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

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Decoding Anglo-Saxon art

Silver-gilt square-headed brooch from Grave 22, Chessell Down, Isle of Wight. Early Anglo-Saxon, early 6th century AD

One of the most enjoyable things about working with the British Museum’s Anglo-Saxon collection is having the opportunity to study the intricate designs of the many brooches, buckles, and other pieces of decorative metalwork. This is because in Anglo-Saxon art there is always more than meets the eye.
The objects invite careful contemplation, and you can find yourself spending hours puzzling over their designs, finding new beasts and images. The dense animal patterns that cover many Anglo-Saxon objects are not just pretty decoration; they have multi-layered symbolic meanings and tell stories. Anglo-Saxons, who had a love of riddles and puzzles of all kinds, would have been able to ‘read’ the stories embedded in the decoration. But for us it is trickier as we are not fluent in the language of Anglo-Saxon art.
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Friday, 23 May 2014

Skeleton executed by sword blows to head poses questions on Norman Conquest

A potentially groundbreaking discovery has been announced as part of the 750th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Lewes in Sussex
© Courtesy Sussex Archaeological Society

An unusual set of battlefield burials have led to the skeleton of the first ever human discovery directly related to the 11th century Norman Conquest

A brutally-murdered man, executed by six sword blows to the back of the skull during a vicious 11th century battle on hospital grounds in Sussex, is compelling archaeologists to reconsider Norman war burials after becoming the first ever skeleton to be related to the 1066 invasion.

Originally discovered during a dig at a former medieval hospital more than 20 years ago, the individual has been carbon dated to within 28 years of 1063.

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Monday, 19 May 2014

Possible Viking settlement in the Ålands found

According to archaeologists aerial infrared images suggest the existence of a late Iron Age settlement, possibly the largest such find ever in the Åland Islands or all of mainland Finland. 

The highest point of Åland Islands: summit of Orrdalsklint, in Saltvik 
[Credit: RainoL/Panoramio] 

The aerial imaging highlighted a depression 40 metres deep and 12 metres wide which might have been the site of a massive hall used to host gatherings of ancient Vikings. No other similar find of this size has ever been discovered in the Åland of on the Finnish mainland. 

The imaging project followed observations of depressions which resembled the outlines of late Iron Age structures from other parts of Scandinavia. Once the images revealed the outline of the hall, cautious excavation turned up personal ornaments cast in silver and bronze, and which point to the site as an important location in the Viking world.

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Friday, 16 May 2014

The Vandals: victims of a bad press?

Copper 42 nummi coin showing a Vandal warrior. Although it does not carry a king’s name, it is possible that this coin was made during the time of Gelimer (AD 530-3), and thus he may be the intended identity of the cloaked figure with a spear. The reverse shows the mark of value in Roman numerals (including the long-tailed L (=50) typical of Latin inscriptions in Vandal Africa, and also seen on Gelimer’s silver coinage). Above is the fine image of a horse’s head, the traditional emblem of Carthage since Punic times. TC,p241.2.Car

The name of the Vandals is synonymous today with wanton violence and destruction. But it seems to me that, just like the Vikings, the Vandals have suffered from a bad press. The surviving accounts of their sack of Rome in AD 455, of their further piratical raids around the Mediterranean, and of their persecution of the Catholic inhabitants of North Africa are all presented through the eyes of their enemies and opponents: the Roman and Byzantine Empires and the established Church. Clearly, the Vandals were regarded as the ‘bad guys’ of the day and we, too have been led into thinking of them as wild barbarians, intent on the destruction of Rome and its civilisation.
But how balanced a picture do we get from the contemporary accounts? We do not, after all, have the Vandal side of the story, although we should probably discount the suggestion that they were invited into North Africa, their final home, in support of the Roman governor. He may have been made a scapegoat later for the Vandal conquest of the region.
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Tuesday, 13 May 2014


In 2009 during the construction of the Weymouth Relief Road in Dorset archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology made one of the most exciting, and disturbing, archaeological discoveries in Britain in recent years. Around 50 skeletons, predominantly of young adult males, were found in an old quarry pit. All had been decapitated. Their bodies were thrown into the grave, while their heads were placed in a pile located at one edge.

Archaeologists knew they had found something special as they uncovered the tangle of human bones, but it was only as the scientific analysis of the skeletons progressed that the full international significance of the discovery became clear. What the archaeologists had found was a mass grave of executed Vikings.

