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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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Archaeologists Return to Legendary Birthplace of King Arthur


Archaeologists have completed the first stage of a major five-year study of the archaeology of the Tintagel headland in Cornwall, in the southwest of England. In English folklore, the site is thought to be the birthplace of King Arthur.
Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage

Archaeologists are back at the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.

Last summer, researchers discovered traces of early medieval life at Tintagel in Cornwall, on England's southwest coast, where the legendary British monarch was said to have been born.

Now, they've returned to the site for another round of digging, to further explore buried buildings dated from the fifth to the seventh centuries. 

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1,100-year-old coin found in royal Pictish power centre


The 1,100-year-old coin found at an archaeological dig at Burghead Fort. Picture: PA

A 1,100-year-old coin is amongst a series of discoveries made at what experts believe was a royal power centre of a northerly Pictish kingdom.

The coin was found along with the remains of a longhouse at Burghead Fort near Lossiemouth, which was thought to have been largely destroyed by the development of a new town during the 19th century.

Now archaeologists from Aberdeen University hope further significant findings will be revealed at the site – a probable seat of power of Northern Pictland between 500AD and 1000AD, given the fresh discoveries.

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Casting light on the Dark Ages: Anglo-Saxon fenland is re-imagined

What was life in the fens like in the period known as the dark ages? Archaeologist Susan Oosthuizen revisits the history of an iconic wetland in the light of fresh evidence and paints a compelling portrait of communities in tune with their changeable environment. In doing so, she makes an important contribution to a wider understanding of early medieval landscapes.


Highland Cattle grazing in the Wicken Fen [Credit: © Wicken Fen]

The East Anglian fens with their flat expanses and wide skies, a tract of some of the UK's richest farmland, are invariably described as bleak – or worse. Turn the clock back 1,000 years to a time when the silt and peat wetlands were largely undrained, and it's easy to imagine a place that defied rather than welcomed human occupation.

Historians have long argued that during the 'dark' ages (the period between the withdrawal of Roman administration in around 400 AD and the Norman Conquest in 1066) most settlements in the region were deserted, and the fens became an anarchic, sparsely inhabited, watery wilderness.

A new interdisciplinary study of the region by a leading landscape archaeologist not only rewrites its early history across those six centuries but also, for the first time anywhere in Europe, offers a detailed view of the settlement and agricultural management of early medieval wetland landscapes.

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Thursday, 20 July 2017

Southampton Water fish trap dated to Saxon times

The trap was found by chance close to the Fawley oil refinery by archaeology students more than 10 years ago.

A timber fishing trap exposed on the Hampshire coast dates back to Saxon times, it has been confirmed.
The weir, built as a permanent wooden structure to catch fish as the tide ebbed, was found by chance on the shore of Southampton Water in 2005.
Radiocarbon dating has shown it was built in the 8th or 9th centuries.
Experts from Exeter University said the results were "thrilling" and provided new insights into the process of coastal erosion in the area.
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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Archaeologists discover mound next to Slough car park is 'prestigious' Anglo-Saxon monument


Archaeologists have found that a 20-foot high mound in Slough, thought to be a Norman castle motte and for centuries the centrepiece of a bizarre Eton College ceremony, is actually a rare Saxon monument, built 1,500 years ago.
University of Reading archaeologists say that Montem Mound in the Berkshire town, now surrounded by Municipal buildings and car parks, dates roughly to the same time as the famous burial mounds of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, and the nearby burial  at Taplow. It is likely to mark the resting place of someone of high status and could contain artefacts.
The discovery of the 'Sutton Hoo of Slough' is a remarkable finding as only a handful of mounds from this period are known about. The findings go against the previous assumption that it was a Norman Conquest-era 'motte and bailey' castle.
Dr Jim Leary, the University of Reading archaeologist who led the investigation in December 2016, said: "Conventional wisdom placed the Montem Mound 500 years later, in the Norman period. But we have shown that it dates to between the 5th and 7th centuries, not long after the collapse of Roman Empire.
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Sunday, 16 July 2017

