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.

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Insular mount from Viking grave

Celtic brooch

Looted Viking treasure is discovered in British Museum store: Curator spots 1,000-year-old brooch in lump taken from 18th century excavation

A Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum’s storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a “staggering find”. No-one knew of its existence until now.
It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891.
Curator Barry Ager, a Vikings specialist, was poring over artefacts before a visit from a Norwegian researching the Viking site when his eye was caught by some metal sticking out of the side of the organic lump.
Intrigued, he asked the conservation department to X-ray it. “At that stage, I really didn’t know what was inside,” he said. “It was a staggering find.”
He added: “It turned out, quite remarkably, to be this Celtic disc… It’s extremely exciting… It’s a very rare example of its sort within the collection… shows contact between the British Isles and Norway in the Viking period … objects seized as loot in this country and taken back.”
He believes that it was originally made in Ireland or Scotland, that it came from a shrine or a reliquary, and that the Vikings converted it into a brooch by attaching rivet holes and a pin.
The brooch, almost 6cm in diameter, had been buried in the grave of a high-status Viking woman. Substantial remains of the gilding still survive on the top surface and its elaborate design includes three dolphin-like creatures and interlaced patterns.
“The …patterns, the quatrefoil of the central roundel and the form of the ‘dolphins’ heads have clear parallels in Celtic metalwork and manuscripts of the 8th to early 9th centuries, such as the Tara Brooch and the Book of Mac Regol,” Ager said.
He described the craftsmanship as “very fine” and said that the Vikings valued “eye-catching” objects: “The Vikings themselves were very skilled metalworkers, so I’m sure that’s something that would appeal to a Viking eye.”
Other artefacts that came to the museum from that burial site included two oval brooches and strings of beads. There was also a spindle whorl and a whalebone plaque, which may have been used as a food serving-tray in feasts.
Ager explained: “It was the custom to bury the person with their personal possessions. They were pagan at the time, so it was part of the standard Viking burial rite.”
The burial site was a grave field marked by large mounds. The 19th-century excavation was carried out by Alfred Heneage Cocks*, a British archaeologist, in his spare time between hunting and fishing in Norway. He recorded his progress in a journal. Describing the moment he discovered the spindle whorl, he wrote: “This my knife unfortunately divided before I saw it – it was as soft as the softest cheese.”
Fortunately, he also retained some lumps of organic material, Ager said.
Extensive research is yet to be done. The wood within that lump leads him to suspect that it is the remains of a box to which the brooch may have been attached. Tests might determine whether it is local from the British Isles.
14-59-Lilleberge-assemblage-580x431Investigating the Lilleburge assemblage, a collection of Viking objects that includes items still in the small blocks of soil in which they were excavated in 1886 from a long barrow in Norway.

Removing the brooch from the lump was a painstaking process involving scalpels as conservators wanted to preserve a rare example of Viking textile. That too will be tested, but experts have already detected three different types, including a herringbone pattern.
The brooch will go on display from March 27 in Room 41 – Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300–1100 – which tells the story of a formative period in Europe’s history. A major exhibition, Vikings: Life and Legend, which focuses on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th century to the early 11th century, will include the remains of a 37-metre Viking longship – the longest ever found and never seen before in the UK – runs from 6 March to 22 June.

The reuse of an Insular mount may be paralleled by the example from Komnes, Norway. The gilt-bronze disc mount, with raised ‘watch spring’ spiral bosses, is now in the Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo. It was probably, also, looted from an ecclesiastical cross or shrine during a raid in Ireland and brought to Norway and dates to the 8th or 9th century.

*Alfred Heneage Cocks (British archaeologist; collector; 1864 – 1928)

The Witham Shield

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Witham Shield, a masterpiece of British Iron Age art, on show in Lincoln

Visitors to The Collection in Lincoln will have the chance to view the Witham Shield – a masterpiece of British Iron Age art and an icon of Lincolnshire archaeology – when it returns to the county for the first time in 150 years.
‘The Witham Shield: A Spotlight Loan from the British Museum’ runs from March 13 until June 9.

