Archaeological news about the Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe from the Archaeology in Europe web site

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Vikings are coming…

Iron axe-head found in the Thames at Hammersmith, Viking, 10th-11th century (1909,0626.8)

Tom Williams, Project Curator: Vikings, British Museum
Several years ago I worked at the Tower of London. Spending long periods of time within a building of such age, I would often start to wonder about how the area would have looked before the castle was built. Every morning I would pass the remains of Roman walls at Tower Bridge station, walls that were repaired and refortified by King Alfred the Great in response to the very real threat of Viking raids from the river. Blotting out the great hulk of HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge and the modern office blocks that now crowd the banks, I would try to imagine the awe and the terror that a Londoner would have felt a thousand years ago, standing on the city walls, watching the carved and gilded prows of dragon ships silently gliding up the Thames. Viking fleets and armies raided and besieged the city on numerous occasions, and the river has given up dozens of weapons that might have ended up there as a result of those conflicts.
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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Govan Stones: The Viking-Age treasures

The sarcophagus dates back to about AD 900

A unique collection of Viking-age monuments, which lay unloved in a Govan churchyard for 1,000 years, has attracted the attention of the British Museum. Its curator said the Govan Stones was one of the best collections of early medieval sculpture anywhere in the British isles.
Govan is well-known as an industrial powerhouse which, over the past 150 years, has built an incredible number of the world's largest ships.
However the town, now part of the city of Glasgow, has a long and largely-forgotten history as one of the earliest seats of Christianity in Scotland and the main church of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, the lost kingdom of the northern Britons.
In AD 870, Vikings, who had been based in Dublin, destroyed Dumbarton at the mouth of the Clyde, which had been a major power centre in the centuries after the Romans departed from Britain.
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1,500-year-old plague victims shed light on disease origins

Study finds catastrophic diseases aren't things that evolve once – 'they actually evolve multiple times from different ancestors'

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the pathogen that caused one of the most devastating plagues in human history, shedding light on where the disease came from and how it spread.

The Plague of Justinian occurred in the sixth century AD and resulted in more than 100 million deaths by some estimates. Named after the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the outbreak was one of the first recorded plague pandemics. 

Scientists have previously analysed DNA samples taken from plague victims to determine that the Plague of Justinian was likely caused by Yersinia pestis, the bacterium also responsible for the Black Death.
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École, Europe, écriture : l'héritage de Charlemagne

Le 28 janvier 814, Charlemagne décédait dans l'indifférence la plus totale, mais en laissant derrière lui un héritage qui marquera la France à jamais.

Charlemagne recevant à sa cour le clerc et poète Flaccus Alcuin. © Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive / The Picture Desk

Inventeur de l'école, fondateur de l'Europe, premier grand roi deFrance, nombreux ont été les détournements faits autour du personnage de Charlemagne. Ce souverain franc reste, 1 200 ans après sa mort, la figure du Moyen Âge la plus célèbre. Et pour cause, du haut de son mètre quatre-vingt-dix, Charlemagne a dominé une grande partie de l'Europe pendant les 45 ans de son règne. Ce n'est pas sa voix fluette, son léger embonpoint ou encore son nez allongé qui ont traversé les siècles, mais bien son aura sur les peuples qu'il domine, ses conquêtes militaires ou encore les changements sociaux et culturels qu'il a tenté d'apporter. 

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Aachen feiert den großen Karl

1200 Jahre nach dem Tod des Frankenherrschers erinnert die Stadt an ihren Sohn – mit einer roten Couch, Graffiti und einem Kinder-Königreich.

Das restaurierte Mosaik mit der Darstellung Karls des Großen im Aachener Dom: Die Stadt feiert ihren den Herrscher heuer mit 100 Veranstaltungen. Foto: Oliver Berg dpa

AACHEN. Menschen auf der Couch, Kinderparade, Karl als Graffiti-Kunst – mit mehr 100 Veranstaltungen wird in Aachen an Karl den Großen erinnert. Die Stadt stellte am Montag das Jahresprogramm zum 1200. Todestag des Frankenherrschers vor. So sollen Kinder und Jugendliche drei Monate lang mit dem polnischen Künstler Pawel Althamer ihr Königreich gestalten und dabei herausfinden, was sie an ihrer Umgebung ändern möchten.

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Aber wie groß war Karl der Große wirklich?

Frankreich liebt ihn als Landesgründer, Deutschland verehrt ihn als Verkörperung eines toleranten Europa: Vor 1200 Jahren starb der Kaiser

Am 28. Januar 814 ist Karl der Große / Charlemagne gestorben. Die dümmste Frage, die man da stellen kann ist: "War er nun Franzose oder Deutscher?" Es sei denn, man wäre noch vor wenigen Jahrzehnten in die französische Grundschule gekommen und hätte eine kleine, noch von Augustin Thierry beeinflusste Histoire de France als Lehrbuch bekommen

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Frankreich will Karl den Großen ganz für sich

Die Nazis hassten ihn als Sachsenschlächter, im Nachbarland gilt er als Gründer Frankreichs und seiner höheren Zivilisation. Um Karl den Großen, der vor 1200 Jahren starb, wird immer noch gestritten.

