Friday, 1 April 2022

These Scots Still Fish Like the Vikings

Legend has it that the beam is as long as a Viking's oar.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY JOHN WARWICK

WHEN ON DRY LAND, EXPERT fisherman John Warwick goes by his legal name. But when he’s standing chest-deep in the Solway Firth, negotiating the capricious tide, he’s known as Young Slogger. His father, Slogger, fished the firth before him, and the nickname identifies Warwick as part of a line of succession—not just a fisherman, but a haaf net fisherman, and therefore a guardian of tradition.

The Vikings were the first haaf netters. Many centuries ago, when they arrived in this narrow passage of the Irish Sea, the Nordic mariners developed a new method of fishing better suited to the local tides. Rather than cast lines from the comfort of a boat or shore, they stood in the water with a 16-foot-long beam affixed to a net and bisected by a 6.5-foot-tall pole. By digging the pole into the sand and holding the beam above water, haafers created a soccer goal-like structure that could trap unsuspecting salmon or trout riding the tide. The residents of Annan, a town in southwestern Scotland that hugs the Solway Firth, have been haafing ever since, braving quicksand and currents for the occasional catch and, more consistently, the camaraderie.

“I was brought up in a fishing family,” says Warwick. “My father haaf netted, and his father before him.”

Read the rest of this article...

Digging Up the Rich Viking History of Britain

  A massive 1,100-year-old graveyard leads to a surprising new view of the Nordic legacy in Britain

St. Wystan’s church in Repton. In 873-874, a Viking army is believed to have entrenched in the garden. Right, Viking burial mounds in Heath Wood

Cat Jarman led me through a dense tangle of forest called Heath Wood. We were in Derbyshire, close to the very heart of England. There was no path, and the forest floor was overgrown with bracken and bush. It was easy to lose your footing and even easier to lose your way. Jarman, a fit, cheery woman in her late 30s, plunged jauntily on as I tried to keep up. “See all these lumps and bumps?” she asked as we broke into a small clearing. She pointed to an array of 59 small, rounded hillocks, many two or so feet high and four or five feet in diameter. Humans, not nature, had clearly put these things here, and they gave off a spooky, supernatural energy.

“We are literally walking across a Viking cemetery—the only known Scandinavian cremation cemetery in the whole country,” says Jarman, an archaeologist, whose new book, River Kings, takes a fresh look at who the Vikings really were and what exactly they were up to here. She flashes me a broad smile. “It’s very good, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is good—simple, powerful and mysterious. For a ceremonial burial place, the Vikings picked a surprisingly unceremonial spot. The overgrown forest shrouds these tombs in anonymity. There is no visible sign of a Viking settlement nearby, just an expanse of open fields and beyond that, a hamlet with a church, school and a few houses. The Vikings used rivers to get around, but it’s an awfully long hike from here to where the River Trent flows today. Which raises a big question, says Jarman. “Why have you got these Scandinavian cremation mounds here in the middle of nowhere?”

Read the rest of this article...

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Six-year-old Anglo-Saxon boy who lived in Cambridgeshire 1,400 years ago was infected with plague, meningitis and septic arthritis when he died.

Analysis of the remains of a six-year-old Anglo-Saxon unearthed in Cambridgeshire revealed that the poor boy had plague , meningitis and septic arthritis when he died. Pictured: the knee cap of the child, which was found to contain lesions caused by septic arthritis

Analysis of the remains of a six-year-old Anglo-Saxon unearthed in Cambridgeshire revealed that the poor boy had plague, meningitis and septic arthritis when he died.

The child — who was buried at Edix Hill sometime around 540–550 AD — was studied by a team of researchers led from the University of Tartu, Estonia.

Genetic analysis of a tooth sample revealed he had been infected with the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which causes plague, and Haemophilus influenza serotype b.

This is the earliest known case of H. influenza, which causes septic arthritis and was a major cause of infant death before a vaccine against it was created in 1977.

Today, this once-common childhood disease has been all but eradicated.

Read the rest of this article...

