Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Archaeologists in Cambridgeshire find graves of two men with legs chopped off

‘Somebody really, really didn’t like these guys,’ says Jonathan House, archaeologist with the Mola Headland Infrastructure team. 
Photograph: Highways England, courtesy of Mola Headland Infrastructure

Exclusive: men believed to be from late Roman or early Saxon period were found in pit being used as rubbish dump

The graves of two men whose legs were chopped off at the knees and placed carefully by their shoulders before burial have been discovered by archaeologists working on a huge linear site in advance of roadworks in Cambridgeshire.

The best scenario the archaeologists can hope for is that the unfortunate men were dead when their legs were mutilated. It also appears their skulls were smashed in, although that could be later damage.

“Was it to keep them in their graves and stop them from running away?” said Kasia Gdaniec, the senior archaeologist with Cambridge county council. “Or had they tried to run away and was this a punishment – and a warning to everyone else not even to think of it?”

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How to decorate like a Viking

Grand Designs, Viking edition. A new report recreates some of the colours used by Vikings to decorate their houses, including ochre and charcoal pigments. (Photo: Sagnlandet Lejre)

To begin with you will need a handy Viking paint chart. Luckily, archaeologists in Denmark have just made one.
Green is the colour of hope, white symbolises surrender or innocence, and black binds the living to the dead.

Colour has always carried meaning for people, including the Vikings, for whom it symbolised power and wealth.

But what colours did the Vikings use?

Archaeologists and chemists have now studied colour use in the Viking Age based on the chemical analyses of pigments from a number of objects and a review of existing information on the topic.

These colours are now available to all in the form of a colour palette: A Viking paint chart.

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DNA study reveals fate of Irish women taken by Vikings as slaves to Iceland

The Sea Stallion from Glendalough, a reconstructed Viking ship [Credit: Eric Luke]

The mapping of DNA from some of the settlers who colonised Iceland more than 1,000 years ago offers an insight into the fate of thousands of slaves – mostly women – who were taken by Norse Vikings from Ireland and Scotland before they put down roots on the North Atlantic island.

Anthropologist Sunna Ebenesersdóttir, of the University of Iceland and the company deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, analysed the genomes of 25 ancient Icelanders whose skeletal remains were found in burial sites across the island.

Sequencing using samples from teeth revealed the settlers had a roughly even split of Norse (from what are today Norway and Sweden) and Gaelic ancestry. It is the first in-depth investigation of how a new population is formed through a genetic process known as “admixture”.

When the researchers compared the ancient genomes to those of modern people in Iceland and other European countries, they found contemporary Icelanders, on average, draw about 70 per cent of their genes from Norse ancestry.

This suggests that in the 1,100 years between settlement and today, the population underwent a surprisingly quick genetic shift in favour of Norse genes, the researchers report in the journal Science.

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Monday, 18 June 2018

Inscribed seventh-century window ledge unearthed at Tintagel

The slate ledge was found during excavations of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, a site associated with the stories of King Arthur. Photograph: Nigel Wallace-Iles/English Herit/PA

A seventh-century slate window ledge inscribed with an intriguing mix of Latin, Greek and Celtic words, names and symbols has been unearthed at in north Cornwall.

The discovery adds weight to the view that the rugged coastal site, which is most often , was home in the early middle ages to a sophisticated and multicultural port community.

Put together with other finds including Iberian goblets and bowls from what is now Turkey, the slate ledge suggests Tintagel may well have been an important royal base with trade links stretching from Europe’s Atlantic coast to the eastern Mediterranean.

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Bedfordshire's first Roman town wall unearthed in Sandy

Items discovered by Les Capon and his team include the skeleton of a woman, a funeral pyre, Roman rubbish and a pottery kiln

Archaeologists excavating a former allotment site in a market town have made the "absolutely brilliant" find of a previously-unknown Roman wall.

The dig in Sandy, Bedfordshire, has uncovered about 200 items dating from the Iron Age in 500 BC to the Saxon period in 800 AD.

Among the finds is the remains of a Saxon house.

The site, in Stratford Road, is to be turned into a cemetery, car park and council depot.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Hidden writing in ancient desert monastery manuscripts

Fr Justin is helping to share online the historic manuscripts in an ancient Sinai monastery

For a monk who lives in the Sinai desert in Egypt, in the world's oldest working monastery, Father Justin replies to emails very speedily.

