Thursday, 18 June 2020

ID'ing England's First Nun

(Courtesy Finding Eanswythe) 
Probable remains of Saint Eanswythe, England

Many people in the port town of Folkestone in southeastern England still revere Saint Eanswythe, a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon princess who helped found Folkestone Priory, the first nunnery in England. Her remains were thought to have been interred at the priory until the 1530s, but went missing after Henry VIII dissolved the country’s monasteries. In 1885, a lead container with human bones was discovered concealed in a wall near the priory’s altar. It was long assumed the relics were Saint Eanswythe’s, and that they had been hidden to protect them from the Tudor king’s machinations. Now, work on the reliquary led by Canterbury Archaeological Trust archaeologist Andrew Richardson has provided new evidence that the remains are in fact those of the missing holy woman. 

The team’s study shows that the container dates to around the eighth century, and that the remains belonged to a young woman of about 20 years old who lived in the mid-seventh century. Says Richardson, “The strong probability is that this young person, concealed in a prestigious location within a church known to have housed her remains, is indeed Eanswythe.”

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The Beowulf Manuscript – Nowell Codex

The Only Surviving Manuscript of Beowulf

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem that survives in a single copy in the manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. It has no title in the original document but has become known by the name of the story’s hero.

The poem is known only from a single manuscript, which is estimated to date from around 975–1025.

The manuscript dates either to the reign of Æthelred the Unready or to the beginning of the reign of Cnut the Great from 1016.

The Beowulf manuscript is known as the Nowell Codex, gaining its name from the 16th-century owner and scholar Laurence Nowell.

The earliest surviving reference to the Nowell Codex was made about 1650, and the prior ownership of the codex before Nowell remains a mystery.

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Lindisfarne Gospels


The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated manuscript produced about 715 – 720 in the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. It is an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,

The manuscript is in the unique style of Hiberno-Saxon combining Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic elements.

The Lindisfarne Gospels are presumed to be the work of a monk named Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698. Some parts of the manuscript were left unfinished, indicating that Eadfrith was still working on it at his time of death.

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Sunday, 24 May 2020

Norfolk discovery of 1,100-year-old brooch 'will remain a mystery'

Experts at the British Museum say the brooch is of "national significance"
Image copyright NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

The origins of a 1,100-year-old brooch found in a lorry-load of soil may be "a mystery" that is never solved, say archaeologists.

The late 9th Century silver disc was discovered in a field in Great Dunham, Norfolk, which had recently been landscaped.

It is not known where the soil came from, but experts say the find is similar to the nearby Pentney Hoard.

The British Museum said the discovery was of "national importance".

An inquest - the process by which the find may be officially declared treasure - has been opened in Norwich and will conclude on 9 June.

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Thursday, 7 May 2020

Cleethorpes teacher's Anglo-Saxon treasures sell for £30k

Hundreds of objects sold as part of the collection include spear heads, brooches and beads
HANSONS

Anglo-Saxon treasure unearthed by a history teacher in a field has sold for £30,000 at auction.

Gordon Taylor discovered the artefacts, which date back to 450 AD, in 1962 after finding a piece of bone in Irby-on-Humber, North East Lincolnshire.

It led to a 17-year excavation, in which items including a 1,000-year-old skull, jewellery, scissors and a spear head were also uncovered.

The 250-strong collection is believed to have been sold to a museum.

Mr Taylor, from Cleethorpes, died three years ago aged 88. His son Geoff said the family were "absolutely delighted" by the sale.

"I watched the sale live. I just called my mum and she is over the moon," he said.

He said he hoped the artefacts would be put "on public view".

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Sunday, 3 May 2020

Peeling back the layers of a Saxon tower in Stowe Nine Churches, Northamptonshire


Once the situation allows, our Northampton historic building team are looking forward to being able to record and monitor the conservation of a church tower at St Michael’s, a Grade I listed rural parish church with potential Saxon origins in Stowe Nine Churches, Northamptonshire. In this blog, Historic Building Officer Lauren Wilson explains what she hopes to learn…

St Michael’s Church has stood on its perch overlooking the Grand Union Canal for over a thousand years, however the external render of the tower has been causing damage to its structure, so it is being removed so that conservation works can take place before the render is then reapplied using a more sensitive material. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to inspect the underlying fabric of the tower.

