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The worst year to be alive? Eyjafjallajokull, the Icelandic volcano that threw transatlantic travel into a tailspin several years ago after it erupted, sending plumes of smoke over the North Atlantic, the UK and the continent. Another Icelandic volcano could have caused enormous disruption in the year 536 as well, according to new research. Credit: Árni Friðriksson/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0
The volcanic explosions of the year 536 caused modern-day researchers to state recently that that year was definitively “the worst year to be alive” in history.
A strange and unsettling fog, which even deprived the world of the sun’s warmth, plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness both day and night for a year and a half starting in 536, causing untold misery across the globe.
The Byzantine historian Procopius made a record of the time and wrote that: “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year.”
“One of the worst years to be alive”
Michael McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past, says that in Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods, if not the worst year to be alive.”
Image shows a toiletry kit and a tubular rimmed glass bowl excavated from Wendover, Buckinghamshire - Copyright AP Photo
Archaeologists working on a site in Buckinghamshire in England have unearthed the well-preserved graves of a clique of wealthy Anglo-Saxons.
The site, which was excavated as part of the ongoing construction of the UK’s high-speed rail service HS2, contains 138 graves and is one of the largest ever uncovered.
Among the items found were a number of grooming tools including earwax removers, toothpicks, tweezers, combs and even a tube that could have contained makeup such as eyeliner; shedding light on how our ancestors practised self-care.
One of the burials, thought to be a male aged between 17-34, was found with a sharp iron object in his spine. Researchers believe he was stabbed from the front before the object embeded in his spine.
The insights offered into Anglo-Saxon life are unprecedented. The site is known to have been used by Romans during the Bronze Age and even in the Neolithic period, but the 5th and 6th centuries from which the objects are dated represents a gap in the historical record.
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.”
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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...
trust believes the resulting images are among the earliest surviving
colour photographs of any major archaeological dig. Photograph: David
Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack’s photographs of 1939 excavation left in plastic bag at National Trust
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.
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.”
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.
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.
(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.
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.