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

 

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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

 

 

Radcliffe Tower

Medieval past uncovered as new excavation begins at Radcliffe Tower

WORK began this week to discover more about Radcliffe Hall and Tower’s medieval past.

Rad tow

Radcliffe Tower

The Close Park dig is being run by archaeologists from the University of Salford, who initially excavated the site in October 2013, and has so far attracted almost 100 volunteers.

The team is hoping to mark out the medieval foundations of the structure, after a 15th century doorway and stone plinth bases from the great hall were uncovered last year.

Organisers have been delighted with the response from the local community and say they are already making some fascinating discoveries, after selecting Close Park as one of their two flagship excavations in the Dig Greater Manchester initiative.

Vicky Nash, who is leading the dig, said: “The main aim is to finally piece together the foundations of the medieval hall, but also the later development of the site.

The reason we came back is because we have dug here three times before and we have only just started to see evidence of the medieval hall popping up.

We’ve had a really good response from the people of Radcliffe. It’s been one of the most popular digs we’ve done.

This dig is only a few days in and we’ve had a lot of interest and are already uncovering a lot of what we came here to find.

We are very familiar with the site now and that means we are getting more and more of the results we want to see.”

The dig is running until Friday May 15, with places still available in the final weeks of the excavation for volunteers to join in.

The event is open to anybody over the age of 16, though younger volunteers are able to attend on Saturday, May 2 and Bank Holiday Monday, May 4, providing they are accompanied by an adult.

An open day will then be held on Saturday, May 16 to showcase the team’s findings, with other stalls around the site showcasing the history of the area.

Radcliffe towerdig

Also:

 Ancient cross which stood in Radcliffe is rediscovered – at the library

Archaeologists praise community spirit as Close Park dig concludes

Radcliffe Interactive Map

Update Volunteers offer special preview of heritage trail to showcase Radcliffe’s medieval past

Housesteads latrines

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

WC

“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.”

Colchester Roman jewellery

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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

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.