Heroic Age Logo The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999  

Archaeology News Briefs

A Short Retrospective of the Late 1990's

England France Ireland The Romans
Scandinavia Scotland Wales  


Anglo-Saxon Boar Helmet Discovered

A rare 7th century Anglo-Saxon nobleman's grave has been discovered in Northamptonshire, isolated near a Roman road. The grave was one of the richest so far found with a fine quality sword, knife, a bronze hanging bowl and most unusually a boar crest helmet. This is only the second boar crest helmet and only the fourth Anglo-Saxon metal helmet found in Britain. Boar helmets are mentioned in the poem Beowulf, although the boar was originally a Celtic motif. The sword was also of the finest quatity craftsmanship for the period. The bronze hanging bowl was also especially ornate wiht a small shield welded to the side with inlaid glass in a blue and red millefleurs pattern.

The grave was found by an amateur metal detectorist in only eight inches of soil near Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. The helmet had been struck and significantly damaged by ploughing. Archaeologists surveying the area could find nothing else from the seventh century. The isolated grave must have been placed in this prominent location to draw attention and make a statement.  MZ


The Lakenheath Warrior

At a dig on the Lakenheath USAF base in Suffolk East Anglia, a rare Anglo-Saxon nobleman's grave which included his completely harnessed horse was discovered in October 1997. The rider was discovered in a cemetery of approximately 200 graves that date from the 5th to the 7th century. The cemetery contains a good cross section of society with at least one other male buried with his sword and a woman buried with a square-headed brooch. According to John Newman, "premliminary evidence of the skeletons, for example, has indicated tha certain small traits may allow family groups to be identified through this genetic feature across the generations which will greatly enhance the overall study potential of the total cemetery assemblace." Three or four generations are expected at this cemetery.

The grave of the horse and rider has been dated to c. 550 A.D. The rider was buried in a wooden coffin with his sword; his shield and spear had been carefully laid on top and a slaughtered goat or sheep was placed at the foot. The horse in full gilt bronze harness was buried next to the coffin with a bucket that probably originally contained food. The discovery of the horse will allow archaeologists to discover for the first time how harnesses were used. The grave was also encircled by a ring ditch indicating that there was originally a burial mound.  MZ


St. Chad's Remains

The reputed remains of St. Chad, enshrined at St. Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham, have been put to the scientfic test by radiocarbon dating and skeletal analysis. Only six bones from at least two individuals remained in the reliquary. Five of the six bones have been dated by radiocarbon dating to the 7th century. This date for the bones likely means that one of the at least two 7th century individuals in the reliquary is St. Chad.

St. Chad and St. Cedd were two Anglian brothers who were among the original twelve students chosen for instruction by St. Aidan of Lindisfarne. In 658, he was sent by Bishop Finian of Lindisfarne to Mercia as a missionary. He became Bishop of the East Saxons and later in 669 of Mercia. He died on March 2, 672 and was buried in Lichfield, Mercia.

The fact that all the bones date to the 7th century likely means that they have been held together for centuries, perhaps being mixed from bones in cemetery where he was intially interred or, as attested by Bede, in the first movement of his bones to a new church in c. 700. The bones are all leg bones with three bones being dated to the mid 6th to late 7th century and the remaing two bones to the early 7th to mid-8th century by Radiocarbon analysis. The bones of St. Chad were intially separated in 1335 so his skull and one arm could be placed in portable shrines. These bones, the portable shrines and most of the bones in the main shrine were lost during the reign of Henry VIII. The surviving bones were kept safe by a family who came into their possession soon after the dissolution of the monastaries and spoiling of the shrines. They were then obtained by the Jesuits who built their current shrine in 1665.  MZ


Tintangel Excavations

See the interview with Rachel Harry and Kevin Brady in this issue.

Saxon Worcester Cathedral Discovered

English archaeologists have discovered the largest known Anglo-Saxon cathedral at Worcester near the River Severn. It is believed to have been built by Anglo-Saxon bishop St. Oswald in 961 and destroyed by the order of William the Conqueror in the eleventh century as a show of power.

Evidence suggests the cathedral had an apse 80 feet in diameter with yard-thick walls. The discovery of the circular Saxon design helps explain the unusual circular Norman chapter house build on the same site. The Norman chapter house appears to have been deliberately build within the foundations of the previous Saxon cathedral's apse.  MZ


For Further Anglo-Saxon News from British Archaeology . . .


Carolingian Fortress Discovered

In October 1998, British Archaeology reported that the core of Chateau de Mayenne in northwestern France was built in c. 900 A.D. or earlier. It survives today incorporated into the thirteenth century structure constructed around the original fortress. The tenth century fortress was constructed on the site of an earlier timber structure out of stone removed from the Roman civitas of Jublains.

