground, lined with expertly hewn timber planks, the body placed inside and planks positioned on top to form a cover. The relationship between the two burial types is not fully understood, but may denote an evolution in burial practices. Tree-ring dating is being undertaken to date the timber.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “These rare and exceptionally well-preserved graves are a significant discovery which will advance our understanding of Middle-Saxon religious beliefs and rural communities. This cemetery has been revealed because under the current system, archaeological surveys are required before work on a sensitive site starts. This site has immense potential for revealing the story of the community who once lived there.”
James Fairclough, archaeologist from MOLA, said: “The combination of acidic sand and alkaline water created the perfect conditions for the skeletons and wooden graves to survive, revealing remarkable details of Christian Anglo-Saxon burial practices.”

Gary Boyce, Land Owner of Wensum View, said: “It’s really exciting to have such a rare and important heritage site on my land. We set out to create a lake to maximise conservation and biodiversity, to alleviate flooding in the river valley and create a new spot for anglers to fish, and along the way have revealed the hidden secrets of the area’s past.”

Matthew Champion, the local archaeologist who made the initial discoveries at the site, said: “This discovery is going to significantly add to our understanding of just how the settlement patterns in the river valley developed over time, and is a fantastic example of what can be achieved by working closely with landowners.”
Tim Pestell, Curator at Norwich Castle Museum, where the finds from the dig will be kept said: “The site was in use in the heyday of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia and positioned next to a strategic river crossing. As with much of East Anglia at this early date, we have no documentary sources that relate to this site and so it is archaeological finds like this that are crucial in helping us to understand the development of the kingdom.

“This find is a dramatic example of how new evidence is helping to refine our knowledge of this fascinating period when Christianity and the Church were still developing on the ground. Detailed analysis of the cemetery provides the hope of better understanding the actual people living according to this new religion.”

The discovery is shedding light on a previously unknown religious site and early Christian rural community. Continued research and scientific testing, in the form of ancient DNA, stable isotope and dental calculus analysis, will help to develop biographies for the people buried. Archaeologists hope to be able to say more about where these people came from, whether they were related, and what their diet and health were like, once research is complete.

 

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No grave goods were discovered in the dig but the surrounding area was full of artefacts

 

 

Anglo-Saxon finds in Louth area

Treasure over 1,500 years old found near Louth

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Anglo-Saxon treasure dating back more than 1,500 years has been dug up in a Louth-area field from a burial mound.

Two bronze bowls, a gold pendant and iron weapons including a spearhead, two arrowheads and fragments of a sword were found in a field by Alan Smith, a metal detector enthusiast.

They have been confirmed as being dated back to the seventh century. Dr Adam Daubney, find liaison officer for Lincolnshire County Council said that the artefacts clearly once belonged to someone with high status.

He said: “This is a once in a lifetime discovery.

“The finds are exquisite and almost certainly come from a high-status burial that was destroyed through ploughing many years ago.

“The finds date to the seventh century – a time when the elite in society were often being buried in barrows – small artificial mounds of earth.

“The individual would either have been placed into a grave within the mound, or perhaps even into a chamber which was then covered over.

“And the artefacts discovered at this site are rare objects that clearly indicate this was the grave of someone who had an important role in society – perhaps a local ruler.

“This form of burial is a powerful display of status; not only was the individual being buried with a large amount of wealth, the burial mound also became a permanent feature in the landscape.

“This elaborate form of burial has often been seen as evidence for the emergence of kingship.”

This will be the third treasure find in the area within the last eight months.

An Anglo-Saxon island was found in March and new evidence was uncovered to prove the town’s claim that it was the location of Sidnacester Cathedral, in August. Archaeologists revealed that an ‘ordinary-looking field’ in Lincolnshire was actually once a settlement with trading links across Europe.
Four sites including Louth and Horncastle have for around 1,000 years laid claim to the site of the Sidnacester Cathedral. In August, stone found on the Louthstone found on the Louth Julian Bower Playing Field was said to add to growing proof that the town was the landmark location.

Senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield,Dr Hugh Willmott, who has excavated the Louth site, said: “The finds are intriguing. While the gold pendant is an outstanding object, Some of the artefacts founds at the site near Louth.the real treasures are the enamelled bronze hanging bowls*. The metal detectorist found two sets of ‘escutcheons’ – small, round plates that would have been attached to the side of the bowl.

“Hanging bowls are some of the finest pieces of metalwork to have been produced in the Early Medieval period. We don’t fully understand what they were used for; some may have been used in drinking rituals, but we do know from other burials that some were filled with fruit at the time of burial.”

The finds are now being processed under the Treasure Act, and a report is being prepared for the coroner.