There are several questions that we are hoping to answer: How much of the upper stages of the tower retain their Saxon stonework? What is the relationship between the architectural elements like the iron strapwork, the phases of render, and the window apertures?

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Thursday, 30 April 2020

The British Museum is displaying 4 million items from its collection online

Photograph: The Lewis Chessmen. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Got some browsing time on your hands? Load up the British Museum’s website. Yesterday the museum decided to do an earlier-than-planned unveil of its revamped online collection. It’s now the biggest database of any museum in the world, with more than 4 million objects to click through. 

The collection features the museum’s most famous artefacts, like the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Sculptures, along with every item the institution holds from Ancient Egypt. 

But there are some new additions too – including 280,000 new object photographs that are being published for the first time. Among them are images of 73 portraits by Damien Hirst and a watercolour by the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti that until recently had been thought lost. You can also look for works by Kara Walker, William Hogarth and Rembrandt in a digital archive of 75,000 art prints. If you’re more into coins, they have about 50,000 of those – medieval, Tudor, the works. Fill your boots. 

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Saturday, 25 April 2020

Who was Edward the Elder? A brief guide to the Anglo-Saxon king


Who was Edward the Elder?

He was the son of King Alfred and Ealhswith of Mercia. A man of Wessex, he was probably born in the 870s and died in 924. After his father’s death in 899, and like Alfred, he was called king of the Anglo-Saxons, reflecting his overlordship of both Wessex and Mercia. He was married three times and had an estimated 14 children. His son, Aethelstan, succeeded him. He lived in a time when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had not yet coalesced into England, and when Vikings held sway in East Anglia and Northumbria.

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These ancient flowers were used as Anglo Saxon bubble wrap

Centuries old flower heads from a Roman vessel. 
Photo Steven Baker at Historic England.

Precious archaeobotanical finds preserved inside eight Roman pots
Surviving organic matter from the Anglo Saxon period is rare, but these fragile remains of flowers and heads of bracken are 1,500 years old.

They were discovered in 2014 inside a hoard of eight Roman bronze pots dating to the very earliest part of the post-Roman / early Anglo Saxon period, and whoever buried the hoard had done so carefully, either to keep the bronze bowls safe or perhaps as a votive offering.

For packing they used common knapweed, bracken and other plants as we might use bubble wrap to safeguard a parcel today.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Remains of St Eanswythe found in Folkestone?

The remains were found in the church of St Mary and St Eanswythe 
[Image: Mark Hourahane]

Recent scientific tests on human remains kept for centuries in the church of St Mary and St Eanswythe in Folkestone, Kent, have suggested that they are likely to be those of Eanswythe herself.

St Eanswythe was the granddaughter of Æthelbert, the first English king to convert to Christianity under the Augustine mission, and is thought to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England in around AD 660.

Historical documents indicate that Eanswythe’s bones were kept as relics in Folkestone after her death, and were moved to the present church when it was built in 1138. There are records of an active shrine to the saint there until the 1530s; however, there is no mention of her remains after this date, and it was assumed that they had been destroyed during the Reformation – until renovations in 1885 revealed a lead container that had been hidden in a niche in the north wall and contained human bones.

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Friday, 3 April 2020

8 things you need to know about King Arthur


The legend of King Arthur, a fifth-century warrior king who supposedly led the fight against Saxon invaders, continues to fascinate today. Historian John Matthews shares eight facts about King Arthur, separating the myth from reality...

Was King Arthur real?
Arthur, sometimes known as ‘the king that was and the king that shall be’, is recognised all over the world as one of the most famous characters of myth and legend. Yet, if he existed at all (which few scholars agree upon), he would not have been a king, but the commander of an elite force of fighting men. Furthermore, he would have lived more than 500 years before medieval legends suggest.

