The Heroic Age

Issue 4

Winter 2001

Archaeology Digest

Compiled by Michelle Ziegler







Kentish Palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury Discovered

Archaeologists working at Teynham, 15 miles south of Canterbury, have discovered a palace used by the Archbishop of Canterbury between the 9th and 16th centuries. This palace had a reputation for its vineyards and wine. The Swale Archaeological Survey, directed by Paul Wilkinson, found the site this summer by field walking, geophysical survey, and small-scale excavations. To date, the gatehouse, courtyard and stables have been discovered. Pottery found on the site had yielded the expected date range with most of it dating to the 13th -14th century. The palace's wine store may be the building discovered on the site in the 1970s. The site was deeded to Archbishop Athelard by King Cenewulf of Kent in 801. The estate was greatly expanded by Archbishop Lanfranc in 1070. It passed from the church back to the crown under Henry VIII in 1538 and was much later demolished.

Source: Simon Denison (October 2000) "Archbishop of Canterbury's palace discovered in Kent" British Archaeology

Lord of Sutton Hoo's Ancestors Found

On a small hill-top overlooking the River Denben, approximately 500 meters from Sutton Hoo, an older high status cemetery has been discovered. Artifacts found on the site date it to the later 6th century, approximately one to two generations earlier than the Sutton Hoo cemetery. Artifacts found include a decorated bronze hanging bowl, six graves with a spear and shield, one grave with a sword, two female bronze ring brooches and a beaded necklace. One of the shields was decorated with bronze studs and "decorative mounts in the shape of a fish". (Photos are available on the Sutton Hoo Society news site below.)

Some 18 cremation and 5 inhumation burials were found. A circular ditch enclosed some of the cremation burials and many were under mounds. This is unusual in Britain but common in the River Elbe region of northern Germany suggesting that these settlers were still in touch with their homeland or newly arrived in Britain. This cemetery is contemporary with the richer site of Snape a few miles north which contained a boat burial. It has been suggested that these two cemeteries may represent rival branches of the Anglian royal house as it began to increase in power. It is possible that these northern German settlers were displaced by those with a stronger Scandinavian influence and who were buried at Sutton Hoo. A 3500 year old Bronze Age burial mound was also found along with several silted up Bronze and Iron Age ditches.

When excavations are complete, the site is to be developed into the new visitor's center and exhibition center for the Sutton Hoo heritage site. The new buildings are scheduled to open in the spring of 2002.

Sources: Simon Denison (August 2000) "Sixth century cemetery points to the origins of Sutton Hoo" British Archaeology ; "Archaeologists uncover another cemetery of the 6th/7th century" (June 2000) The Sutton Hoo Society News. Downloaded December 18, 2000. ; David Keys (June 24, 2000) "Sutton Hoo gives up a royal Dark Age secret" The Independent Downloaded September 14, 2000.


London's Lady Gladiator?

Reexamination of the remains of a Roman woman's grave has raised new questions as to whether or not she was a gladiator. The remains were first discovered in 1996 and have only recently been reexamined. The grave was found outside of the Roman walled cemetery but of relatively high status with exotic grave goods. Her unusual grave reveals that she was cremated on an open pyre that then collapsed into a pit. The remains were determined to be female in her 20s based on the remains of a pelvic bone. Some sixteen ceramic objects were found with the remains, including three pieces depicting the Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis, and a lamp depicting a gladiator. In the Roman pantheon, Anubis was equated with the Roman god Mercury, in whose costume slaves removed the bodies of fallen gladiators. The combination of the unusual funeral pyre, burial outside of the walled cemetery, an exotic funeral feast serving dates, almonds, and doves, Mediterranean pinecones burned as incense at the funeral, and objects depicting a gladiator and Anubis have suggested to some that she may have been a rare female gladiator. Gladiatorial contests originated in Roman funeral games. According to literary sources, women were known to occasionally compete in gladiatorial contests but this could be the first archaeological proof. Gladiator's graves have been excavated in Tier, Germany, but these lacked the wealth of this grave. This may support the belief that the earliest female gladiators were from the upper class. Female gladiators were banned from the arena by AD 200. A gladiatorial arena was found in London in 1986 under Guildhall that could have held up to one third of the city's population at the time.