The fortress was built in a buffer zone between Normandy, Brittany, and Anjou. The objects found suggest it had a military function only. Finds included coins, military equipment and a large collection of rare early backgammon pieces. This fortress was active during the tenth century Viking raids and was besieged by William the Conquerer in 1063.  MZ



Bridge Over the River Shannon

In 1994, two local divers in the River Shannon near the monastary of Clonmacnoise found the remains of the first Irish bridge. Subsequent excavations by Irish archaeologists have confirmed the presence of support posts for an early ninth century bridge across the river linking ancient trackways on both sides. The eastern trackway was based on dry, solid ground but the western trackway crossed an ancient bog. This trackway was constructed by filling the trackway through the bog with loads of clay and gravel. The wooden bridge was 120 meters long and 5 meters wide. Enough remained of the bridge piers to discern how the bridge was constructed and stablized in the river bed. Dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, has dated the bridge construction to 804 A.D. Eleven dugout oak canoes in three different styles were also found near the bridge site. Some of the canoes were obviously lost during bridge construction since they still contained construction equipement. A rare copper basin dating from the same period was also found. The basin had been punctured by a sharp object before it was lost in the river perhaps suggesting it was taken from Clonmacnoise during a raid.

In the ninth century, Clonmacnoise was on the border between Connacht and Clann Cholmain of the Southern Ui Neill. There is no evidence that the bridge was reconstructed or repaired. This has lead O'Sullivan and Boland to suggest that it would have remained sturdy for only 20-30 years with the upper deck portion falling totally away soon after.  MZ


Early Dublin cemetery

A cemetery of 1,500 graves dating from the fifth to the eleventh century has been found south of Dublin Ireland. Margaret Gowan, the archaeological consultant, stated that burial rites parellel contemporary Anglo-Saxon practices. According to Gowan, there has been mounting archaeological evidence for an Anglo-Saxon presence in Ireland preceeding the Viking invasions of the nineth century. Gowan suggests that the Anglo-Saxon graves represent a multi-generation community of traders.  MZ


For Further Irish News from British Archaeology . . .

The Romans:

Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall

Discoveries at the Roman fortress of Vindolanda continue to provide invaluable clues to life in northern Britain under the Romans and in post-Roman Britain. In May 1997, a second century memorial stone and part of the original mousoleum of a Roman commander were found canabalized to build a fourth century building. The memorial stone reads "To the shades of the immortal gods, Titus Annius, a legionary centurion, acting commander of the first cohort of Tungrians. . . he was killed in the war". Based on the inscription "Italicus", serving his third counselship in Britain believed by Robin Birley, Director of the Vindolanda Trust, to be Platorius Nepos (also known as Italicus), the stone is dated to the rebellion of March or April 119 A.D. Birley suggests that based on this stone the rebellion may have started in the north rather than Wales and this ignition point may have influenced the Emperor Hadrian's decision to build the Wall.

In August 1997, Robin Birley identified more than a hundred circular building found on the site as a Roman detention center. The first huts were discovered in the 1930s by Prof. Eric Birley. There may have been as many as 200 huts originally holding nearly 1000 people. The remains suggest that these huts housed families rather than male prisoners only.

A christian church has been discovered in the ruins of the Roman fortress of Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall by Robin Birley of the Vindolanda Trust. The church was built of timber on a stone foundation in a narrow rectangle with a apse at its western end. It was located in the courtyard of the Commandant's home or the praetorium. It is believed the church was constructed in the fifth century. Others churches of similar date are also found at military sites at Silchester, Housesteads, and Caerleon. It was also reported that a third century pagan altar was also found on the site.  MZ


The Cramond Lioness

Stuck in the mud of the River Almond near its convergence with the Firth of Forth, Scotland's greatest Roman artifact lay hidden for over 1700 years. This past year Robert Graham, a ferryman on the River Almond, looked into the mud near his ferry and saw this great lionesses peering back at him. Mr. Graham notified local authorities who immediately began extracting the great cat from the mud. Its sheer size (1.5 meters by 0.5 meters) and weight (1.5 tons) combined with the tide kept archaeologists working for six days before it could be safely extracted.

The lioness formed the upper section of a tomb decoration. It was originally set on a stone plinth found nearby but the tomb was not discovered. The lioness is depicted pulling a bearded man backwards with its paws with the man's head in her jaws. This is unique among lioness tomb decoarations which usually depict the lioness killing a deer or other animal. The base of the statue also depicted two snakes, commonly found on Roman tombs.