It should come as no surprise: the Greek Orthodox monk is in charge of hauling the library at St Catherine's into the 21st Century.

This ancient collection of liturgical texts, including some of the earliest Christian writing and second in size only to the Vatican, is going to be made available online for scholars all over the world.

The manuscripts, kept in a newly-renovated building which was opened to the public in December 2017, are now the subject of hi-tech academic detective work.

East meeting West
A team of scientists and photographers working alongside Fr Justin has been using multi-spectral imaging to reveal passages hidden beneath the manuscripts' visible text.

These include early medical guides, obscure ancient languages, and illuminating biblical revisions.

Among the researchers is Michelle P Brown, professor emerita of medieval manuscript studies at the University of London.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

South Downs skeleton 'executed 1,000 years ago'

The well-preserved skeleton, thought to be from the 11th Century, was found during excavations in the South Downs

A man whose remains were unearthed by construction workers was executed about 1,000 years ago, archaeologists believe.

The well-preserved skeleton, thought to be from the 11th Century, was found during excavations in the South Downs.

It is thought the man, found in a grave on Truleigh Hill near Shoreham, West Sussex, was aged between 25 and 35.

Bone analysis put the date of his death between 1010 and 1023, while cuts to the neck pointed to a violent end.

The skeleton was found intact, but with no signs of a coffin, with only a few bones missing from his hands and feet in 2015.

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Monday, 7 May 2018

Beowulf: The enduring appeal of an Anglo-Saxon 'superhero story'

Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language

As the cold sting of winter finally starts to fade, so the literary festival season edges closer. An addition to the line-up this year is a five-day celebration of the legendary saga of Beowulf. How is it that a story written by an unknown author more than 1,000 years ago still captures the imagination?

The eponymous hero of this 3,182-line poem battles fierce monsters, rips off his enemy's arm, fights a fire-breathing dragon and defends a nation.

It could be the plot of Hollywood's latest blockbuster movie.

But this is the story of Beowulf, a poem once told in timber-framed barns in Anglo-Saxon England, to the raucous noise of the mead-swilling crowd.

Described by historian and broadcaster Michael Wood as "being at the very root of English literature", the author and the exact date of composition remain a mystery.

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Friday, 30 March 2018

Anglo-Saxon settlement and Roman army camp found in A14 bypass dig

An archaeologist excavates a skeleton in Cambridgeshire. Photograph: Highways 
England/MOLA Headland Infrastructure

It’s taken more than 700 years, but the medieval villagers of Houghton in Cambridgeshire have had the last laugh: the foundations of their houses and workshops have been exposed again, as roadworks carve up the landscape they were forced to abandon when their woodlands were walled off into a royal hunting forest.

Their lost village has been rediscovered in an epic excavation employing more than 200 archaeologists, working across scores of sites on a 21-mile stretch of flat Cambridgeshire countryside, the route of the upgraded A14 and the Huntingdon bypass.

Much of it is now flat and rather featureless farmland, but the excavations have revealed how densely populated it was in the past, with scores of village sites, burial mounds, henges, trackways, industrial sites including pottery kilns and a Roman distribution centre. The archaeologists also found an Anglo-Saxon tribal boundary site with huge ditches, a gated entrance and a beacon on a hill that still overlooks the whole region.

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Ancient artefacts found during Hornsea Project One wind farm work

Thousands of artefacts and archaeological remains have been found during work to bury underground cables for an offshore wind farm.
Coins, brooches, pottery and evidence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement are among the finds unearthed during preparatory work for Hornsea Project One.
Other discoveries include two bodies dating as far back as Roman times.
The wind farm will be off the Yorkshire coast, but a 25-mile onshore cable will reach a North Lincolnshire substation.
From 2015, excavations have taken place along the cable route from Horseshoe Point, east of Tetney, to North Killingholme.

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Monday, 5 February 2018

Radiocarbon dating reveals mass grave did date to the Viking age

A team of archaeologists, led by Cat Jarman from the University of Bristol's Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, has discovered that a mass grave uncovered in the 1980s dates to the Viking Age and may have been a burial site of the Viking Great Army war dead.