The treasure was discovered during dredging of the River Witham near Washingborough in 1826 and came into the possession of Reverend Humphrey Waldo Sibthorp, the Rector of Washingborough.
It was then owned by collectors Samuel Meyrick and Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks before being donated to the British Museum in 1872.
The British Museum, who have held the shield ever since, has agreed to loan it to Lincoln to give people a unique opportunity to view it.
Antony Lee, collections access officer for archaeology at the county council, said: “We are delighted that the famous Witham Shield is returning to Lincolnshire for the first time in 150 years.
“ It’s a masterpiece of Iron Age art and an iconic object in the British Museum collections.
“Visitors will be able to view the original shield and learn about its discovery, manufacture, decoration and significance.
“There will also be a series of family activity days and lectures to accompany the exhibition.”

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ps300044_lDrawing of the Witham shield  with the elongated boar

See also:
 The Battersea Shield
 The Chertsey Shield

The Vyne Roman ring

The ring that may have inspired Tolkien's Hobbit books
 The Hobbit ring that may have inspired Tolkien put on show

In what was once the housekeeper’s office of a Tudor mansion in Hampshire, a very odd golden ring glitters on a revolving stand in a tall perspex column. In chapter five of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds a ring in the gloom of Gollum’s cave. Not just any ring. “One very beautiful thing, very beautiful, very wonderful. He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring.”
A new exhibition opening today at The Vyne, now owned by the National Trust, raises the intriguing possibility that the Roman ring in the case, and the ring of power in JRR Tolkien‘s book The Hobbit, and in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, are one and the same.
As Dave Green, the property manager, explains, there’s more to the story than the ring – an iron-age site with ancient mine workings known as “the Dwarf’s Hill”, a curse on the thief who stole the ring, and a strong link to Tolkien himself.
Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford before he found fame as an author, with the publication of The Hobbit in 1937, and the first of the Rings trilogy in 1954. He certainly knew the story of the curse and the ring, and was researching the subject two years before he began work on The Hobbit.
The ring was in the collection of the Chute family – which for generations was interested in politics, collecting, and antiquarian research – for centuries before the house came to the National Trust in the 1930s.
“I was looking for the ring to show a visitor, and I walked right past the case with it – that’s when I decided we really had to make more of this amazing thing,” Green said. As well as the exhibition room, created with the help of the  Tolkien Trust, the house now has a dwarf trail for children and a new playground with circular tunnels and green hillocks recalling Bilbo’s home, Bag End.
The ring was probably found in 1785 by a farmer ploughing a few miles away within the walls of  Silchester, one of the most enigmatic Roman sites in the country – a town which flourished before the Roman invasion, was abandoned by the 7th century and was never reoccupied.
There are no details of exactly when it was found, but historians assume the farmer sold it to the history loving wealthy family at The Vyne. It was a strikingly odd object, 12g of gold so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb, ornamented with a peculiar spiky head wearing a diadem, and a Latin inscription reading: “Senicianus live well in God“.
A few decades later and 100 miles away, more of the story turned up: at Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman site known locally as the Dwarf’s Hill,  a tablet with an inscribed curse was found. A Roman called Silvianus informs the god  Nodens that his ring has been stolen. He knows the villain responsible, and he wants the god to sort them out: “Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.”
Lydney was re-excavated by the maverick archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who called in Tolkien in 1929 to advise on the odd name of the god – and also spotted the connection between the name on the curse and the Chute family’s peculiar ring. It seems that Senicianus only got as far as Silchester before he lost his booty.
Dr Lynn Forest-Hill of the Tolkien Trust said Tolkien’s source was usually assumed to be literary sources, including the Niebelung legends. “It is, then, particularly fascinating to see the physical evidence of the Vyne ring, with its links to Tolkien through the inscription associating it with a curse.”
The ring is now on display with a first edition of The Hobbit and a copy of the curse – visitors are invited to vote on whether they are looking at the original of Bilbo’s ring.

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The Galloway Picts Project

The Galloway Picts Project

Ancient chronicles talk about the Picts of Galloway, a wild fierce people from the Dark Ages. While historians nowadays seem convinced that there were never Picts in Galloway, there is one place in south-west Scotland where apparently incontrovertible evidence for Picts survives.