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Æthelflæd: the Lady of the Mercians


She was a queen in all but name, but Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great, is barely mentioned in contemporary chronicles of the Anglo-Saxon era. Writer Jonny Wilkes wonders whether England owes more to her than to her famous father

When Æthelflæd was a baby her father Alfred, destined for greatness, became King of Wessex. At around 16 years old, she was married to the Lord of the Mercians and so placed next to the seat of power of a neighbouring Anglo-Saxon kingdom. In her 20s, she helped to build a string of fortifications and patronise churches; in her 30s, she took up the mantle of ruling in place of her indisposed husband and defeated the Vikings in battle; and in her 40s, on her husband’s death, Æthelflæd was chosen to lead above all male contenders.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

New delay for Cork Events Centre as Danes say ancient deeds prove Vikings own site

Events Centre - Under new management?

Cork's long-delayed Events Centre has been hit by yet another hold-up as the Danish Government claims ownership of the city centre site on behalf of its former Viking owners.

The Danish culture ministry last week alerted their Government about the discovery of ancient land deeds, in the University of Copenhagen archives, which they say "prove" ownership of most of Cork City centre.

Academics at the university say the 11th Century land titles, made out to King Wulf Hardasson, clearly state that the Viking king and his rightful heirs shall lay claim to the "Great Marsh of Munster" in perpetuity.

And as the deeds were never legally dissolved after the last vikings left their settlement in Cork, the site where the long-delayed Events Centre was supposed to be built is still - legally - the property of any living descendants of the last Viking ruler of Cork.

The Danish embassy in Dublin has now lodged a formal claim with the Department of Arts, Heritage and Culture and Irish officials believe this could lead to a very lengthy legal battle with the living heirs of King Wulf Hardasson.

One Departmental official told CorkBeo; "They're saying they've traced his only living male heir, he's a plumber called Lars Sorenson who lives in Aalborg. The Danes are arguing that as the deeds were never dissolved, technically, this guy is the Viking overlord of most of Cork City."

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Virtual Visits to Sites and Museums



Self-isolating and bored?

You can find a list of Virtual Visits to Sites and Museums at:

http://emas-archaeology.org/useful-websites/virtual-visits-to-sites-and-museums/

to help you pass the time.

Monday, 30 March 2020

New Sutton Hoo Movie Rights the Wrongs of Archaeological Snobbery


The new Sutton Hoo movie, called The Dig, that is due to be released on Netflix is going to tell the real story behind one of Britain’s greatest archaeological discoveries. It dramatizes the excavation at Sutton Hoo in England that changed our understanding of the history of Europe in the Dark Ages . It will also address a decades-old injustice and finally gives credit to the amateur archaeologist who was behind the historic discovery.

The movie focuses on the discoveries made at Sutton Hoo in Eastern England, by a self-taught archaeologist, Basil Brown, who was born near Ipswich in 1888. He had been a farmer, milkman and woodcutter, before securing a job with Ipswich Museum. Brown was poor and had no formal education in archaeology, but he had made some important historical finds in previous years. Brown was a simple country fellow and often used string to hold up his work pants.

Sutton Hoo Movie Tells Story of Eccentric Genius
In 1938 a local widow by the name of Edith Pretty asked Ipswich Museum to excavate some 18 mounds on her land. These were well-known to locals and were the source of many legends. The museum sent out Brown, who was the only person available to investigate the site and he was later helped by Mrs. Pretty’s gardener and gamekeeper.

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Wednesday, 18 March 2020

British Museum says metal detectorists found 1,311 treasures last year

A Roman Britain coin, known as a radiate, found in Headbourne Worthy in Hampshire. 
Photograph: British Museum

An astonishingly well-preserved medieval brooch featuring what could be dragon and dog decorations is among a record number of objects discovered last year by the nation’s army of metal detectorists.

The British Museum on Tuesday announced that 1,311 finds which are defined as treasure had been found by members of the public across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2019.