*[Hanging bowls are thin-walled, copper-alloy vessels, capable of suspension from three or four hooks mounted, at equal intervals, at the rim of the bowl. The bowls can vary in size from c.135mm to c.460mm. The hooks project from copper-alloy mounts, which are often enamelled, known as escutcheons and which are soldered or riveted to the body of the bowl. Often, other decorative features are attached to the bowl, for instance enamelled discs or bands. The bowls found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial are an example of these types of artefact.]

Lindisfarne monastery

Evidence found by amateur archaeologist

An amateur archaeologist has unearthed what is believed to be evidence of one of England’s earliest Christian monasteries in a dig on Lindisfarne.

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The rare grave marker, thought to be from the mid 7th-8th Century, has been described as a “stunning find”.

A £25,000 project off the north-east coast was crowd-funded by 200 donors, including 60 who took part in the dig.

Project leader Lisa Westcott Wilkins said the name stone was “absolutely fantastic diagnostic evidence”.

“It was a spectacular moment and, even better for us, is that…it wasn’t found by one of the team leaders or experts, it was found by a member of the public who had helped to fund and make the project possible,” she said.

The name on the stone, ending in the common Anglo-Saxon “frith”, is half visible and the team is waiting for experts to decipher the rest.

Project co-director Dr David Petts, of Durham University, said it was a “stunning find, of exactly the period we’re looking for”.

“It’s unimpeachable evidence for Anglo-Saxon activity and confirms we’re hot on the trail of the very earliest monastery here in Lindisfarne,” he said.

The name stone is believed to date from around the time the monastery was built in 635AD.

Its location has, “surprisingly”, never been properly established, Dr Petts said.

It was thought to be near the later medieval priory, the ruins of which remain, but there had been “no clear archaeological evidence to back this assumption up”, he said.

“We are the first archaeological team who have gone into the field with the express aim of locating the archaeological remains of the early monastery.”

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Anglo-Saxon cross fragments, Louth

 

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 Anglo-Saxon cross fragments found in Louth rectory garden

Fragments from a 10th Century Anglo-Saxon stone cross have been discovered in a Lincolnshire rectory garden.

One stone was discovered during maintenance work at St James’ Church rectory in Louth, while church verger Christopher Marshall found the second.

Historians said the stones are proof that Louth was an important centre for Christianity in medieval times.

Verger Mr Marshall believes the stones are the earliest Christian artefacts to be found in the town.

It is thought the cross would have been on a 3-4m (10-13ft) plinth.

Mr Marshall said: “The cross was erected at a very important time in the development of Louth and the early church. So far, it is the only tangible evidence that has been found from that period.”

Built in the 15th Century, St James’ Church on Eastgate has an imposing 295ft (90m) spire overlooking the town.

The discovery of the cross provides a link between the present church, an 8th and 9th Century Anglo-Saxon monastery, and the town’s 10th Century shrine to the Anglo-Saxon bishop of Lindsey, St Herefrith.

Reverend Nick Brown said: “It is truly inspiring to find an object that may have been a focus for devotion and prayer many centuries ago here in Louth.”

Conservation work will begin on the stones in summer, and they will go on public display in the church later this year.

Viking coins from Dublin found in Wales

Hoard of Viking coins unearthed in field and dating back 1,000 years declared treasure

Portable Antiquities Scheme: NMGW-038729

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One of the Viking Sihtric Anlafsson Long Cross pennies from Dublin © National Museum Wales

 

A hoard of historic Viking treasure found in a field has been declared treasure.

The haul, which includes ancient ingots and fragments of coins dating back almost a thousand years to the time of King Cnut the Great, was found by treasure hunter Walter Hanks from Llanllyfni, near Caernarfon, using a metal detector in nearby Llandwrog back in March.

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One of the Viking pennies of Sihtric Anlafsson from Dublin obverse and reverse © National Museum Wales

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A total of 14 silver pennies produced at Dublin under the Hiberno-Scandinavian ruler Sihtric Anlafsson (989-1036), which archaeologists say are rarely found on the British mainland, also make up part of the find.

Eight of the coins date back to AD 995 while the other six were believed to have been produced in AD 1018.

Experts believe that the hoard was purposely buried in the ground between 1020 and 1030 in a bid to store the silver – and could even have been used as part of a burial ritual.

The astonishing discovery was officially declared treasure by the North West Wales coroner Dewi Pritchard-Jones during an inquest at Caernarfon.

A spokesperson for National Museum Wales could not confirm the value of the coins and said the museum is seeking to acquire the hoard with grant funding from the Collecting Cultures stream of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The spokesperson added: “Now that the hoard has been declared treasure by the coroner, the next step will be to courier this to The British Museum for temporary safe keeping.