This lioness is unique in Roman Britain. Similar lionesses have been found along the German frontier near the Rhine and Danuabe which date to the second or early third centuries. The white sandstone and craftsmanship suggest that the sulpture was quarried and scultped on the continent, perhaps in modern Holland, and transported to Scotland. It is believed that the lioness once decorated the tomb of the commander of the nearby Roman fortress of Cramond. The fortress of Cramond, on the eastern end of the Antonine Wall, may have been an important port and supply center for the Wall and the northern forts. It was one of the last two fortresses abandoned in the early third centuries. The period of Cramond's occupation matches the dates for the other lionesses found along the continental frontier.  MZ


Roman London

In 1995, a massive Roman cathedral was discovered in London on Tower Hill. Archaeologists believe the church was built between 350 A.D. and 400 A.D. on a similar design as St. Thecla in Milan. However, the London cathedral was even larger than St. Thecla's, then in the captial of the Roman empire. Traces of its black marble veneer and colorfully painted walls have been found. It has been suggested that the church may have been built by the religious usurper Magnus Maximus who ruled the Western Empire from 383 A.D. to 388 A.D. The cathedral appears to have been destroyed by fire in the fifth century.

In December 1998, archaeologists from the London Museum excavating near Old Bailey in Newgate Street discovered a previously unknown Roman triuphal arch dating from the second century. This arch marked the western entrance to the city. Although all that remains is the foundation, the structure is estimated to have been 95 feet long, 45 feet wide and 60 ft high. At the base of the structure, a 80 ft. wide and 25 ft. deep river channel was discovered. The river channel is believed to have been a tributary of the Fleet River which was filled in when the city walls were constructed.

The most remarkable find in Roman London in the last decade occured just this past March when archaeologists excavating at Spitalfields in London uncovered a cemetery of 21 Roman graves (to date) including a stone sarcophagi with an intact inner lead coffin. Next to the intact sarcophagi was the remains of a timber lined mausoleum containing a child's burial in plaster and possibly the remains of a limestone sarcophagus. At the time, the Roman cemetery was located outside of the city walls.The sarcophagi was found 6 meters (20 feet) down in the Roman cemetery which may explain why the fourth century sarcophagi was placed next to graves dating from AD 150-250. What is clear is that great expense was spent to bury this woman in an elaborate two ton sarchophagi at such a depth.

The intact sarcophagi contained an elaborately detailed five foot long lead coffin dated to the fourth century. A layer of congealed mud on the top of the coffin has been suggested by archaeologists to be the remains of flowers or other greenery left for the deceased. At the foot of the coffin a glass vessel, a jet canister, disc (pendant?) and rod (hair decoration?), and a spindle whorl were discovered. The jet canister, still encased in earth and awaiting investigation, is speculated to have been a jewelry box. When the coffin was opened an articulated skeleton of a young woman in her twenties was discovered with her left arm placed over her chest. The waterlogged state of the coffin preserved leaves believed to have been from a funerary wreath within the coffin. Underneath the young woman's head was found a pillow of leaves. Matted gold thread, probably from her clothing, was also found within the coffin.

This is only the third stone sarcophagi found in London although other similar sarcophagi have been found elsewhere in Roman Britain and most recently in France.  MZ


Roman Port Discovered in Italy

In Pisa Italy, a Roman port has been discovered. As of April 13, 1999, eight wooden ships have been uncovered with more believed to be awaiting discovery. The ships date from the first century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. and are believed to include the first fully preserved Roman warship. In the same port, nearly 300 Punic and Roman style amphorae dating from the second century A.D. have been found.  MZ


Discovery of two late Roman tombs at Naintré

In January, 1998, an important find of two late Roman tombs was made at Naintré (Vienne), France. Within the masonry tombs were lead sarcophagi containing the skeletons of a mature and an adolescent female, with rich gravegoods and clothing. The state of preservation was exceptional, which, together with the quality of the gravegoods, will permit archaeologists to learn much precise information concerning the deceased. As is usual with many discoveries, the site was uncovered by accident during the commercial work of extending a sandpit. Work was halted to allow archaeologists to examine the site. The excavation was performed under the direction of Bernard Farago, area anthropologist, charged with the project by the Association pour les fouilles archéologiques nationales, and Henri Duday, research director at the C.N.R.S. (anthropological laboratory at the Université de Bordeaux). The study was financed by the regional service of archaeology and sustained through the important technical aid of the municipality of Naintré and of the Ragonneau enterprise, which owned the land.