Trusty’s Hill is a vitrified fort, conspicuous amongst the many ancient hillforts of Galloway for its Pictish Symbol Stone. The Pictish Symbols at Trusty’s Hill probably date to a period in the first millennium AD when south-west Scotland was inhabited by people usually perceived to be Britons, not Picts.

So what is this Pictish Symbol Stone doing in Galloway?

This is what the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society would like to know. This is what the Galloway Picts Project aims to find out.

Glastonbury Abbey in the “Dark Ages”

Glastonbury Abbey’s pottery link to Dark Ages

Glastonbury Abbey excavation in 1954
Ralegh Radford and Linda Witherill excavated Glastonbury Abbey in 1954

Pottery fragments from an excavation archive of Glastonbury Abbey have shown the site dates back to the Dark Ages, which is later than previously thought.

The research project into the 1951-1964 excavation archive have shown humans occupied the site in the late 4th or 5th centuries.

Archaeologist John Allan said: “We hadn’t realised these periods were represented in the excavated pottery.”

Other finds include “exotic” pottery from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.

“A scatter of exotic Saxon, Norman, medieval and later ceramics attests the great wealth of the abbey.

“Scientific analysis has now established the precise origins of some of these finds; the most distant come from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France,” said Mr Allan.

Despite the find, there is no evidence to show whether the site was being used at the time for religious or secular activities.

The archaeological dig was carried out during the 50s and 60s by Ralegh Radford and the new research into his finds has been carried out by the archaeology department at Reading University.

Although Mr Radford published an interim report* about his finds a full report was never made.

It was only after his death in 1999 that his excavation archive was deposited at the National Monuments Record in Swindon, making this research possible.

Glastonbury Abbey was regarded as an important place of pilgrimage for Christians built up around the legend of Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ uncle who is said to have visited Glastonbury to spread the word of Christianity.

Apart from discovering the early history of the abbey, archaeologists have also revealed more about the medieval history of the Benedictine abbey and the precise origins of these finds.

The curator at Glastonbury Abbey, Janet Bell, said: “The abbey was using high quality tableware such as the Saintonge polychrome jug from western France.

“This probably came to the abbey through the Bordeaux wine trade in the 1300s and would have probably been used to serve wine at the monk’s table.

“Other exotic finds include a tin glazed tile from Seville, which probably decorated the abbots lodging around the time of Henry VIII’s reign.”

The abbey was destroyed and pillaged during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century.

*Radford, CA Ralegh, 1955, “Excavations at Glastonbury, 1954.” Antiquity, Volume 29: 33-4.

London Mesolithic timbers

London’s oldest structure discovered

A team from Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) has discovered London’s oldest structure on the foreshore of the Thames just metres from the MI6 building in Vauxhall.
As they surveyed the foreshore in spring of 2010, archaeologists from TDP found six timber piles of up to 0.3 metres in diameter. Although no definite alignment or function can yet be determined, it is clear that the piles formed part of a prehistoric structure which stood beside the river over 6500 years ago, during the Mesolithic period, when river levels were lower and the landscape very different. Structures of Mesolithic date are very rare anywhere in Britain, reports Past Horizons.
Kept secret until it could be fully recorded and investigated, the site is located at the confluence of the Rivers Effra and Thames. Near the timbers, late Mesolithic stone tools, including a fine tranchet adze (a woodworking tool), were also discovered, as well as slightly later Neolithic pottery of two distinct types. The area, may have been a significant, named place continuing through centuries or even millennia. It is only 600m downstream from the Bronze Age timber-built bridge or jetty (c1500 BC), which hit the headlines in the 1990s.
Archaeologists from TDP made the discovery as they investigated the area as part of a continuing project to record archaeological and historical remains on the foreshore. With support from English Heritage, the Museum of London and the geomatics team of Museum of London Archaeology a detailed survey was carried out, radiocarbon dates obtained for the six piles, and specialist analysis of the artefacts and environmental evidence performed.
Radiocarbon dates taken from the timbers have indicated that the trees were felled between 4790 BC and 4490 BC. The three samples returned dates of 4792-4610 cal BC, 4690-4490 cal BC and 4720-4540 cal BC.

….the piles should be visible from Vauxhall Bridge on January 22 and 23, when a very low tide is due.  Oldest London building is spied in Thames