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All bones tell a story – but not all a tale as amazing as Richard III’s….

Because of Richard III, and all that could be accurately gleaned from his remains, it is now very interesting to read of other cases where bones give up fascinating details.

This article describes a grisly discovery on an Orkney beach. How old might it be? I quote:

“….The world leading forensic bone scientist heads a Glasgow University team that can tell the age of a body from a tiny fragment.

“….His Glasgow University labs at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in East Kilbride can identify the remains of the recently murdered to others who died up to 50,000 years ago.

“….After tests, he could tell the island police the arm found on Burray Sands had been around for almost 3,000 years….”

More recent remains in Manchester were of a young woman of 18-24, murdered between 1969 and 1974. In spite of discovering that she was Caucausian with possible African ancestry, and between 5ft 3in and 5ft 6in tall, police are still no closer to identifying her.

So it doesn’t matter whether remains are modern or ancient, they can all tell a story. But the chances of finding someone of such importance as Richard III are very small indeed, so we Ricardians must never lose sight of the fact that we are very fortunate indeed to have him back!

Would this be your top ten list of Britain’s buried treasures….?

Here are the headlines from an article in The Guardian:-

“….Red Lady to Richard III: Britain’s 10 best buried treasures – ranked!

“….How does ‘Britain’s Tutankhamun’, a Saxon prince’s tomb found near an Aldi in Southend-on-Sea, fit in with the UK’s great archaeological finds?….”

To read the full list of these ten discoveries, go to this Guardian article.

What do I think? Well, to me, the Mary Rose doesn’t rank No. 1, that’s for sure, but that’s just me. Do you agree with the list? Do you have any suggestions that have been omitted? Would you simply rearrange the 10 in order of importance? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen….!

MORE TREASURES FROM LEICESTERSHIRE: AN IRON AGE SHIELD FROM THE SOAR

Leicestershire seems to be a county that just keeps ‘giving’ to archaeologists, from the discovery of Richard III’s remains (naturally)  in 2012  to gigantic Roman structures under Leicester…and now, moving back in time, an Iron Age shield has been found in, of all places, the River Soar. (Everyone was wrong about Richard being in the Soar, but it seems a lot of other things were thrown  in its waters over the centuries!)

What makes this item unique and an extremely exciting find,  is that it is made of wood. Organics seldom survive in the archaeological record unless the conditions are perfect–and they seem to have been in this case.

The shield, which is 2300 years old, is made of hardwood, with a hazel rim and a boss of willow. At first archaeologists thought it might simply be a ‘ritual deposit’, made purely to go into the waters and never used in warfare,  as they thought such thin wood would not stand up well in battle, but experimental reproductions showed the light, bendy shield was in fact adequate at deflecting blows. It still may have gone into the water as a deliberate offering–water deposits to Chthonic gods were common in Britain from the late Bronze Age through the Iron Age.

It is interesting to note that its  shape is almost identical to that of the famous Battersea Shield, found in the river in London, only that shield is metal with exquisite enamelled designs.

IRON AGE SHIELD LEICESTERSHIRE ARTICLE    

shieldbattersea

Top-New Shield and reconstruction. Bottom-the Battersea Shield.

Diving back 5,500 years into a “murky” Scottish loch….

“…. Archaeologists in Scotland have made “astounding discoveries” in a murky loch which finally determines when ancient homes known as crannogs were first used, and it’s thousands of years earlier than previously thought….”

Our perception of history is always being tweaked by new discoveries! Now it’s Scottish crannogs that are being reassessed. To read more and find out about the above image and quote, go here.

A passing thought that the boys in the Tower might have been buried at Winchester….

The matter of these intriguing coffins at Winchester Cathedral and whether or not one of the skeletons might be that of Queen Emma, consort of Kings Ethelred and Cnut, is very engrossing. But of even more interest (temporary, I concede) was the thought that two of the twenty-three remains, of juvenile royal personages, might have been those of the boys in the Tower, particularly now that evidence can prove or disprove the identities of the bones in the urn.

The fate of Edward IV’s sons has always been a bone (no pun intended) of contention, with poor old King Richard usually on the receiving end of all blame. Wrongly, of course, but the ignorant traditionalist view still has a grip. Anyway, the theory about the remains at Winchester was only fleeting, because “….Although researchers believe the two juvenile skeletons discovered in Winchester Cathedral were of two boys ‘almost certainly of royal blood’ and aged of a similar age to the princes, they had died sometime between 1050 and 1150 – more than 300 earlier….”

Oh, well, the possibility had me sitting up for a moment! But please read this BBC article to learn more about the Winchester coffins. There are some good illustrations. Worth a visit.

A huge stone port a mile off Cardiff…built by the ancient kings of Britain….?