Source: David Keys (September 13, 2000) "Roman burial site suggests that female gladiators fought in Britain" The Independant
Downloaded December 18, 2000; Dalya Alberge (September 13, 2000) "Woman Gladiator found buried in London" The Times Downloaded September 13, 2000; Philip Howard (September 13, 2000) "Spice Girls with serious attitude" The Times Downloaded September 13, 2000; Robert Barr (September 12, 2000) "Remains may be of female gladiator" Downloaded September 13, 2000.


Lost Stretch of Hadrian's Wall Uncovered

Archaeologists working at Newcastle upon Tyne have finally solved an old mystery, the route of the end section of Hadrian's Wall. Most of this region of the wall was destroyed during the development of Newcastle but a two-meter section has discovered during a public works construction. >From the current dig, archaeologists were able to uncover the foundation revealing two lines of sandstone fragments filled in between with clay. On the northern side of the foundation, there was a defensive ditch and a series of postholes, which may have held sharpened stakes. A similar defensive system of postholes was also found on the northern side of the wall at Wallsend. At least twenty yards surrounding this section will now be excavated.

Sources: David Derbyshire (November 2, 2000) "Lost stretch of Hadrian's Wall is unearthed" The Electronic Telegraph Issue 1987 Downloaded December 18, 2000; David Keys (November 2, 2000) "Lost section of Hadrian's Wall is uncovered" The Independent Downloaded December 18, 2000.

More of Boadicea's Destruction of London Revealed

An excavation 400 meters northwest of the Tower of London by the Museum of London Archaeological Service has uncovered more of the remains of Boadicea's destruction of the first city of London. The site near Fenchurch Street has revealed a layer of burnt building debris up to 30 cm thick in some areas. It is estimated that the area of excavation could have held up to twenty buildings at the time of Boadicea's rebellion. This site could reveal the best evidence of the extent of damage inflicted on the city by the British. It is also revealing the extravagant masonry buildings decorated with mosaics and plaster painted with pigments from Iran and Afganistan that replaced the original wattle and dub buildings.

Source: David Keys (June 28, 2000) "Remains of the London that Boadicea burnt to ground are found by Tower" The Independent
Downloaded September 14, 2000.

One of the Oldest Roman tombstones in Britain fully restored

The cavalryman Longinus was one of the first Romans in Britain honored with a tombstone. Longinus was buried in 43-49 AD, only one to seven years after the Claudian invasion. So soon after that it has been suggested that he was part of the invasion force. The stone showing a cavalryman riding down an early Briton, along with another memorializing Facilis the centurion, are believed to have been destroyed in the Boudicca's rebellion in AD61.

According to the inscription, Longinus Sdapeze was the second in command of a Thracian cavalry unit. He died in Colchester after fifteen years of service to the Roman army. It also indicates that the 40 year old Longinus was born in the area of the modern Sofia, Bulgaria.

The stone was discovered over 70 years ago near Colchester in Essex but until now the stone was incomplete. Archaeologists returned to the site in 1996 to survey in front of a new housing project and found the missing fragments of the tombstone including the fragments from the face of Longinus. The fragments were actually found by the amateur Colchester Archaeology Group. The stratification, with the head buried slightly deeper than the rest of the tomb, indicates that tomb may have been rebuilt without the head after its initial destruction, only to be destroyed again at a later date.

Source: Maev Kennedy (October 31, 2000) "Restored tombstone puts a face to Roman invader" The Irish Times on the Web. Downloaded December 18, 2000; Simon Denison (December 2000) "Roman horseman reunited with his head" British Archaeology Issue 56 Downloaded January 2, 2001.