Am 28. Januar 814 ist Karl der Große gestorben, den die Franzosen Charlemagne nennen. Die dümmste Frage, die man da stellen kann ist: "War er nun Franzose oder Deutscher?" Es sei denn, man wäre noch vor wenigen Jahrzehnten in die französische Grundschule gekommen und hätte eine kleine, noch von Augustin Thierry beeinflusste Histoire de France als Lehrbuch bekommen.

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Der Mann, der Europa aufräumte

Es ist „Karlsjahr“: Überall erinnern Ausstellungen an den Frankenkaiser. Aber haben wir nichts Besseres zu tun? Was verbindet uns mit einem Mann, der vor zwölfhundert Jahren starb?

JJetzt feiern sie wieder. Ein „Karlsjahr“ ist ausgerufen, nach dem Schillerjahr, dem Kleistjahr, dem Friedrich-der-Große-Jahr, und der Kulturbetrieb eilt zu den Fahnen. Die Beiräte haben getagt, die Kuratoren gesammelt, die Minister ihre Einladungen erhalten, und jetzt regnet es Karls-Ausstellungen: in Aachen, der alten Kaiserstadt, in der auch der unvermeidliche Karlspreis verliehen wird - in diesem Jahr bekommt ihn Ex-EU-Ratspräsident Van Rompuy -, geht es vom Rathaus („Orte der Macht“) über das neue „Centre Charlemagne“ („Karls Kunst“) bis zur Domschatzkammer („Verlorene Schätze“); dazu gibt es noch mal drei Museums-Events im rheinischen Pfalzstädtchen Ingelheim, unter den Stichworten „Prachtort“, „Pfalzansichten“ und „Personenkult“ und natürlich mit „Originalfunden aus der Karolingerzeit“.

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

British Museum launches The BP Exhibition Vikings: life and legend

In March 2014 the British Museum will open the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery with a major exhibition on the Vikings, supported by BP.

The exhibition has been developed with the National Museum of Denmark and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) and focuses on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th century to the early 11th century.
The extraordinary Viking expansion from the Scandinavian homelands during this era created a cultural network with contacts from the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. The Vikings will be viewed in a global context that will highlight the multi-faceted influences arising from extensive cultural contacts. The exhibition will capitalise on new research and thousands of recent discoveries by both archaeologists and metal-detectorists, to set the developments of the Viking Age in context.
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During evaluation of land prior to the construction of a new hospital in Aalborg, Northern Denmark, archaeologists uncovered an Iron Age village dating back around 2000 years. The settlement differs from other sites of this period because of its well preserved condition, including a number of houses complete with fireplaces, chalk floors and cobbled paving.

The village covers an area of ​​approximately 4 ha., and excavation has so far located about 40 houses. However, this number is expected to increase greatly during full excavation, but initial reports show they are not all contemporary, and represent repeated reconstruction and rebuild over hundreds of years.
Usually, only traces of the postholes are left to understand the layout of a house, but the village had been covered over with a thick layer of soil, that had protected it after abandonment. Several of the houses had floors created out of chalk for the living area, while other parts of the buildings appeared to be used as stabling for animals. Preliminary studies show bones found were mainly from the butchering of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, but the inhabitants supplemented their diet with fish from the nearby fjord.

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Hilary Term Online Courses in Archaeology

Hillary Term begins tomorrow at Oxford, but there is still time to enrol for one of the online courses in archaeology.

Cave paintings, castles and pyramids, Neanderthals, Romans and Vikings - archaeology is about the excitement of discovery, finding out about our ancestors, exploring landscape through time, piecing together puzzles of the past from material remains.

These courses enable you to experience all this through online archaeological resources based on primary evidence from excavations and artefacts and from complex scientific processes and current thinking. Together with guided reading, discussion and activities you can experience how archaeologists work today to increase our knowledge of people and societies from the past.

The following courses are available:

Researchers claim to have found King Alfred's pelvis

Researchers said Friday they may have discovered remains of King Alfred the Great, the 9th-century royal remembered for protecting England from the Vikings and educating a largely illiterate nation. 

The portion of a pelvic bone said to belong either to Alfred, the only English king to have the moniker "Great", or his son King Edward the Elder was identified in remains dug up at a medieval abbey in Winchester, southwest England, the capital of Alfred's kingdom [Credit: University of Winchester] 

The University of Winchester said in a statement that a pelvis found in a box of bones in the city's museum is likely to be either from the legendary leader or his son, King Edward the Elder.