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Archaeologists stunned by lost Anglo-Saxon church unearthed along HS2 route


The Norman Conquest of 1066 saw the invasion and occupation of England by an army of thousands of Normans, Bretons, Flemish and French troops under the leadership of the Duke of Normandy, later titled William the Conqueror. After winning the Battle of Hastings, his army captured the south east and seized Dover and Winchester, before advancing to London. Though many English people were not happy about the change in leadership, William was crowned king on Christmas Day of the same year.

Under Norman rule, England changed enormously, with long lasting effects including land ownership, the building of castles and the introduction of Norman laws.

The parish of Stoke Mandeville stood in the way of William’s rolling conquest, and it was here that an isolated church, surrounded by fields and riddled in mystery, stood.

Built around 1080, the Church of St Mary’s was located in a damp, isolated spot around half a mile from the village.

Read the rest of this article...

Monday, 10 January 2022

Archeologists long believed that ancient graves were robbed all over Europe, but here’s why they’re wrong

Grave from France where the individual was moved around before he fully decomposed. Éveha-Études et valorisations archéologiques/G Grange, Author provided

From the collapse of Roman power to the spread of Christianity, most of what we know about the lives of people across Europe comes from traces of their deaths. This is because written sources are limited, and in many areas archaeologists have only found a few farmsteads and villages. But thousands of grave fields have been excavated, adding up to tens of thousands of burials.

Buried along with the human remains, archaeologists find traces of costumes and often possessions, including knives, swords, shields, spears and ornate brooches of bronze and silver. There are glass beads strung as necklaces, as well as glass and ceramic vessels. From time to time they even find wooden boxes, buckets, chairs and beds.

Yet since the investigations of these cemeteries began in the 19th century, archaeologists have recognised that they have not always been the first to re-enter the tombs. At least a few graves in most cemeteries are found in a disturbed state, their contents jumbled and valuables missing. Sometimes this happened before the buried bodies were fully decomposed. In some areas, whole cemeteries are found in this state.

Read the rest of this article...

North European Funeral and Burial Rites in the Early Middle Ages

Anglo-Saxons were often buried with everything they would need after death. In this case the dead woman’s family thought she would need her cow in the afterlife.

The customs and rituals for the people of Britain in the early Middle Ages were a mixture of the practices of a number of cultures.

Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons shared similar ritual beliefs as is reflected in their burial grounds, which archaeologists are still discovering today. Many of the traditions have their origins in the similar religion of the northern European tribes, Germanic or Scandinavian.

Anglo-Saxon burials and barrows

The dead of Anglo-Saxon tribes were either cremated or buried. A great deal of the evidence available for the Anglo-Saxons’ way of life comes from their burial sites. Particularly amongst the wealthy, these burial sites are often filled with artefacts which have been vital to understanding the people and the times in which they lived.

Read the rest of this article...

England After Rome: Angles and Saxons


Great Britain was more adversely affected by the fall of Rome than any other region, as invaders from Northern Europe took advantage of the chaos to form new kingdoms on the tiny island. But what was life like in early Anglo-Saxon England?

Read the rest of this article...

Monday, 20 December 2021

Plans for new home refused due to site potentially housing Anglo-Saxon remains

The site of the proposed house sits between the A179 and the road leading to The Fens (Image: Google)

Councillors have refused plans for a new home after hearing the land could be of "national and international importance" due to potentially housing Anglo-Saxon remains.

Hartlepool Borough Council Planning Committee on Wednesday (December 15) refused proposals for a single house to be built on land at the Fens in Hart village.

The proposals, submitted by Mr R Greig, had been recommended for refusal, with council planning officers raising several concerns such as that it could cause "substantial harm" and a loss of archaeology to the area.

At the meeting, Robin Daniels, from Tees Archaeology, outlined how neighbouring land, which the Manor Park development has been built on, has shown to be home to an Anglo-Saxon cemetery with "something like 350" human remains.

Read the rest of this article...

Monday, 15 November 2021

Harald Hardrada: why there’s more to the last great Viking than his death in 1066


King Harald Sigurdsson of Norway – remembered by the name Hardrada, meaning ‘hard ruler’ – was a complex, fierce and ultimately doomed antihero. If the myriad ancient sagas and tales of him bear any truth, he was one of the great Vikings worthy of epic television series such as Game of Thrones or Vikings. An outcast son of a petty king, he rose to win a fortune, romance an empress, marry a princess, and carve himself a kingdom by the strength of his sword arm.