Roman Vindolanda's POW camp

Recent excavations at Vindolanda have reinforced the theory that the fort was used as a prisoner of war camp in the third century. The southwestern corner of the fort has yielded 13 native circular stone buildings similar to those found earlier in the center and north of the camp. Archaeologists now assume the entire fort was covered in these circular native huts, arranged in back to back in narrow rows. Part of the fortress may have even been flattened to make room for more huts. If their assumptions are correct, then the fortress housed up to 2000 prisoners in approximately 300 huts. The rows of huts contained only hearths but no other signs of everyday life indicating that they were regularly sweep clean in antiquity. The huts have been linked to the uprisings of 209 and 211.

The 2000 excavation also yielded a first century bath house. The bricks and tiles captured a snapshot of wild life in the regions by preserving dog, cat, squirrel, deer and possibly one bear print. One tile must have been in a virtual stampede, reflected by its 17 prints.

Source: Simon Denison (August 2000) "More evidence of Roman POW camp on Hadrian's Wall" British Archaeology Issue 54 ; David Derbyshire (August 11, 2000) "Roman POW camp found at Hadrian's Wall" The Electronic Telegraph Issue 1904


The Founders of Saxon Hamwic, Southampton

Hamwic was one of the earliest towns in Anglo-Saxon England. Recently the high status cemetery that might contain the founders of Hamwic was discovered on the northwestern edge of the town. The graves yielded weapons, gold and other precious jewelry. The date of Hamwic has been pushed back to the late seventh century by pottery and other artifacts found at the cemetery. This makes Hamwic a contemporary of the Saxon London and Ipswich trading centers.

The trading center of Hamwic made its founders relatively rich. Of the forty graves found to date, two adults were buried with glass and amber necklaces set off by a golden pendent centerpiece. One of the pendants features a snake chasing its tail and a center of semi-precious stone jewels. At the feet of this same person, a wooden box with a single silver object, similar to an unstamped coin, was discovered. Another beaded necklace contained a Roman signet ring featuring a sculpted glass intaglio.

In addition to the cemetery, excavators found part of the town of Hamwic. This area produced the typical artifacts of domestic occupation in addition to waste from metal and bone-working industries. Among the presumably accidental industrial losses were a skein of gold thread and part of a copper spoon. The area also lacked solidly constructed buildings suggesting it was a poor outlying district of the town.

Source: Simon Denison (August 2000) "Saxon royal cemetery discovered in Southampton" British Archaeology Issue 54

The Roman Fort at Carlisle

Excavations done ahead on Carlisle's Millennium Project have uncovered the Roman fortress under the current Castle Green. Archaeologists have been able to uncover remains of the improvements in the fortress walls from the original turf rampart to the final stone walls. They have found artifacts from all aspects of life from standing wooden buildings, original road surfaces, leather goods, environmental remains such as parasites, insects, and weeds, to correspondence. The commander's house was discovered, as was some of the barracks where horses were quartered with the men. Although nothing extraordinary was discovered, the excavations have provided a valuable slice of life from Roman times and an unusual opportunity for deep stratification excavations.

Source: Giles Worsley (September 4, 2000) "Fort dig reveals downside of life on Hadrian's Wall" The Electronic Telegraph Issue 1928 Decemeber 18, 2000.


Roman towns and villas discovered

The Roman town of Noviomagus is well documented in Roman sources but until now archaeologists had been unable to locate it. The location is at West Wickham, Kent, near the St. John the Baptist church. Brian Philip discovered the site in 1966 and he has spent the following 34 years compiling evidence and trying to convince archaeologists to excavate. Finally he convinced Archaeologist Sheppard Frere who instigated the excavations and confirm the location.

Just outside of Lewes, East Sussex, an extensive Roman villa complex is being uncovered. The villa had at least 25 rooms richly decorated with painted plasters and mosaics, under floor heating, and bath complex with three buildings, a separate temple building and agricultural buildings. The elaborate lifestyle of the Roman era inhabitants is also evident in Gallic and Mediterranean imports, red tile roofs, shards of delicate glass vessels, and debris from oyster feasts.