This post has nothing to do with Richard III, but concerns a great structure which, if it ever existed, would surely have been visible to him from the shore of South Wales. The intervening centuries have worn it down, of course, but he might—just might—have seen it.

We are becoming accustomed to important ancient discoveries along the Welsh coast of the Severn estuary. For instance, there were those Stone Age footprints, set forever in the hardened clay along the shore at Goldcliff, and the wonderful medieval ship discovered in the Usk at Newport. These are but two.

One of the Stone Age footprints from the mud at Goldcliff,
and the medieval ship found in the Usk at Newport.

And now I have learned of a ‘huge’ stone port built by ancient British kings over a mile offshore at Cardiff. A what and how far out, did I hear you exclaim? Well, yes, that was my initial reaction, and it’s a fascinating thought, but could it possibly be true? You may relax, ladies and gentlemen, for I am not about to claim that it must have been the work of alien visitors; instead, I will resort to maps—Google, Bing, Earth, Ordnance Survey and others. One thing is certain, I am astonished that Giraldus Cambrensis forgot to mention it, and Nennius was most remiss not to list such a colossal undertaking among his Wonders of Britain!

The Severn Estuary is a dangerous place because it boasts the second highest tidal range in the world, the highest being the Bay of Fundy in Newfoundland. Things have changed since the Dark Ages, and now it is reckoned that the high water level of, say, the 5th century, would have been four metres lower than at present. I am not a geologist, historical or otherwise, so can only imagine that this might make a great difference to the appearance and integrity of the shoreline. My interest here is in the area off Cardiff, known today as the Cardiff Flats. As far as I can see, Cardiff never extended further south than the original shoreline, which surely means there was always mud on what is now Cardiff Flats? And that the highest spring tides still came up to the shoreline that Cardiff never dared to cross?

From the shore, the Flats reach out south for about a mile into the estuary, a vista of level, featureless, sometimes rippling mud that ends suddenly at the Orchard Ledges, which plunge down into much deeper water. At this physical point, in the time of the ancient British kings, it is suggested, there was built a great stone port. Its purpose was to defeat the tide, by always providing deep water for ships of all sizes. Especially, of course, military vessels.

London

Yes, the above image is how London is imagined to have looked at the time of the Cardiff port. But, of course, London has always been right on the confined bank of the Thames. The port off Cardiff is not only a mile or more out in the estuary, but was built of stone! It is an undertaking that even now would take meticulous and infallible engineering…and an awful lot of money and men! How long did it take? How great a workforce? Might the whole enterprise have been on a par with the Great Pyramid?

I learned of this harbour/port when reading The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. This is a fascinating book dealing with the legends of King Arthur (among other things, including that there were actually two Arthurs), and I really enjoyed reading it. That is not to say I necessarily agree with all its theories and suppositions, but I definitely enjoyed it. The writing style is easy and inviting, and there aren’t any dull passages. According to the blurb – “As a result of research going back over forty years, the authors are able to reveal the locations of the graves of both Arthurs, the location of Camelot, the burial of the ‘true cross of Christ’ and uncover a secret historical current that links our own times with the mysteries of Arthur and the Holy Grail…” Yes, yes, I know that many of you will be groaning, but the book is still very interesting, if not to say fascinating.

Sometimes, whatever you’re reading, a passage will leap out and demand investigation. Then it stays in the memory, nagging away, until you do just that. The passage in question is the following, which I have taken directly from the book:

“….In the Cardiff area, which is typified by mud flats, the variation of the [Severn] tides means that the sea retreats for a very long way at low tide, leaving ships beached and therefore useless for military purposes.

“….Before land was reclaimed in order to build the Alexandra and Roath docks, the shoreline between the Taff and Ely estuaries was long and straight, corresponding to today’s high-water mark for spring tides. Beyond this high-water mark there is a low, flat shelf of mudflats extending for well over a mile to the Orchard ledges, where the shelf ends and the water deepens sharply. When the tide is out the mudflats are exposed. It was on the edge of these flats that we believe the ancient British kings built a great stone port in the sea, to overcome the problems created by the tides. Until recently there was a long, straight road running down through Splott in south-east Cardiff, called Portmanmor Road, a name deriving from either Porth-Maen-Mor, meaning ‘the Port of Stone in the Sea’, or Porth-Maen-Mawr—‘the Great Port of Stone’. It points directly at the centre of the harbour whose ruins, although not marked on modern Ordnance Survey maps, were included in those drawn up by local cartographers in the nineteenth centuries.