One of the most important buildings in history of Christianity discovered off Scottish coast



Archaeologists have located one of the most important buildings in the history of Western European Christianity – but it’s not a vast cathedral or an impressive tomb, but merely a humble wattle and daub hut on a remote windswept island.
Using radiocarbon dating techniques and other evidence, the  scholars –  from the University of Glasgow – believe they have demonstrated that the tiny five-metre square building was almost certainly the daytime home of early medieval Scotland’s most important saint, St Columba.
Located on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, the unprepossessing hut was probably the first administrative hub of the monastic community he founded – and whose monks, over succeeding centuries, went on to establish similar monasteries in mainland Scotland, in north-east England, in Belgium, in France and in Switzerland.
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Tintagel excavations reveal refined tastes of medieval settlers

 Archaeologists conducting the first research excavations at Tintagel in decades. 
Photograph: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English He/PA

Early Cornish kings feasted on a diet of oysters, roast pork and fine wine, eating and drinking from bowls imported from Turkey and glass goblets from Spain, a new dig at Tintagel Castle has suggested.
Discoveries made by the Cornwall archaeological unit (CAU) support the view that Tintagel was a royal site during the 5th and 6th centuries, with trading links reaching as far as the eastern Mediterranean.
Perched on Cornwall’s rugged north coast, Tintagel has for centuries been associated with the legend of King Arthur. Over the past 18 months, its custodian, English Heritage, has been accused of putting too much emphasis on the stories of Arthur and Merlin, rather than focusing on the site’s true, ancient Cornish heritage. The excavations, the first at Tintagel for decades, may help redress the balance.
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Tintagel excavations reveal refined tastes of early Cornish kings

Tintagel is intricately bound up in the legend of King Arthur 
[Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust]

Discoveries made by the Cornwall archaeological unit (CAU) support the view that Tintagel was a royal site during the 5th and 6th centuries, with trading links reaching as far as the eastern Mediterranean.

Perched on Cornwall’s rugged north coast, Tintagel has for centuries been associated with the legend of King Arthur. Over the past 18 months, its custodian, English Heritage, has been accused of putting too much emphasis on the stories of Arthur and Merlin, rather than focusing on the site’s true, ancient Cornish heritage. The excavations, the first at Tintagel for decades, may help redress the balance.

The excavation also uncovered stone-walled structures on the southern terrace of Tintagel’s island area, with substantial stone walls and slate floors, accessed by a flight of slate steps.

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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

One of Britain’s oldest churches discovered on Holy Island of Lindisfarne


Archaeologists have discovered one of Britain’s oldest churches.
The find – on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast – is of great historical importance because the newly discovered ancient church may originally have been built in or shortly after the mid 7th century AD as part of the monastic spiritual epicentre from which much of northern and central England was eventually Christianised.
It’s also important because it is likely to have been a key site at the spiritual heart of the early 8th-century monastic community that made Britain’s most famous early medieval illuminated manuscript – the Lindisfarne Gospels.
The evidence suggesting that this could be the site of one of Holy Island’s original early Anglo-Saxon period churches – perhaps even one built by the founder of Lindisfarne, St Aidan – is complex but persuasive.
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Thursday, 29 June 2017

First new church found on Holy Island, Northumberland, in over a thousand years

The newly-excavated church on Holy Island (Photo: Handout)

For the first time in more than a thousand years, a service will be held today within the boundaries of a newly-discovered church on Holy Island in Northumberland.

The find in the dig by volunteers has been described by historic buildings expert Peter Ryder as “probably the most significant archaeology find ever on Holy Island.”

The excavations, led by Richard Carlton of The Archaeological Practice and Newcastle University, began around a fortnight ago and will finish at the end of this week.

He said: “It is a very exciting and hugely significant find.”