The estimated diameter of the Lewes villa is 120 meters and the entire villa complex covers 8,300 square meters. This manor may have controlled a farming estate of at least four square miles. The villa is believed to have been built in the first century and occupied for 300 years. Local records suggest the villa continued to be an administrative center after the Romans left, through the Saxon and Norman periods. Even today, it is still a focal point in the local area.

Source: Adam Lusher (July 30, 2000) "Archaeologist's dig reveals solution to ancient riddle of lost Roman town" The Electronic Telegraph Issue 1892 Downloaded July 30, 2000; David Keys (August 5, 2000) "Roman villa complex found in Sussex" The Independent Downloaded September 14, 2000.


Saxon Justice

Another Saxon execution may have been discovered at Hinchingbrooke near Huntington. The burial resembled those in the execution cemetary at Sutton Hoo, with in this case, the skeleton discovered buried face-down on its knees in a pit. This site had been a former Roman villa and an earlier middle and late Iron Age farmstead. The Iron Age farm yielded roundhouses, pots, and iron currency bars found in ditches. The Roman villa yielded painted plaster, a building thought to be a temple, possible garden features, and an aisled barn in trial excavations. Hopes of further excavations were been dashed when the Cambridge County Council canceled excavation plans and put the property up for sale.

A skeleton previously found in Stonehenge has been radiocarbon dated to AD 650-690. Like other executions, the victim, in his 30s, had been beheaded. The location of the grave had lead to speculation that the victim could have been a Christian slain in a period when Wessex was not yet ruled by a unified dynasty and when Christianity was not yet accepted by all its inhabitants. However, it has also been noted that Stonehenge sits on a hundred boundary, the type of location later used for judicial executions. The three other skeletons found in the past may reinforce the latter since two of them may also be execution victims. Recent estimations suggest that up to three percent of males in this period died by execution. There have been approximately twenty execution cemeteries found to date.

Source: Simon Denison (October 2000) "Saxon Criminal" British Archaeology Issue 55; Simon Denison (August 2000) "Stonehenge man" British Archaeology Issue 54; David Keys (July 14, 2000) "Stonehenge used as Saxon execution site" The Independent Downloaded September 14, 2000.


Saxon London

New pottery found in London suggests that a Saxon presence could have been in the city earlier than had been supposed. One of the pots was produced with tempered bone meal, of the same type found at sites west of London in the 5th-6th century. The new site is at the west end of Long Acre, west of a large Saxon site found in Convent Garden under the Royal Opera House. The Convent Garden site produced a 6th-7th century bronze saucer-brooch. It has been suggested that Saxon Lundenwic could have been located in the region of the Convent Garden and the Strand. It should be mentioned that without other evidence of settlement, pottery could reach the site by trade or other means.

Source: Norman Hammond (August 11, 2000) "Unearthing a Bone of Contention" The Times


Sexing Anglo-Saxon Remains

New work done under the direction of Dominic Powlesland has brought into question methods for sexing Anglo-Saxon remains. Skeletons from the Heslerton Anglo-Saxon village, near Malton, in North Yorkshire have been subjected to DNA analysis and yielded some surprises. Two skeletons buried with spears and a knife have turned out to be genetically female while six remains buried with "brooches, beads and handbangs" are genetically male. Previously, burials containing spears were assumed to be male and those with beads and handbags were assumed to be female.

Source: Nick Nuttall (August 22, 2000) "New light on the Dark Ages" The Times Downloaded August 22, 2000.




Sixth Century Crozier Discovered Stuck in the Mud

Ms. Ellen O'Carroll of the Archaeological Development Services discovered a rare sixth century Bishop's crozier stuck vertically in the mud as she surveyed in advance of peat harvesting in Offaly county near Ferbane, about ten miles from Clonmacnoise. The crozier, now broken into several segements, was originally about 1.25 meters long with a 25mm diameter. It appears to have been carved out of a single branch or stem of Cherry wood.