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Bone fragment 'could be King Alfred or son Edward'

The fragment of pelvis dates back to the period in history when King Alfred died

A fragment of pelvis bone unearthed in Winchester in 1999 may belong to King Alfred the Great or his son Edward the Elder, academics have said.
It was found at a previous dig at Hyde Abbey and has been dated to 895-1017 - the era the king died.
Experts were originally testing remains exhumed last year from an unmarked grave at St Bartholomew's Church, where it was thought he was buried.
But they were found to be from the 1300s, not 899, when the king died.
The fragment of pelvis had been among remains stored in two boxes at Winchester's City Museum and was tested by academics at Winchester University after their study into the exhumed remains proved fruitless.
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Anglo-Saxon remains found during Rushton excavation work

An early Anglo-Saxon pottery vessel, a skull and a bone were unearthed at one of the four graves

The remains of four Anglo-Saxon adults have been found in shallow graves during excavation work at a river in Northamptonshire.
The graves, 12in (30cm) below ground level, were found during the work to create a new backwater at the River Ise at Rushton near Kettering.
A 6th Century bowl was also found in the graves.
Archaeologists said they were "excited" by the graves, which have since been covered again with soil.
Jim Brown, senior project officer at Northamptonshire Archaeology, said the discovery of burial goods with the body remains indicated the people were "certainly pagan".
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Saturday, 18 January 2014

King Alfred the Great bones believed to be in box found in museum

The first remains of King Alfred the Great may have been found at last after tests on a pelvic bone unearthed in Winchester revealed it belonged to either the Anglo-Saxon King or his son Edward.
But after a high-profile excavation of an unmarked grave where the Anglo-Saxon King was believed to be buried, the location of the bone was much more mundane - a storage box in the bowels of a local museum.
Archaeologists from the University of Winchester had initially analysed six skeletons excavated from a grave at St Bartholomew's Church, the historic site of Hyde Abbey, last March.
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Friday, 17 January 2014

Charlemagne and Switzerland

Landesmuseum Zürich

Charlemagne and Switzerland

20.09.2013 – 02.02.2014

Who was Charlemagne and what imprint did the great Carolingian king leave on the 8th and 9th centuries? 2014 marks the 1200th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death (*748 – †814), the first European emperor of the Middle Ages. For this occasion the Swiss National Museum is putting on an exhibition that focuses on the era of Charlemagne and his cultural- historical achievements. Numerous splendid exhibits on loan from Switzerland and abroad introduce the viewers to the innovations in art, architecture, education and religion stimulated by Charlemagne. 

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Thursday, 16 January 2014


University of Reading archaeologists have discovered an ancient and extremely rare Anglo-Saxon board gaming piece while excavating a royal complex at Lyminge, Kent. The piece would have been used for a game similar to that of backgammon or draughts.

The Anglo-Saxon’s had a strong tradition of playing board games. Individual gaming pieces, and sometimes complete sets in burials of the period, have been discovered. However not only is the piece the first of this type to be found since the Victorian period, it is the first ever piece to be discovered in a ‘gaming’ setting, an Anglo-Saxon royal hall.

Royal ceremonial events

Alongside this astonishing discovery, Dr Gabor Thomas and his team have also uncovered items of jewellery, numerous fragments of luxury vessel glass and pits with animal bones, confirming that feasting and social display were integral to Lyminge’s role as a place of royal ceremonial events and gatherings during the late 6th and 7th centuries.
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Treasure hunters found nearly 1,000 items in 2012

It is thought these coins, minted in the name of Edmund, King of East Anglia, were buried when Vikings attacked Britain in 865#

Amateur archaeologists with metal detectors found 990 items classified as treasure during 2012, according to figures from the British Museum.
All of the rare coins, rings and brooches contain gold or silver, and many date back more than 1,200 years.
The public reported more than 74,000 other historical items to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which experts say has "revolutionised archaeology".
More than 900,000 objects have been reported since it started in 1997.
The verification process takes several months, which is why the items submitted in 2012 are only being detailed now.
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Friday, 10 January 2014

Carolingian-era mass grave discovered in France

The remains of men, women and children thrown into a well during the Carolingian era [© Captair, 2013]

Archaeologists from the Institut de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives in France have discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of between twenty and thirty people.

The discovery was made during the course of a five-month dig of a Gallo-Romano site at the town of Entrains-sur-Nohain in Burgundy, forges, which also revealed a stretch of Roman road, a series of stone houses  and baths. 

The archaeologists were excavating one of two wells on the site when they chanved upon the remains of dozens of skeletons at a depth of about four metres.

