Bamburgh Castle find

Bamburgh dig uncovers unique find

The continued archaeological investigation of Bamburgh Castle , once the palace site of the early medieval kings of Northumbria, has revealed a marvellous new find of national significance.

The copper alloy fragment is small, 23mm by 12mm, but beautifully decorated with an intricate zoomorphic representation of a bird, characteristic of early medieval north European art.

The discovery was the star find of the Bamburgh Research Project’s (BRP)  2016 summer excavation and has since been undergoing careful conservation to reveal an intricately decorated artefact that is a window into the art of a lost era of early medieval royal society.

Initial comments from a number of experts has suggested that the bird mount is unique, with no direct parallels and likely to be 8th century in date.

It is fascinating that the new image appears to hark back in time to the bird of prey motifs of the 6th and 7th centuries AD* and could represent a descendant of these earlier styles just as the later 8th century York helmet , is an update of the form known from the earlier Sutton Hoo, Staffordshire [helmet pieces in the Staffordshire Hoard perhaps?] and Wollaston helmets.

 

Bamburgh Research Project Director, Graeme Young, said: “The find was recovered from a cobbled surface revealed at the base of a narrow trench towards the end of the 2016 excavation season.

The layers above date to the 9th century, immediately before the time of Alfred the Great and the before York became the Viking town of ‘Yorvik’ [Jorvik] and 100 years before there was a single kingdom of England. At this time there were a number of smaller kingdoms and Northumbria was one of these.

The palace fortress of Bamburgh was one of the most important places in the kingdom and we have evidence of metal working, probably associated with the production of arms and armour for the warriors of the royal court in our excavation.

In summer 2017 we will continue our investigations of the find spot and we hope to discover if it represents an earlier period of metal working or some other activity.

At the moment our investigation of this horizon is at such an early stage we are unsure if the find came from within a building or from a yard surface or path where it may have been dropped. We are very much looking forward to getting back on site and continuing our excavations. Who knows what other finds await us this summer!”

Francis Armstrong and his son Will, owners of Bamburgh Castle said: “The bird is a spectacular discovery. It is a beautiful artefact and we are proud that it has been found here at Bamburgh. Finds like this help us to connect with the castle’s history and it is wonderful when we get the opportunity to display these ancient wonders so our visitors can enjoy them close up. We are grateful for the work the BRP do here at the castle and we have a great time working with them unearthing the stories that Bamburgh Castle has to tell.”

The bird will be on display at the castle, open 10.00am to 5pm until 29 th October with many other fascinating finds including pattern welded swords and intricately decorated gold work.

*cf birds on The Sutton Hoo Purse-Lid

and Staffordshire Hoard eagle mount

 

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.

skeleton-coffin-model
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 sculpture

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

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.

Anglo-Saxon royal site?

RLM
Archaeologists’ excitement at discovery of ‘exceptional’ royal site linked to Sutton Hoo
Fields on a Suffolk farm have yielded small but hugely significant finds which have led archaeologists to believe they have found a royal home and one of the most important settlements in Anglo-Saxon East Anglia.
A series of archaeological investigations over the past six years on land at Rendlesham have revealed items from around 14 centuries ago which show the site was inhabited by high-status Anglo-Saxons and used for international trade for around 300 years.
Archaeologists believe the site – covering more than 100 acres – was possibly home to a royal palace, a wooden hall surrounded by other buildings with a magnificent dining hall at its heart. This would be where travelling kings stayed, possibly including Raedwald, who is [believed to have been] buried atSutton Hoo.
It is thought the site was possibly home to those who carried out the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, where Raedwald –  head of the [Anglo-] Saxon kingdom across Suffolk and Norfolk – is thought to have been interred among his belongings, including precious and intricate gold jewellery.
Archaeologists who uncovered the internationally-important ship burial chamber in 1939 discovered metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield [fittings] and sword, and many pieces of  silver plate from Byzantium.
Findings at Rendlesham – where the investigations have been kept secret while archaeologists tried to gather their evidence – have been less dramatic in scale, but still highly significant, possibly the most significant since the burial ship.
One archaeologist described the site as “exceptional” and another told the EADT the site was “internationally significant” and would have been as big as Ipswich in the 7th Century.
By the 9th Century the Rendlesham settlement was in decline and Ipswich, by then an established trade and industry centre, took its place as the main town in the area.
No remains of any royal palace or buildings have been found but evidence of their existence has been proven. However, the fragments of jewellery and coins found have been enough to convince archaeologists that they may have found the site which the Saxon historian Bede cited as being a royal village.
Bede wrote about “the king’s country-seat of Rendlesham” and it has long been thought that King Raedwald’s hall stood in the village.
Mike Argent, chairman of the Sutton Hoo Society, said archaeologists working on the project were “very excited” about what has been unearthed.
The investigations are expected to carry on for at least another year, with much scientific work to be done and the detailed papers explaining the finds still to be written.
However, the National Trust, in conjunction with Suffolk County Council’s archaeological service, which has been carrying out the work, will be staging an exhibition of the finds at the Sutton Hoo visitor centre this spring*.
The Sutton Hoo Society helped fund some of the work and also contributed to the cost of purchasing some of the finds by the county museum service in order to keep them local.
The surveys began in 2009 after  nighthawks – treasure hunters using metal detectors illegally – began looting the fields.
Mr Argent said the finds suggested the area may have been a settlement, meeting place or trading station for a variety of Saxon people including those of high-status, probably kings.
Those who buried King Raedwald at Sutton Hoo around 625AD may have lived at the site, an elite inhabiting a place which is known to have Roman connections, reinforced by the discovery of coins and other artefacts, giving it a continuity of use – and of international importance – for more than 300 years.
Mr Argent said the investigations took place around the diary of the working farm, waiting until fields had been harvested, with a team of four authorised and responsible metal detector enthusiasts combing the fields in all weathers.
He said: “The finds are extremely interesting. They consist of mainly tiny pieces, not the big sparkly stuff discovered at the ship burial.
“But the finds show there has been human activity at the site over a long period, high status activity. It doesn’t confirm one way or another that there was a big royal palace – it doesn’t show there was and it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.
“It shows there were high-status people at the site and there was trading with places that were very far away. It is fascinating and very exciting.”
Jude Plouviez, lead archaeological officer at the county council for the project, said there was an “exceptional Anglo-Saxon settlement here, and that it was flourishing at the time of Raedwald”.
Writing in the society’s newsletter, she said: “What has been lost from the field at Rendlesham is suggested by the finds that were recovered by the survey, such as a number of 6th Century copper-alloy items which (Time Team archaeologist) Helen Geake has helped identify.”

horse-harness-fitting

 

 

*The National Trust exhibition of the Rendlesham finds at Sutton Hoo opened on Saturday, March 15, and runs until October.

Also, related news:

Sutton Hoo HelmetSutton Hoo Helmet. Photograph: Trustees of the British Museum

British Museum’s revamped gallery casts light on Dark Ages
Room 41, which houses Sutton Hoo treasure, reopens after refurbishment to mark 75 years since its discovery in Suffolk
[video link]