The crozier is believed to be the earliest one discovered in Ireland. Surprisingly, the crook is crafted to enclose a Greek cross and the tip of the crozier is "stepped and pointed". It is unclear if it originally had a metal point on the end. It was discovered next to a pathway of split oak planks dated by dendrochronology to AD 596. It has been suggested that it could have been a 'ritual deposition' of a cross. The pathway was constructed to give an elevated walkway above the surface of the bog. It provided access on foot from dry land of Killiaghintober to Leamanaghan Island, which contains the remains of St. Manchan's Church. The foundation of the church is reputed to have predated St. Manachan's death in AD 665. In the process of removing the upper layers of peat, networks of other pathways have been uncovered. These other pathways have been dated to the 10th to 17th centuries. In addition to the pathways, some coins and leather shoes have also been discovered.

Source: "Archaeologist uncovers 6th century crozier in Offaly" (June 22, 2000) The Irish Times downloaded June 25, 2000; Simon Denison (August 2000) "Bishop's Crozier" British Archaeology Issue 54


Bronze Age to Early Christian Cemetery Uncovered in Meath

Working in advance of a new development project, archaeologists in Laytown, Meath, have discovered an early Christian cemetery and a Bronze Age enclosure. By August, 50 stone-lined graves of both men and women had been uncovered but curiously they found very few children. Double ditches suggesting extensive defenses encircled the Bronze Age sub-rectangular enclosure, although no artifacts had yet been discovered in August. Another Bronze Age settlement with its cemetery was discovered about two years ago at Bettystown, only a half a mile from Laytown.

Source: Elaine Keogh (August 15, 2000) "Meath dig yields early Christian Graves" The Irish Times Downloaded August 21, 2000.



Roman Era Warriors Camp Discovered in Norway

An approximately 2000 year old military camp has been discovered at Spangereid, Norway. The site of Spangereid is located on the Norweigan coast at the point closest to Denmark, at the time possibly held by the Jutes. This site is the easternmost of twenty newly discovered camps in Norway. The site with the remains of ten buildings has been determined to have been a military court because it lacked artifacts of normal civilian settlements. Several large boathouses were discovered near the Spangereid site. It has been suggested that these boathouses were used to house warships. The nearby village produced several rich graves illustrating contact with Britain, Roman Gaul, and the Baltic after A.D. 200.

Source: Frans-Arne Stylegar. (December 12, 2000) "A Warrior Camp: Pre-Viking Chieftans Likely Drove Scandinavian Contacts" Discovering Archaeology Downloaded December 13, 2000. (When this story was originally posted by Discovering Archaeology they credited it to Michael A. Stowe. It as since been changed to Frans-Arne Stylegar.)


King Gorm Laid to Rest...Again

King Gorm the Old died in AD 959 and was buried in a pagan mound at Jelling, Denmark. Gorm's son King Harold Bluetooth (r. 959-987) was the first Danish king to convert to Christianity and, according to legend, in an effort to save his father's soul, had his father exhumed and reburied in a wooden church in the same cemetery. Like many other wooden churches, this church burned down, as did two subsequent churches on the site, before a stone church was built in c. 1100. That this site was assoicated with Gorm and his son Harold is confirmed by the presence of two rune stones along with burial mounds. The oldest rune stone was dedicated by Gorm himself to the memory of his wife Thyra who is called "Denmark's Adornment". Harold erected the second stone to the memory of his parents, Gorm and Thyra, and claims that Harold won Denmark and Norway and made Denmark Christian.

The saga of Gorm's travels after death began in 1820 when archaeologists excavated his first mound burial and found it empty, except for a single silver cup. Dendrochronological studies on the wooden beams in the burial chamber in the mound later confirmed a cutting date of c. 959, matching the reported date of Gorm's death. Further excavations sanctioned by King Frederik VII in 1861 excavated the other burial mound at the site and found it also empty. In the 1970s, the remains of a 173 cm middle aged man were found in a burial chamber in the stone church at Jelling. There is some controversy between archaeologists on whether or not these remains belonged to Gorm. Since their discovery, the remains had been studied and stored at Coppenhagen's University and National Museum. The remains were reburied in the Jelling church in the presence of Queen Margrethe II and the royal family. The new sealing stone on the tomb reads "King Gorm Laid to Rest in 959 and Later Entombed Here".