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New Iron Age Sites Discovered in Finland

A National Board of Antiquities archaeologist excavates at the Ahvenkoski harbor forge. The furnace was located between two stones, and in the ground one can see dark gray iron slag pieces. Image courtesy Jouni Jäppinen.

It was in the autumn of 2010 when local amateur archaeologists discovered evidence of harbor facilities thought to date from around 1000–1200 AD near Ahvenkoski village at the mouth of the western branch of the Kymi River in southeastern Finland. The findings included a smithy, an iron smelting furnace, and forceps, as well as hundreds of iron objects such as boat rivets similar to those found at Viking settlements in different parts of the Baltic, Scandinavia, Scotland and Iceland. Then, in 2011, a possible 2 x 3-meter-wide cremation grave was uncovered, confirmed later through rescue excavations by archaeologists from the Finnish National Board of Antiquities and through osteological analysis at the University of Helsinki. Artifacts included a battle axe, a knife, and a bronze buckle, all associated with burned human bones, initially thought to be dated to around 1000 - 1200 CE before analysis. Similar objects have been discovered in the Baltic Sea area and in Ladoga Karelia. Identical cape buckles have also been found in Gotland. 

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Network theory and the heroes of Icelandic sagas

Egill Skallagrímsson from a 17th-century manuscript [Credit: WikiCommons] 

The Icelandic sagas of the Norse people are thousand-year-old chronicles of brave deeds and timeless romances, but how true to Viking life were they? Writing in Significance, Pádraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna use a statistical network of associations between characters to find out. 

While the stories involve a cast of thousands, recurring characters have emerged as the stories passed into historical legend. A set of recurring characters living within the same fictional world is not restricted to ancient stories, such as the Norse or Greek myths, but remains a popular device in modern comic and film franchises. 

By exploring the number of ‘too-good-to-be-true’ interactions between protagonists, the researchers built a network of recurring characters which in turn could help reveal if the stories are invented or if they are based on a real society.

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Karl der Große: Macht, Kunst, Schätze

Karl der Große: Macht, Kunst, Schätze - three major exhibitions which will run in Aachen from 20 June to 21 September 2014 to mark the 1200th anniversary of the death of Charlemagne.

The three exhibitions are listed as:

Places of Power
The exhibition in the town hall’s coronation hall, the former kings’ hall of the palace, focuses on Charlemagne’s imperial palaces.

Charles’s Art
At the Centre Charlemagne, a new exhibition housed in the heart of the imperial palace, the golden age of culture during the Carolingian period is presented with top-class works of art.

Lost Treasures
In the cathedral’s treasure chamber next to Carolingian Marienkirche, precious church treasures from the Carolingian period and the Middle Ages return to their original site once again.

This should prove to be the most important Carolingian exhibition since the 'Karl der Große und Pabst Leo III. in Paderborn' exhibition held in 1999.

Go to the exhibition website...

Looted Viking treasure is discovered in British Museum store

The Celtic brooch looted by the Vikings and discovered in the museum's collection. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer
A Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum's storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a "staggering find". No-one knew of its existence until now.
It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891.
Curator Barry Ager, a Vikings specialist, was poring over artefacts before a visit from a Norwegian researching the Viking site when his eye was caught by some metal sticking out of the side of the organic lump.
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1,000-year-old loot found in British Museum store

The Celtic brooch looted from the Vikings and discovered in the museum's collection 
[Credit: Andy Hall for the Observer] 

A Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum's storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a "staggering find". No-one knew of its existence until now. 

It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891. 

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Anew book describes the fascinating history of drinking horns and their importance within Scandinavian culture where their roots stretch back into at least the Iron Age as several graves have been found to contain examples from this period.

A long history

During Classical Antiquity, it was the Thracians and Scythians who were known for their custom of drinking from actual horns but in Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece, although they had retained their shape the materials used were clay or metal. Their spread across Central Europe and into Scandanavia by the 5th century BC can be traced by their fittings found in various graves.
The Gallehus horns, discovered north of Møgeltønder in Southern Jutland, Denmark, were created from sheet gold. Designed to look like auroch horns, they were found in 1639 and in 1734 respectively at locations only 20 metres apart and date to the early 5th century BC. Sadly the originals were stolen and melted down in 1802.

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Sweyn Forkbeard: England's forgotten Viking king

Sweyn Forkbeard (shown left), England's shortest reigning king, remains in the shadows of both his son Canute the Great, and father Harold Bluetooth

On Christmas Day 1013, Danish ruler Sweyn Forkbeard was declared King of all England and the town of Gainsborough its capital. But why is so little known of the man who would be England's shortest-reigning king and the role he played in shaping the early history of the nation?
For 20 years, Sweyn, a "murderous character" who deposed his father Harold Bluetooth, waged war on England.
And exactly 1,000 years ago, with his son Canute by his side, a large-scale invasion finally proved decisive.
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