Harald made his first mark in history as a 15-year-old warrior, when he fought alongside his elder half-brother King Olaf II (later Saint Olaf) against Danes loyal to Cnut the Great in the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. The day ended with defeat, and for Olaf, death.

According to the Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson, the fighting took place in part under a total eclipse of the Sun; a night fight in the middle of the day. Pagans may have believed the hole in the sky was the one-eyed god Odin watching over the battle and choosing the slain for Valhalla, while Christians may have recalled the midday darkness at the Crucifixion, a thousand years past. Eclipses have customarily been regarded as a bad omen throughout history, and here it would have been no different. Not only was Olaf slain, but Harald barely got away from the battle with his life.

Read the rest of this article...

Friday, 12 November 2021

The St Brice’s Day Massacre: what really happened?


The 11th century in English history features its fair share of bloodshed in battles, but right at the start of the new millennium, there is one event that has always seemed to stand out for its violence: the St Brice’s Day Massacre of 13 November 1002.

“It continues to exercise a curious allure over successive generations of undergraduate essay-writers and their lecturers, whose own occasionally lurid interest follows a historiographical tradition going back almost a millennium, beginning with the Norman observers who sought to depict the event as one of the great, gory English national sins justifying the conquest of 1066.”

That’s a quote from Dr Benjamin Savill, of Trinity College, Dublin, in his article Remembering St Brictius: Conspiracy, Violence and Liturgical Time in the Danish Massacre of 1002, published in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History.

The massacre is a striking incident, but one for which we have only limited evidence (in common with most of the events of the period). There is a reference to it in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which notes that “in this year the king ordered to be slain all the Danish men who were in England”, and a further more detailed comment in a diploma of King Æthelred (the reigning monarch at the time) for the monastery of St Frideswide, Oxford, of 1004. That diploma describes how the Danes in that city sought sanctuary in a church, which was set upon and burnt down by “all the people in pursuit”.

Read the rest of this article...

Metal detectorist unearths largest Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard ever discovered in England

 A number of gold coins and objects from the Norfolk hoard (Image credit: British Museum) 

A metal detectorist in West Norfolk, England, has unearthed the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard ever discovered: a bounty of 131 coins and four golden objects. Most of the items were found over the course of six years by a single detectorist, who wishes to remain anonymous, according to the British Museum. 

Ten of the coins were dug up by former-police officer David Cockle, also using a metal detector, the Evening Standard reported. However, Cockle kept his discovery secret and then illegally sold the coins for 15,000 British pounds (about $20,000), according to BBC News. When the authorities discovered his theft in 2017, he was charged with converting criminal property and sentenced to 16 months in prison for "pure greed," presiding Judge Rupert Overbury said at the sentencing. Cockle was also dismissed from the police force. Of the 10 coins he sold, eight have been recovered.

Read the rest of this article...

First finished pieces of Sutton Hoo replica ship joined together


The first two finished pieces of an 88ft-long replica of the Sutton Hoo longship have been joined together.

Archaeologist Angela Care Evans, who worked on a dig at Sutton Hoo in the 1960s while working as a research assistant for the British Museum, knocked in the first of three wooden pegs to join the keel to an extension piece.

The full-size reconstruction of the Saxon ship that was excavated in 1939 is being built in a shed beside the River Deben in Woodbridge, Suffolk.

It is to be made of oak donated by Suffolk farmers and secured with iron rivets.

Dating from the early 7th century, the original Sutton Hoo longship has been described as a ghost ship, as its timber had rotted away in the acidic soil, leaving only an imprint in the sand.

The project’s master shipwright, Tim Kirk, said: “Through building this, and it is really just a big experimental archaeology programme, we’re hoping to learn how the ship actually sailed.

Read the rest of this article...