Mark Rose (November/December 2000) "Gorm the Old Goes Home" Archaeology Volume 53 Number 6. ; Peter Starck (August 30, 2000) "Viking-era bones reburied - but is it Gorm" Reuters. (via OldNorseNet)


Roman Era Swedish Temple Discovered

A unique pentagonal shaped pagan temple has been found at Västerhanige, fifteen miles south of Stockholm, Sweden. The six postholes have up to a three-foot diameter and are five and a half feet deep with a lining of sturdy packing stones. The postholes are an impressive 23 feet apart. To date, there is no evidence of other supporting posts suggesting that these posts may have supported a roof. If so, this roof would have spanned 40 feet. There is disagreement between the archaeologists on whether or not there was a roof based partially on the suggestion that no roof spanned more than 30 feet until the Middle Ages. One of the posts was split to allow a granite and red sandstone threshold, possibly marking the entrance to the structure. In the center of the structure, a burial pit with creamated bones and a partially preserved clay floor have been preserved. A small strand of Roman gold thread dated to c. A.D. 150-345 has dated the remains.

Source: Erling Hoh (October 11, 2000) "Unique Pentagonal Temple" Archaeology


Gotland treasure hoard the largest ever found

Archaeologists working on Gotland have found the largest ever Viking treasure hoard. The 70 kg hoard of 13,000 Arabic silver coins, 500 Viking arm bands and bracelets, dozens of silver bars, rings and countless jewelry fragments were discovered under the floorboards of a merchants home. It is believed that the hoard was buried in AD c. 870. The hoard is valued at £400,000.

This hoard will be added to some 800 other treasure hoards discovered on Gotland alone. The vast wealth of this hoard and the sheer number of other hoards discovered over the years illustrate the wealth and importance of Gotland as a trading center. Gotland traded with Russia, Sweden, the Baltic coast and further afield. Although today Gotland is part of Sweden, it was a semi-independent state of approximately 30,000 people with its own parliament in the ninth century when this hoard was buried. Then, Gotland was dominated by merchants, the metal working industry, and shipbuilding.

Source: David Keys (September 4, 2000) "Viking treasure is discovered after 11 centuries under the floorboards" The Independent Downloaded September 14, 2000.


Roman Era finds discovered in Skåne, Southern Sweden

This years excavations at Uppåkra, near Lund focused on an area known as "Jonas' Hill", where previous excavations had found sheets of gold and artifacts suggesting a workshop. This year further parts of the settlement, dating from the early first century, were uncovered. The main structures of a house were well preserved including its outside walls, and oven. Finds were mostly confined to pottery and bones. One building did yield a sheet of silver and some charred stones that may suggest this was a silversmith's shop. Graves had previously been discovered 600-700 meters from "Jonas' Hill'.

In late October, archaeologists found a remarkably rich grave of a tall in Österlen, Skåne. The site is at Simrishamn, five kilometers west of Gärdestad. Among the artifacts found withher include a silver cup from the Black Sea region, a silver clasp, and over ninety amber beads. The grave has been dated to the fourth century. It is believed that this is one of the three richest graves found to date in Skåne.

Source: Sydsvenska Dagbladet (30 October 2000) 'Järnåldersgrav funnen i Skåne' . ; Birgitta Åkesson, "Uppåkra - avslutade grävningar", Artefact, Nr. 11. November 2000, Information for these stories was contributed to the Heroic Age by Sara E. Ellis.




Caledonian extortion of Rome.