They also included an iron age drinking set, a solid gold bronze age arm ring and a coin which helps tell the story of Carausius, a usurper emperor who in 286AD broke Britain away from Europe, in an adventure which ended badly.

Michael Lewis, the head of the British Museum’s portable antiquities scheme, said the 1,100-year-old brooch discovered in Norfolk was a particularly striking and rare discovery.

“It is an amazing example of Anglo-Saxon art of the period,” he said. “When the finder found it the reaction was, is this old? It could be something more modern which was inspired by the past. Your gut reaction might be that it was Victorian.”

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Thursday, 12 March 2020

Science Notes – Early medieval insights from birch bark tar

Ceramic vessel 1112 from Ringlemere; the interior was coated in a black residue that contained birch bark tar. [Image: © Trustees of the British Museum]

Birch bark tar (manufactured by the heating of bark in airtight conditions) has long been prized for its sticky, water resistant, and biocidal properties. Throughout human history it has seen a wide range of uses, including as a sealant (for example, in waterprooing vessels), an adhesive (for hafting weapons, repairing ceramics, or assembling composite objects like jewellery), and in perfume and medicine.

Archaeological evidence demonstrates that our predecessors were making this substance as far back as the Palaeolithic (the earliest discovery dates back c.185,000-135,000 years), and its use has continued into the modern day in eastern and northern Europe. In western Europe and Britain, though, it has been generally believed that its use was limited to prehistory, with birch bark tar being displaced by pine tars during the Roman period. As we will explore during this month’s Science Notes, though, the identification of birch bark tar at two early medieval sites in the east of England indicates that this technology was in use much later here than was previously believed.

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Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Remains of Anglo-Saxon princess who could be the Queen’s earliest known relative discovered by scientists in Kent


Eanswythe, the daughter of King Eadbald, is believed to have founded England’s first nunnery before her life was cut short, likely as a result of bubonic plague

An Anglo-Saxon princess who was one of England’s earliest Christian saints has been identified by scientists in a church in Kent.

Some historical evidence suggests that she may be the present Queen’s earliest known relative whose remains have so far been identified.

Dating from the mid-seventh century AD, the princess was the daughter of King Eadbald (literally “the prosperous one”), the ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent, who was that micro-country’s monarch from 616 (or 618) to 640.

Parts of the Kentish royal dynasty’s lineage are unclear but some interpretations of their genealogy suggests that he was the present Queen’s 40th great grandfather.

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Monday, 9 March 2020

Bones found in Kent church likely to be of 7th-century saint

Researchers examine the remains at St Mary and St Eanswythe’s church in Folkestone. 
Photograph: Mark Hourahane/Diocese of Canterbury/PA

Bones discovered more than a century ago in a Kent church are almost certainly the remains of an early English saint who was the granddaughter of Ethelbert, the first English king to convert to Christianity, experts have concluded.

Saint Eanswythe, the patron saint of the coastal town of Folkestone, is thought to have founded one of the first monastic communities in England, probably around AD660. She died a few years later, while still in her teens or early 20s.

In 1885, workers renovating the parish church of St Mary and St Eanswythe close to Folkestone harbour found a lead container of human remains in an alcove – probably hidden to avoid the destruction of relics during the Reformation.

The bones, which comprised about half of a skeleton, were assumed to belong to Eanswythe. But it was not until January this year, following a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, that a team of experts set up a temporary laboratory in the church, which was closed for five days.

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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

There are still a very few places available on the EMAS study tour to Orkney


EMAS Study Tour to Orkney
14 – 23 April 2020
Guide: David Beard MA, FSA, FSA Scot
The 2020 EMAS spring study tour will be to Orkney. We will travel by coach from Baker Street, London stopping overnight at Middlesbrough and Inverness and visiting archaeological sites on the way.
We will be based in Kirkwall, and will visit sites on Orkney Mainland and the islands of Egilsay, Rousay and Wyre. The sites that we will visit include Maes Howe, Skara Brae, Midhowe Broch, the Brough of Birsay, Cubbie Roo’s Castle, the Earl’s Palace at Birsay and Kirkwall Cathedral.
Further information...