Rare find

Oxford Archaeology Project Manager David Score said: “To find out that the young men executed were Vikings is a thrilling development. Any mass grave is a relatively rare find, but to find one on this scale, from this period of history, is extremely unusual.”
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The work of the medieval saint often began even before birth; the earliest text telling the life story of 6th-century Gildas has him making important pronouncements from the safety of his mother’s womb.  Even after death, patron saints were portrayed in the exercise of astonishing powers. The author of the vernacular Irish text which recounts the life of Saint Bairre of Cork sees the saint resurrect a king’s dead wife by bathing her. The Welsh saint, Beino, is recorded as reducing a recalcitrant king to a pool of water, by force of words alone, a feat worthy of Game of Thrones.
A conference which took place in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge saw the launch of a project to categorise and chart the thousands of miracle stories recorded about saints of the British Isles between 500 and 1300.  The meeting, Mapping the Miraculous: Hagiographical Motifs and the Medieval World, had been organised by three graduate students at Cambridge – Robert Gallagher, Julianne Pigott and Sarah Waidler – in collaboration with a colleague from St Andrews, Jennifer Key.

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1,500-year-old bone of giant auk found by archaeologists in early medieval Scotland

A bone of a giant auk, last seen in Scotland 174 years ago, tells a tale of extinction driven by human hunting

A bone from a penguin-like, metre-tall bird which flew between the north-east of the US and northern Spain before going extinct more than a century ago has been found at North Berwick’s Seabird Centre in the first trace of the great auk since their kind disappeared from Scotland in 1840.

Flightless and known as Scotland’s dodo, the upper arm bone of the bird was found at the entrance to an early building in a dig which found the remains of butchered seals, fish and seabirds.

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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Did the Vikings Travel to Madeira?

MADEIRA, MACARONESIA—Dates for a sample of fossilized bone from a house mouse suggest that the rodents were carried to the island of Madeira by European colonists before 1036, or 400 earlier than previously thought. (The Portuguese took possession of Madeira in 1419.) “Current populations of house mice on Madeira show similarities in mitochondrial DNA with those in Scandinavia and northern Germany, but not with those in Portugal,” Josep Antoni Alcover of the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies told Could the mice have traveled to the island with the Vikings? Further morphologic and genetic studies of the fossils are needed. “There are no historical references so far about the Vikings traveling to Macaronesia,” Alcover added.

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Monday, 5 May 2014

Man landing on Madeira could be four centuries prior to its colonization by the Portuguese

According to the results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, house mice may have landed on the island before 1036, most likely transported by a ship. The article suggests that the introduction of this species would result in an ecological disaster.
Until now, the arrival of the man to Macaronesia was documented in two waves: one being aboriginal, limited to the Canary Islands about two millenniums ago; and the other colonial, from the 14th century onwards, which took place in every island of the archipelago. According to historical data, the Portuguese took official possession of Madeira in 1949, when the colonization was started.
The team of researchers, which is also composed of scientists from Germany and the University of La Laguna (Canary Islands, Spain), has analyzed two samples of bones found in Ponta de São Lourenço. The tiny size of the first sample has made impossible to date it, but the second sample has been dated between 900 and 1030, which leads to the earliest evidence for the presence of mice on Madeira Island.
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Burg der Zurückgelassenen

In den "dunklen Jahrhunderten" des frühen Mittelalters war nicht viel los zwischen Elbe und Weser - glaubte man. Doch neue Funde in Stade zeigen, dass es an der Schwinge in diesen Jahrhunderten keineswegs so dunkel war.

"Was haben die hier bloß gemacht?" fragt Stadtarchäologe Andreas Schäfer und schaut nachdenklich auf das Gras unter seinen Gummistiefeln. "Wozu brauchten die so eine große Burg?" Mit "die" meint er die Sachsen des Frühmittelalters, die zwischen Weser und Elbe lebten. Eigentlich, so waren sich die Forscher bisher einig, war in dem Gebiet nicht mehr viel los, seit die meisten Sachsen sich ab dem 5. Jahrhundert in Richtung England abgesetzt hatten, um gemeinsam mit den Angeln die Insel zu besiedeln. Während die Verwandten in England erste Königreiche gründeten, herrschten über die letzten Daheimgebliebenen lediglich so genannte Satrapen. Ihre Dörfer waren nicht mehr als ein paar zusammengewürfelte Höfe.

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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Vikings Online Course

Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers 

12 May to 25 July 2014

Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers is an online archaeology course run by the University of Oxford's Department of Continuing Education.
The course runs for ten weeks and successful completion carries an award of ten CATS points. Students write two short assignments as part of the course.
Online forums for each unit enable students to discuss the topic being studied, and help from the online tutor is always available
You can find more details here...
You can find details of other online archaeology courses here...

Metal detectorists unearth Viking gold

After hours of searching through the mud with metal detectors, treasure hunters Frank Pelle and Bent Gregersen made the discovery of their lives on a ploughed field in the Danish island of Bornholm earlier in April. 

X-ray scans revealed 250 gold and silver coins dating back to Viking days 
[Credit: Bornholms Museum] 

The two lucky gold-diggers found an ancient Viking gold treasure hidden in the ground. 

"It was an amazing feeling, for we had searched for hundreds of hours without luck," Pelle told Ekstra Bladet. 

After studying x-rays of collected earth samples, Bornholms Museum, the local archaeological museum, estimated that the treasure of 250 gold and silver coins was buried in the ground in the 1080s.

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