One of the female skulls from the Repton charnel [Credit: Cat Jarman]

Although the remains were initially thought to be associated with the Vikings, radiocarbon dates seemed to suggest the grave consisted of bones collected over several centuries. New scientific research, published in Antiquity, now shows that this was not the case and that the bones are all consistent with a date in the late 9th century. Historical records state that the Viking Great Army wintered in Repton, Derbyshire, in 873 A.D. and drove the Mercian king into exile.

Excavations led by archaeologists Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle at St Wystan's Church in Repton in the 1970s and 1980s discovered several Viking graves and a charnel deposit of nearly 300 people underneath a shallow mound in the vicarage garden.

The mound appears to have been a burial monument linked to the Great Army.

An Anglo-Saxon building, possibly a royal mausoleum, was cut down and partially ruined, before being turned into a burial chamber.

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This Mass Grave May Belong to 'Great Viking Army'

Bones are yielding new clues about the massive, mysterious Viking forces that invaded England.

A photo taken at a 1982 excavation of the gravesite shows remains from what may belong to the Great Viking Army. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARTIN BIDDLE

For years, archaeologists were stumped. What happened to the Great Viking Army, a massive force that seized great swaths of England in the 9th century but left barely a trace?
Archaeologists now report that a mass grave in England may contain nearly 300 Viking warriors—the only remains of the Great Viking Army’s warriors ever found.Archaeologists first uncovered the burial site in the 1980s, in Derbyshire, England, and thought it might contain remains from the Great Viking Army, also known the Great Heathen Army. But there was one problem—radiocarbon dating of the site revealed that the remains were too old to be Viking invaders.
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Friday, 2 February 2018

Canterbury artefacts 'may have been stolen by metal thieves'


Two suspected metal thieves are believed to be behind the theft of an archaeological hoard including hundreds of Anglo-Saxon beads and iron age coins, having apparently stumbled on the artefacts while scavenging for copper pipes and wiring.
Canterbury Archaeological Trust is appealing for the public’s help in scanning online sale sites such as eBay for any sign of the artefacts stolen in three raids last month at its warehouse, in the north-east of the city.
The trust is also furious with its landlord, Canterbury city council, because it claims the council failed to inform it, or the police, about metal theft on an adjacent derelict site.
The trust’s archive manager, Andrew Richardson, is devastated by the loss of at least 1,500 items, including Anglo-Saxon brooches and coins each worth thousands of pounds.
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Thieves steal hundreds of priceless artefacts from Canterbury charity


Priceless artefacts including 850 Anglo-Saxon beads have been stolen from an archaeological charity in Canterbury during a series of break-ins.

Thieves broke into the store of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, which undertakes excavations and research and educates the public about archaeology, twice last week and once over the weekend.

As well as the beads, large quantities of coins and metal artefacts, and an assortment of bone objects have been stolen.
The charity has put on an appeal asking the public to look out for the historical items being offered for sale.

The trust’s outreach and archive manager Dr Andrew Richardson told the Guardian: “It’s been pretty distressing for everyone at the trust, not only because of the lost items but also the scale of the damage.

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Monday, 27 November 2017

Archaeologists uncover ancient Viking camp from the 870s in village of Repton

University of Bristol students excavated a Viking camp dating to a winter in the 870s (PA)

A Viking camp that dates back to the 870s has been been unearthed by archeologists in the small village of Repton in Derbyshire.

The new discoveries were located at a campsite in the village, which has been known about since the 1970s.

Techniques including ground penetrating radar were used to reveal evidence for workshops and ship repairs over a much larger area.

A team from the University of Bristol also discovered structures, dating from the winter of 873-874, such as paths and possible temporary buildings.

Excavations showed these to be gravel platforms that may have held temporary timber structures or tents.

There were fragments of Saxon millstones and a cross fragment from the monastery, as well as broken pieces of weaponry including fragments of battle-axes and arrows.

