Wednesday, 22 June 2022

The Worst Year Ever to Be Alive in History

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.”

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Sunday, 19 June 2022

141 Anglo-Saxon graves discovered in England, alongside jewellery, weapons and earwax removers

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.

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Saxon pendant with Roman jewel found in Kingsey field

The engraved semi-precious gem is known as an intaglio and shows a figure with a raised whip on small chariot with four horses

A Roman jewel engraved with a chariot and four running horses was found set in a silver Anglo-Saxon pendant by a metal detectorist.

The small piece of jewellery was found in a field near Kingsey, Buckinghamshire, in May 2019.

Historian Edwin Wood said its "high-status" Sutton Hoo-era owner was someone who would have wanted "a direct link with Rome's power and authority".

It was declared treasure by Buckinghamshire Coroner's Court.

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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.”

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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