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Viking Hygiene, Clothing, & Jewelry

 


Viking clothing was made of wool, linen, and animal hides, and for the wealthy, silk. Combs – which it seemed almost every Viking carried – were carved from antler, bone, ivory, and wood and often kept in their own cases. Jewelry of the upper class was fashioned from silver, gold, gemstones, and polished glass, but the lower class adorned themselves within their limits as well, using tin, lead, iron, and possibly copper. Shoes and boots were made of animal hide and without heels. Except for slaves, generally speaking, Scandinavians were well-dressed and took great pride in their personal appearance. They began each morning with a personal hygiene regimen, and Saturday was set aside for bathing and washing clothes; a practice the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers found both strange and objectionable.

Read the rest of this article...

‘Prickles down the neck’: project reveals unsung female heroes of Sutton Hoo dig

 

The trust believes the resulting images are among the earliest surviving colour photographs of any major archaeological dig. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack’s photographs of 1939 excavation left in plastic bag at National Trust

It was 12 years ago that conservator Anita Bools first laid eyes on photographs which had been left in a plastic bag at the reception of the National Trust site Sutton Hoo by a mystery donor.

She remembered they were laid out on tables for her to see and decide how important they might be. “It was one of those moments you get prickles down the back of your neck. I thought ‘my goodness … this is the genuine thing’. It almost felt like the archaeological discovery itself.”

The hundreds of images in meticulously prepared albums were from August 1939. In fascinating detail they captured the excitement of one of the most extraordinary archaeological digs in British history.

On Wednesday, the trust announced it had completed a project conserving, digitising and making the photographs taken by Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack, two schoolteachers and friends with a passion for photography and archaeology, publicly available.

Read the rest of this article...

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Anglo-Saxon Sword Pyramid Found in England

(Norfolk County Council/Portable Antiquities Scheme)

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, a metal detectorist in the the Breckland area of Norfolk in eastern England has found a so-called sword pyramid dating to between A.D. 560 and 630, a time when the area was part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia. The object, which would have been part of a pair and whose fellow has not been found, was designed as a decorative fitting to keep a sword attached to its scabbard. Researchers have speculated that one of the sword pyramid's functions was to delay hasty unsheathing of a warrior's sword in anger.

Read the rest of this article...

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Deposed Ninth-Century King May Have Called This Cave Dwelling Home

Researchers previously thought the cave was an 18th-century folly, or decorative structure
constructed to enhance the natural landscape.
(Mark Horton / Edmund Simons / Royal Agricultural University)

An early medieval cave structure in Derbyshire, England, may be the former home of a ninth-century king—and the United Kingdom’s oldest intact domestic interior.

As Mark Brown reports for the Guardian, new research conducted by experts from the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Wessex Archaeology suggests the 1,200-year-old dwelling once housed Eardwulf, an exiled ruler of the medieval English kingdom Northumbria. The team published its analysis in the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society.

“Our findings demonstrate that this odd little rock-cut building in Derbyshire is more likely from the 9th century than from the 18th century as everyone had originally thought,” says lead author Edmund Simons, a research fellow at RAU, in a statement. “This makes it probably the oldest intact domestic interior in the U.K.—with doors, floor, roof, windows etc.—and, what’s more, it may well have been lived in by a king who became a saint!”

Per the statement, researchers previously believed the cave was an 18th-century folly (a type of decorative building constructed to enhance the natural landscape). Though the structure is classified by Historic England as a “[n]atural cave, enlarged and formed into a folly,” Simons tells the Guardian that he “can’t think of a natural process that makes walls, doors and windows, let alone pillars.”

The sandstone-chiseled building features narrow openings characteristic of Saxon architecture, notes BBC News. A nearby ninth-century crypt boasts a comparable rock-cut pillar, perhaps suggesting that the two buildings date to the same period.

Read the rest of this article...

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Exiled Medieval Anglo-Saxon King May Have Lived as Hermit in 9th-Century Cave Dwelling

Anchor Church cave may have belonged to a 9th-century king turned saint.
COURTESY ROYAL AGRICULATURAL UNIVERSITY

Archaeologists have identified an Anglo-Saxon cave house that may have belonged to a 9th-century king of Northumbria named Eardwulf. The discovery was made by the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Wessex Archaeology, which recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society.

The series of sandstone caves in Derbyshire, central England, were once believed to be follies—a popular 18th-century trend that involved elaborate structures with no real purpose, built mainly for decoration. New evidence, however, shows they were likely constructed or enlarged in the 9th century, after erosion from the River Trent had created natural caves at the site.