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New Research on Viking Army Camp at Repton

(Courtesy Cat Jarman)

Archaeologists have turned up new evidence about a ninth-century Viking overwintering camp in the Derbyshire village of Repton, according to a report from Yahoo News. The site, which was occupied by a Viking army in the winter of 873-4, was previously excavated starting in the 1970s and was thought to have been limited to a fortified D-shaped enclosure measuring just a few acres. Now, a team from the University of Bristol has found evidence of structures and activities including metalworking and ship repair in the area outside this enclosure. Among the items found there were lead gaming pieces, fragments of battle-axes and arrows, and nails with roves, which are a telltale feature of Viking ship nails. The finds show that the Viking camp was larger and host to a wider range of activities than had been previously known, said Cat Jarman of the University of Bristol. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when the Vikings arrived in Repton in 873, they drove the Mercian king Burghred overseas. The researchers also confirmed that a mass grave at the site containing at least 264 people dates to the time of the overwintering camp and likely holds Viking war dead. For more on the Vikings in England, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Using parchment to reveal the ancient lives of livestock

A page from the York Gospels. Eraser rubbings left over from cleaning the pages of this manuscript revealed the ancient genomes of the animals used to produce the parchment. 
(Image: York Minster)

Innovative ways of utilising ancient protein and DNA analysis have revealed new information about medieval parchment and the animals from which they are made.

A group of researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the University of York have taken eraser rubbings – left over from the cleaning of medieval manuscripts – and extracted DNA and proteins from the waste. This method means that parts of the manuscript no longer need to be removed for destructive testing.

The group recently used this technique to analyse the pages of the York Gospels, an Anglo-Saxon book (c.1000 AD) containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, a letter from King Cnut, and land ownership documents. The experiment yielded some interesting results.

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Monday, 16 October 2017

UK’s north-south divide dates back to Vikings, says archaeologist

A division 1,000 years in the making? Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

The north-south divide has been the butt of jokes in Britain for years, but research has shown the Watford Gap, which separates the country, was in fact established centuries ago when the Vikings invaded Britain.

According to the archaeologist Max Adams, who made the discovery while researching his new book, the Northamptonshire-Warwickshire boundary known as the Watford Gap is a geographic and cultural reality that can be traced back to the Viking age.

Adams was struck by the absence of Scandinavian placenames south-west of Watling Street, the Roman road that became the A5. “There might be one or two names, but I don’t think there are any, and there are certainly hundreds and hundreds north-east. Clearly the Scandinavian settlers stopped at Watling Street,” Adams said.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

'Exceptionally rare' crucifix found by metal detectorist in England

An "exceptionally rare" ancient crucifix has been unearthed by an amateur metal detectorist. The 2cm (0.78in) tall lead object, which depicts Christ on the cross, was found in the village of Skidbrooke, Lincolnshire, by Tom Redmayne. It is thought to date from between AD 950-1150.


The 2cm artefact depicts Christ on the cross [Credit: Adam Daubney]

Archaeologist Adam Daubney, from Lincolnshire County Council, said it is one of only three known examples in the country.

Mr Redmayne, who found the crucifix on Sunday, said he did not initially realise the significance of his discovery. He said he knew it was a crucifix, and was possibly old due to its crude design.

However, he said it was only when he researched the item online he realised it was something special. Despite the artefact having little monetary value, he said, it offers a unique insight into the lives of ordinary people at the time.

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Thursday, 27 July 2017

Uncovering the Galloway Viking Hoard, layer by layer


Hold on to your Viking helmet; you’re about to dig, layer by layer, into one of the most extraordinary Viking hoards ever found on the British Isles – the Galloway Hoard – with Dr Martin Goldberg, Senior Curator at National Museums Scotland

The team of metal detectorists had been working this field in Galloway for some time, but what they eventually found was way beyond their expectations.

The top layer contained eleven ingots and eleven silver arm-rings that had been flattened into bullion. They would have been made from the type of ingots they’re buried with. There’s a nice variety of decoration, with lots of punched lines and hatches. This type of arm-ring is normally found in hoards in Ireland and there are some from North Wales and from Lancashire – all around the Irish Sea, but we don’t have a lot of this particular type in Scotland. This hoard completes the circle around the Irish Sea.

They’re called a Hiberno-Scandinavian type of arm-ring and obviously the Scandinavian is the new element added to the cultural mix at the time, but they’re given that Hiberno- prefix because they’re normally found in Ireland. For me it is always the hyphen between these cultural labels where the interesting things are happening.

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