After the tombs had been opened, the lead sarcophagi were removed for further study, since examination in situ was impracticable. A second intervention in March, 1998 allowed the recovery of the remaining materials in the site. Preservation methods to control temperature and humidity were employed in a temporary structure to house the finds for the conservation of the fragile ancient clothing and skeletal remains, now at risk from their exposure to the atmosphere. Besides the sarcophagus and the remains of the deceased, the north tomb, holding the body of the younger woman, contained: five glass vases; an inscribed ivory tablet; a brass oval basin and rings; a small coffer containing four bottles of perfumes and other items; a ceramic pitcher; the remains of the flowers interred with the deceased, and a large quantity of berries placed at the feet of the deceased in the sarcophagus. The south tomb, holding the body of the older woman, also contained an amphora of African or oriental origin and a pair of rope sandals.

More information concerning this find, with comparisons to other late Roman finds, a discussion of the preservation methods used in its conservation and photographs illustrating the excavation, can be found at http://www.culture.fr/culture/arcnat/naintre/naintre1.htm.  GU

For Further Roman News from British Archaeology . . .


King Halvdan's Barrow?

King Halvdan the Black is revered in Norweigan history as the first ruler who began the unification of Norway and the first non-mythical figure in their history. In c. 860 A.D., the sleigh of King Halvdan dived into Ringerdike fjord drowning the king. According to legend and folklore, his body was quartered and his head was buried in a barrow mound at Ringerdike (Hole, Norway).

In 1990, locals noticed the mound was sinking. Archaeologists began monitoring the situation and have since taken several scientific measurements of the contents of the mound without doing a full excavation. A trench and core sample of the mound did authenticate that the mound is artifical and contains burial artifacts. The core sample revealed wood and feathers that have been carbon dated to 416-559 A.D., approximatley 300-400 years too early for King Halvdan's burial. Ground penetrating radar has also discovered a 23-meter structure which may be a Viking ship within the 59-meter mound. Archaeologists believe the mound may be sinking because the structures within the mound are decaying. The decision to do a full scale excavation had not been made in March of 1999.  MZ


Norse Optics

Recent work on Norse magnifying lens have shown that the 11th-12th century Viking lens discovered on Gotland Island, Swenden, approched modern quality in imaging performance. The Viking lens were produced from rock crystal and was probably made on a laithe. This craftsmanship was apparently lost until Descartes's treastise on opitcs in 1637. Suggested uses for the magnifiying lens include starting fires, as magnifieres used by craftsmen, and for cautorizing wounds.  MZ



The Isle of May's Ninth Century Church Uncovered

In 1996, the Isle of May yielded the earliest known Christain church on the east coast of Scotland. Current estimates date the church to the ninth century. The church is similar in size and style to those found in western Scotland and in Ireland in the seventh to tenth century. Although St. Ethernan's grave has not been found, it has been suggested that the church was built to house his remains. St. Ethernan is reputed to have lived and died on the Isle of May. In the later middle ages when the Isle hosted a Benedictine abbey, thousands of pilgrims flocked to the the Isle of May to visit the saint's remains. Confirmation of the pilgrams may come from the twelfth century abbey which shows evidence of a ten seater lavatory believed to be too large for the normal compliment of the abbey.

The church was built into the side of a mass burial mound which contains mostly early medieval graves. However, artifacts found in the mound suggest it may have originated as long ago as the Bronze Age. If the Bronze Age date can be proven, it would suggest a burial tradition dating back 3,000 years. The burial mound contains hundreds of graves in a 30m x 20m space. The latest burials were found in stone cists but most of the earlier graves were separated only by a layer of rocks. The oldest relics found in the mound are a Bronze Age funerary urns, although radiocarbon dating of the remaining skeletons produced dates from the seventh to the tenth century. The later Benedictine abbey was also built into the side of the burial mound bringing many bones to the surface that appear to have been left on the surface with a few attempts at reburial.  MZ


The Pictish Stones of Easter Ross

Archaeologist Martin Carver and his team are uncovering the remains of the medieval village of Portmohomack on the Moray Firth. A cemetery of more than 400 graves has been found yielding dates from the second to the sixteenth centuries. Among the finds at Portmohomack, several carved Pictish stones have been found depicting cattle, clerics and lions. Prof. Carver stated, in the Electronic Telegraph article, that he believes it was an important port in the eighth to ninth centuries and that the site may have been a Pictish monastery. The Tarbat Discovery Center which will showcase these finds was due to open in August 1998.  MZ



Cuneglasus's fortress, Rhos North Wales

In November 1997, British Archaeology reported the discovery of Cuneglasus ap Owein's sixth century fortress in Rhos North Wales. Cuneglasus, also known as Cynlas the Red, is one of the five kings denounced by Gildas in c. 540. Gildas called Cuneglasus a red butcher, perhaps Gildas's version of the red ravagers found in the Welsh triads, and charioteer of the Bear's Den. Cuneglasus is theorized to be the historical King Arthur by Mark Devere Davis on his web site King Arthur and Cuneglasus. and Cuneglasus's father Owein has been identified as the historical King Arthur by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman in King Arthur: The True Story(1992).