“The independent Treasure Valuation Committee, will commission an expert valuer to offer their view on current market/collector value and the committee will consider this, before making their recommendation. Finders and landowners are consulted and are able to offer comment or commission their own valuations, if they wish.

“Usually what happens is that the value is split equally between the finder and the landowner with each getting 50% of the current market value.”

Among the more interesting artefacts in the hoard were are fragments of three or four pennies of Cnut, King of England (1016-35), which were most likely all from the mint of Chester.

Cnut the Great, more commonly known as Canute, was a king of Denmark, England, Norway, and parts of Sweden who ruled from the year 985 or 995 to 1035.

Dr Mark Redknap, Head of Collections and Research in the Department of History and Archaeology at the National Museum Wales said the find will help historians to form a picture of the eleventh century Gwynedd economy.

He said: “There are three complete finger-shaped ingots and one fragmentary finger-shaped metal ingot.

“Nicking on the sides of the ingots is an intervention sometimes undertaken in ancient times to test purity, and evidence that they had been used in commercial transactions before burial.
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“At least four hoards on the Isle of Man* indicate that bullion retained an active role in the Manx economy from the 1030s to 1060s, and the mixed nature of the Llandwrog hoard falls into the same category.

“As such it amplifies the picture we are building up of the wealth and economy operating in the kingdom of Gwynedd in the eleventh century.”

 

*Glenfaba c. 1030 (464 coins, 25 ingots, armlet fragment)

Andreas parish churchyard ingots c. 1045

West Nappin, Jurby c. 1045

Kirk Michael parish churchyard c. 1065

 

 

Stolen Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture

Appeal following theft of unique Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture

Police are appealing for information after a unique stone artefact was stolen from a church in Hovingham, near Malton.

Some time between 23 May and 6 June 2015, offenders entered All Saints Church in Hovingham and stole a carved stone which was on display in the recess of a window.

The statue, originally part of a stone cross, dates from the late eighth or early ninth century, and is likely to be contemporary with the shrine panel still preserved in the church. It is particularly notable for its ornate and accomplished carving.

The stone itself is a sandstone from the quarries at Aislaby near Whitby, demonstrating the links between the Anglo-Saxon church at Hovingham and Whitby Abbey, which owned the quarries and exported stone for sculptural monuments to sites across North and East Yorkshire.

The piece measures 51cm high, 23.2cm at its widest, and 12.8cm at its deepest. It is very heavy and will have required a vehicle to remove it.

PC Nick Durkin, of Scarborough Police, said: “Experts have described the stolen sculpture as unique in its form, layout and the quality of its carving. We are making extensive enquiries to return this important historic artefact to its rightful location, and I would urge anyone who knows its whereabouts to get in touch straight away.”

Anglo-Saxon butter churn lid

Saxon artefacts discovered in Stafford during construction of WCML improvement project

Archaeologists have discovered an Anglo-Saxon wooden butter churn lid at a rail development near Stafford. 

But radiocarbon tests have revealed the lid of the butter churn dates from the early medieval period.

The tests have put a fragment of wood found with the lid as dating between AD715-890, so the lid is from the same period as the Staffordshire Hoard.

Dr Emma Tetlow, of Headland Archaeology is senior archaeologist at the site where Network Rail is building a new flyover and 11 bridges on the West Coast Main Line as part of the £250million Stafford Area Improvements Programme. 

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of earth have been moved at the site to date, but checks are undertaken by Dr Tetlow during ground works. She said she was surprised but delighted by the news as there was so little evidence of this period archaeologically.

During this period this part of Staffordshire was part of the Mercian heartland and was populated by a pagan tribe called the Pencersaete.

She added: “Existing knowledge of this period for the north and east of the Midlands and the UK in general is very scarce, so this find is fantastic and of regional significance.”

A number of Victorian stoneware bottles bearing the names of breweries from Bristol to Manchester have also been unearthed. Local residents will have the chance to view some of the objects and discuss them with Dr Tetlow and other colleagues working on the site at an information day in June.

A young man made for the corner where he knew
she was standing; this stripping youth
had whipped up her dress, and under her girdle
(as she stood there) thrust something stiff,
worked his will; they both shook.
This fellow quickened: one moment he was
forceful, a first-rate servant, so strenuous
that the next he was knocked up, quite
blown by his exertion. Beneath the girdle
a thing began to grow that upstanding men
often think of, tenderly, and acquire.

Riddle 54 (answer: a butter churn) from The Exeter Book of Riddles

Further reading: Unriddling the Exeter Riddles by Patrick J. Murphy 

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