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?
The Ghastly Truth About Life in the Middle Ages
Wales protects its Iron Age hill forts
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.
Heather and Hillforts
Walking Britain Clwydian Hills
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.
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.
The battle and Asser feature in Bernard Cornwell‘s novel series: The Saxon Stories