The fortress of Bryn Euryn is located on the east bank of the River Conway in the township of Dineirth (Bears fort'). The fortress was well constructed with at least a 3 meter high stone wall and a 3.5 meter thick rampart. Although dating evidence is lacking, the layout matches other similar age fortresses at Garn Boduan on Llyn, Dumbarton Rock in Strathclyde, and Dunadd in Argyll.  MZ


Llanbedrgoch settlement, Anglesey

An important British settlement has been found at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey which lasted from the 6th to 10th century. Structures have been found dating to the 10th, 8th-9th, and 7th century. The settlement is believed to have been a working farm which also produced goods for export. It included coexisting timber halls and round wattle houses. The 10th century structures are in the Viking style but it is unclear if it was built by Vikings or Britons influenced by Viking culture.

The excavations discovered numerous foreign goods. A seventh century bird headed Saxon brooch similar to Northumbrian brooches was found at the settlement. The brooch could have been dropped during Edwin's raid on Angelsey in c. 630 or arrived as booty from Cadwallon's raids and occupation of Northumbria from 633-634. The 8th-9th century ring ditch was dated to the early 9th century by radiocarbon analysis and a Northumbrian coin. A large timber hall is also believed to date from the same period. The 10th century settlement revealed fragments of silver arm bands, leather working tools, hack silver, pottery, coins, and a Viking style whetstone linking the settlement with Hiberno-Norse society.

Mark Redknap, the excavator at Llanbedrgoch, believes that Wales fared the Viking years better than most northern regions. The Viking impact on Wales was limited to occasional raids, trading, isolated settlers and perhaps intermarriage with the Welsh but large territories were not lost to the Vikings. Further there is no archaeological evidence that the Vikings established major outposts in Wales. According to Redknap, "the apogee of this settlement occurred in the second half of the 9th and during the 10th century, when the interior contained rectangular long-houses and halls. . . . These developments must be linked to changes in the political and economic fortunes of the area and contact with the trading networks of the Hiberno-Norse world." Redknap futher elaborates that "the archaeological evidence from North Wales suggests thus suggests the existance of pockets of strong contact between the Welsh and Vikings of Dublin and Man, with the adoption of some Viking fashions."  MZ


Dinas Powys Connections

Discoveries of two new sites in Wales may shed futher light on the community at Dinas Powys. The monastery of Llandough and the upper Severn settlement near Welshpool both likely had close ties to the Dinas Powys.

After being lost for centuries, the monastery of Llandough was discovered near Penarth South Glamorgan in 1995. Previously the monastery had only been known from documentary sources including charters dating from c. 650-1075. The monastery cemetery has been found with over 800 graves dating from Late Roman times to the eleventh century. The monastery is located near a second to fourth century Roman villa which itself contains Christain burials suggesting the monastery developed from the villa. If true, this gives Llandough monastery a remarkable period of continuity from Roman to Norman rule. One grave with Roman hobnailed boots contained coins dating from 330-350 A.D. Correlation of pottery including olive oil amphorae made in the Mediterranean only from 475-550 A.D. from several graves with pottery found at Dinas Powys, located only 2 km away, suggests Llandough was the monastery that served the Dinas Powys community. The lack of later materials suggests the cememtary ceased to be used between the 12th and 14th centuries.

An early medieval settlement site has been discovered on a hill top near Welshpool in the area that would have been early medieval Powys. This is the first early medieval settlement found in Wales away from the coast. The site was occupied from Late Roman times through the 6th centuries. The site was well defended by ramparts and contained evidence of continental trade including material similar to that found at Dinas Powys and Tintagel. Much Wenlock Priory, a Saxon monastery further down the Severn, has also produced a glass cone beaker which may indicate that there was a trade route up the Severn that linked Dinas Powys, Much Wenlock, and the new Welshpool settlement. The settlement also yielded evidence of early metal working. A trade link between this settlement and Dinas Powys may be a clue to the name Dinas Powys for the South Welsh fortress.  MZ


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MZ = Michelle Ziegler
GU = Gregory Uchrin

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