The community archaeology project is part of the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership project, which is backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

‘Agricultural Revolution’ In Anglo-Saxon England Sheds New Light On Medieval Land Use

Researchers from the University of Leicester will be shedding new light on how an ‘agricultural revolution’ in Anglo-Saxon England fueled the growth of towns and markets as part of a new project investigating medieval farming habits.


University of Leicester academics work with University of Oxford in project to examine how historical farming methods changed England’s landscape [Credit: University of Leicester]

The project, titled ‘Feeding Anglo-Saxon England (FeedSax): The Bioarchaeology of an Agricultural Revolution’, which is funded by the European Research Council, is led by the University of Oxford working with colleagues from the University of Leicester.

The period between c 800 – 1200 AD saw dramatic changes in farming practices across large parts of Europe, enabling an increase in cereal production so great that it has been described as an ‘agricultural revolution’. 

This ‘cerealisation’ allowed post-Roman populations not only to recover, but to boom, fueling the growth of towns and markets.

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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Historians reveal AMAZING details about massive Viking Camp found in Lincolnshire

Torksey AD 872/873

A 1,100-year-old camp the Viking Great Army at Torksey has been brought to life in stunning virtual reality based on the latest research.

Heralded as the most realistic immersive experience ever created of the Viking world, the exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum in York runs from May 19 to November 5.

Three dimensional images and soundscape reveal what life was like in the camp of the Viking army on the banks of the River Trent at Torksey, near Gainsborough, in the winter of AD 872-873, as thousands of Vikings prepared to conquer vast swathes of England.

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Thursday, 18 May 2017

Ten of the Viking treasures on show in York for Viking – Rediscover the Legend

The Ormside Bowl. Photography Anthony Chappell Ross. Image courtesy of York Museums Trust (Yorkshire Museum).

A major new exhibition by the Yorkshire Museum in partnership with the British Museum explores the world of the Vikings. Here are some of the treasures about to be revealed in Viking – Rediscover the Legend

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Viking army camp uncovered by archaeologists in England

A huge camp which was home to thousands of Vikings as they prepared to conquer England in the late ninth century has been uncovered by archaeologists.

Established in Torksey, on the banks of the River Trent in Lincolnshire, the camp was used as the Vikings' defensive and strategic position during the winter months.

The research, conducted by archaeologists at the Universities of Sheffield and York, has revealed how the camp was used by thousands of Viking warriors, women and children who lived there temporarily in tented accommodation.

They also used the site as a base to repair ships, melt down stolen loot, manufacture, trade and play games.

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Virtual reality brings ninth century Viking invaders' camp to life


VR exhibition is based on many finds from the Vikings’ camp.
Photograph: Dalya Alberge

Exhibition to feature scenes and artefacts from large-scale winter base where soldiers prepared to conquer Anglo-Saxons in 872

The Viking armies that invaded Britain in the ninth century were far larger than had previously been realised, according to academic research that forms the basis for a groundbreaking virtual reality project.

A major exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum, staged in partnership with the British Museum, draws on new research by the universities of York and Sheffield. According to Professor Dawn Hadley, one of the co-directors of the universities’ project at the site of a Viking winter camp, archeologists and historians had thought that the invading Viking armies numbered in the low hundreds. But archeological work at the camp on the river Trent at Torksey, Lincolnshire, suggested otherwise.

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Friday, 5 May 2017

Holy chickens: Did Medieval religious rules drive domestic chicken evolution?

A baby chick. Could Medieval religious rules have increased the demand for poultry and thereby altered chicken evolution?
Credit: © Anatolii / Fotolia

Chickens were domesticated from Asian jungle fowl around 6000 years ago. Since domestication they have acquired a number of traits that are valuable to humans, including those concerning appearance, reduced aggression and faster egg-laying, although it is not known when and why these traits evolved.

Now, an international team of scientists has combined DNA data from archaeological chicken bones with statistical modeling to pinpoint when these traits started to increase in frequency in Europe.

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