Anglo-Saxon architecture is featured throughout the rock-cut dwelling, with narrow arched windows and doors, as well as a pillar that resembles the nearby Repton crypt from the same period. “Using detailed measurements, a drone survey, and a study of architectural details, it was possible to reconstruct the original plan of three rooms and easterly facing oratory, or chapel, with three apses,” Edmund Simons, principal investigator of the project and research fellow at RAU, said in a statement.

Read the rest of this article...

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Cerne Abbas Giant may have been carved into hill over 1000 years ago

The Cerne Abbas Giant
National Trust Images/Mike Calnan/James Dobson

A mysterious chalk carving of a huge, naked man on an English hillside was made in the 10th century, according to the first attempt to archaeologically date the giant. The finding is unexpected because the earliest mentions of the Cerne Abbas Giant are from just over 300 years ago, suggesting it was forgotten for centuries.

Historians and archaeologists had many ideas about when the giant was constructed, says team member Mike Allen, an independent geoarchaeologist at Allen Environmental Archaeology in Codford, UK. “Everyone was wrong.”

The giant is carved into a hillside overlooking the village of Cerne Abbas in southern England. It is a figure of a man with a large, erect penis, holding a club. It was made by digging trenches into the hillside, then filling them with white chalk.

The earliest known reference to the giant is from 1694, from the records of the church in Cerne Abbas. The giant is absent from earlier records, notably a 1617 survey of the area by John Norden, who was famously thorough,

Read the rest of this article...

Cerne Abbas Giant: Why the Anglo-Saxons created England’s most macho hillside chalk figure

The giant, carved in solid lines from the chalk bedrock, measures in at 55 metres high, and carries a huge knobbled club, which measures 37 metres in length
(Getty/iStock)

Scientists have begun to solve one of Britain’s greatest archaeological mysteries – the age of one of the UK’s largest and most enigmatic artworks.

Until now archaeologists and historians had thought that a 55-metre tall figure, cut into a hillside in Dorset, the so-called Cerne Abbas Giant, was prehistoric or Roman – or that, alternatively, it had been created in the 17th century,

But new dating tests, organised by the National Trust, suggest that the giant hails from none of those periods and was instead constructed by the Anglo-Saxons.

The tests indicate that the massive hill figure was either fully or substantially created at some stage between the mid-7th century and the 13th century. The new dating evidence has potential implications for understanding some of England’s other surviving and lost giant chalk figures.

Read the rest of this article...

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Long read | The man at Sutton Hoo


Note: This long read was written in 2015. Professor Campbell died in 2016 and his article is published posthumously with full permission and in cooperation with his estate

In 1926 a Colonel and Mrs Pretty bought a big modern house in Suffolk. It stood near Woodbridge on a 100ft bluff, beside the river Deben, with a wide view over the town. A feature of the estate was a group of some (as then appeared) dozen mounds. Mrs Pretty was interested in the possibility of their being burial mounds, and reinforced this plausible supposition by psychic inquiry. In 1938 – by then a widow – she sought the advice of the curator of the Ipswich museum. He put her on to someone who did part-time archaeological work for them, a Mr Basil Brown. Learning owes a lot to Mr Brown. Nowadays there are not so many people like him: with not much of formal education, self-taught, very able, a natural archaeologist. His humble status shows in the terms on which Mrs Pretty employed him: 30 shillings weekly, sleeping accommodation in her chauffeur’s house, the assistance of two labourers. In 1938 Brown set carefully to work on three of the mounds. All three had previously been robbed and damaged. But what he found was interesting indeed: not least the remains of a ship 65 feet long, human and horse remains, and strange things, for example part of a Byzantine plaque of a ‘winged victory’. In 1939 Brown began to dig up the most conspicuous mound. He most carefully felt his way into the discovery of the remains of a ship, a big one, some 90 feet long. Midships were the remains of what he rightly took to be a burial chamber. The great importance of his discoveries became known. In July more professional, academic, archaeologists took over. When the excavation concluded, a week before the Second World War broke out, an astounding burial deposit had been unearthed.

Read the rest of this article...