A new hoard of Roman coins has been found at Birnie, near Elgin in northern Scotland. The hoard contained some 300 Roman coins, which date from the early third century. Literary sources indicated the Roman governor paid large sums of money to the inhabitants of southern Scotland but this hoard now brings into question if the Romans were also paying off the northern Caledonians as well. Reexamination of the coin hoards held by the National Museums of Scotland indicate that the payments were made to the Britons and Caledonians in four areas: southern Scotland (south of Edinburgh), Fife and Dundee, the Aberdeen region, and along the southern shore of the Moray Firth. The hoards of 200-400 silver coins were often ritually deposited. This newest hoard was found buried in a pot in a hole that had previously held a post. The Birnie hoard is estimated to be worth £20,000.

Source: David Keys (November 3, 2000) "Romans paid Scots protection money" The Independent Downloaded December 18, 2000.


Early Orkney Monastery Discovered

A monastery has been discovered on the remote island of Papa Stronsay in the Orkney archipelago. The discovering archaeologists from Headland Archaeology of Edinburgh and the University of Birmingham have dated the ruins to the seventh or eighth century. By August, archaeologists had found a small church (23 feet by 11.5 feet), a circular chapel (16.5 feet by 10 feet) and several small domestic huts. It has been suggested that the monastery was founded AD 650-750 and that the monastery was a supply center for other hermits in the Orkney archipelago. Although the monastery was abandoned in the Middle Ages, two chapels continued to be maintained on the island until the eighteenth century.

Source: David Keys (August 27, 2000) "Early Christian outpost found in remote Orkneys" The Independent Downloaded September 14, 2000.


Easter Ross Monastery Redated to the Sixth Century

The monastery of Portmahomack in Easter Ross has been redated to the sixth century based on new radiocarbon dating of the human remains. Earlier excavations had discovered an all male cemetery and an enclosure including Christian sculpture and inscriptions. Based on this evidence it was believed that the monastery dated to the eighth century.

The cemetery was the clue to the real age of the monastery. It contained only middle age or elderly men buried in stone lined graves or graves with pillow stones and marked with stabs inscribed with simple crosses. The remains have been radiocarbon dated to the mid to late sixth century. It is now suggested that the cemetery is a Columban foundation from Iona. It is possible that this monastery was one of the earliest in Pictland. The danger of such a mission is illustrated in the four male skeletons found with sword wounds in the skull.

Other artifacts found at the site suggest it was a craft center. Tools have been found suggesting that metal and leather working were both done in the monastery. An Iron chisel was discovered with wood shavings still attached. A pumice stone may indicate that vellum was being produced on the site. A millpond and channels have been uncovered leading to what is believed to be a mill site, although the mill has not yet been excavated.

Previously, Prof. Carter, the lead excavator at Portmahomack, had speculated that monastery was a private site patronized by a local lord from the Tarbart peninsula. However, his view has changed in light of the new discoveries of several 8th-9th carved crosses on the Tarbat peninsula that were made of the same imported stone. Although these crosses may mark the centers of local lord's estates, the common stone suggests a common central controlling authority.

Source: Simon Denison (December 2000) "Portmahomack monastery dated to the 6th century" British Archaeology Downloaded January 2, 2001.


Iron Age Fort Discovered on Breidden Hill

Obsured by a forest, an Iron Age fortress has been discovered on Breidden Hill in Powys near Welshpool. The forest had been originally planted in the 1930s under pressure from the government to cover hilltops with trees even if that meant covering ancient monuments. These trees have now been credited with preserving the site otherwise undamaged for the last 60 years. After a decade of careful removal of trees from the site, the contour of the hill fort has emerged. The stone ramparts, now collapsed, would have risen to 20 feet when occupied. It has been suggested that Caratacus used this hill fort at the time of his final defeat by Ostorious Scapula, the Roman Governor, in AD 51. He escaped and fled to the Brigantes in northern Britain who handed him over to the Romans. Archaeological work continues on the site. The site is eventually expected to be opened to the public.

Source: "Iron Age fort unearthed" (July 28, 2000) BBC News; "Hidden fort to reveal truth about Caractacus" (August 10, 2000) Syndey Morning Herald Downloaded August 14, 2000.




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Copyright © Michelle Ziegler, 2001. All rights reserved.

This edition copyright © The Heroic Age, 2001. All rights reserved.