The above illustration has been inserted by me, and does not appear in the book. The resolution is not very good in the snip from the 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey map, but it shows that Portmanmor (various other spellings) Road acquired a kink at the southern end, and has these days been swallowed up by the docks and other developments. But the red dot-dash line follows the upper part of the road, and then reaches out into the estuary to the end of Cardiff Flats and the Orchard Ledges, where there is no visible sign of the stone port. It was from about this time that the port was omitted from all modern OS maps. And I don’t think that the above passage from The Holy Kingdom implies that Portmanmor Road extended right into the estuary, I have included the red line merely to show that the angle of the road would indeed reach out to the right point on Orchard Ledges.

“….The harbour is shaped like a gigantic horseshoe with its mouth facing outwards towards the deeper water of the Severn Estuary. The bulk of the harbour sits on the mudflats with its entrance stretching over the shelf. The distance across its opening is approximately 400 yards, and it is 500 yards deep (i.e. from mouth back toward land). Using this manmade harbour, ships could come and go as they pleased, regardless of the tides. It was certainly a remarkable structure and deserves to be explored archaeologically, for if there is anywhere in Britain where we could expect to find Dark Age wrecks, then this is it….”

I am unsure if what I have indicated with red arrows in the maps below is the harbour, shingle, or just the way the mud has settled as the tide ebbs. All I can say is that sometimes it looks as if made of stone, and sometimes not.

I think this shingly shape is the port. If not, it might be the dark curve directly below the L of Ledges. Hard to be sure.

Well, after all that, I’m left with a huge unanswered question. Is there an ancient port still lingering for our modern eyes? Or not?

Severn estuary mud is another Wonder of Britain overlooked by Nennius. The Romans’ amazing concrete/cement (of which we hear many praises) is as nothing compared with what Sabrina can produce.

©Lewis Clarke

That Severn clay stuff is a curse on anyone whose garden is made of it (me, for one!) because it seems that no matter how much rain falls, the flower beds will have set solid within a day. But this is not so in the Severn itself. The retreating tide may expose miles of that awful grey-brown desolation, but there is no time between tides for anything to set. The stuff remains sticky, gooey, treacherous, mean-hearted and seemingly fathomless. Its sole avowed purpose is to grab your wellies and suck you down. Oh, and there are quick-sands too, just to make matters really jolly.

From http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/forum/showthread.php/23860-Severn-Estuary-from-Beachley-to-Newnham-and-back-with-two-canoes-and-a-wrong-un

We still don’t even know how Stonehenge was created—Merlin’s name has been known to pass lips, and it surely would have taken his wizardry to conjure a 400 x 500 yard stone port, in the middle of the Severn Estuary, in that ferocious mud in the Dark Ages. Well, I’m not going to say it couldn’t have been done by mere mortals, but I confess I would really like to know how they did it.

And, of course, there’s always….

PS: Oh dear, it now seems that the Great Stone Port will soon be even more a thing of the past, because it looks to me as if the wall of the intended Cardiff Bay Tidal Lagoon will probably demolish what’s left of what might be a Dark Ages marvel.

The Prince of Aldi–the Prittlewell Saxon Tomb

In 2003, a Saxon burial in an intact burial chamber was unearthed between an Aldi shop  and a pub in Southend. Clearly an important person, almost certainly royalty, the items in the grave  make it the earliest Christian royal burial in England. Now, 16 years on, with conservation and studies complete, many of the items belonging to the ‘Prittlewell Prince’ are going on display in the Central Museum.

There was only one tooth remaining from the ‘prince’ himself but the array of preserved grave-goods was staggering: a lyre, a painted box that is a one of its kind, a golden belt buckle, golden crosses to cover his eyes, an iron stool, gold-decorated pottery and a sword with gold wire  around a hilt made of horn.  Parts of his coffin also survived and measurements indicate he was approximately 5ft 6.

So who was this wealthy early Christian Saxon? The best guess is that he was Saexa, the brother of King Saebert , who was King of Essex from AD604 to AD616. It was originally thought the burial might be Saebert himself but the carbon dates are slightly too early, more in keeping with the date of his brother’s death.

Some have likened this unique find to  opening King Tut’s tomb…

PRITTLEWELL PRINCE

prit.jpg

So, who were the Saxon Kings of Essex? Here’s a genealogy. Note that, unlike the more geographically distant Wuffings of East Anglia, there seems to be no family link to the House of Wessex.

 

A RIGHT ROYAL TAX SCAM

Somerset’s Chew Valley is an interesting place. Around the shores of the artificially made Chew Valley Lake, lie dozens of  medieval villages  and the signs of habitation, burial and ritual left by prehistoric man, including the mysterious stone and timber circle, Stanton Drew. Appledore, where a subsequent battle took place, lies in the next county.

Chew Valley also held an intriguing secret, kept hidden till two metal detectorists had a chance discovery in August 2019. Deep in the soil of the valley  lay a hidden hoard of silver coins  buried just after the Battle of Hastings, probably by a wealthy local.

It was also a medieval tax scam.

The coins bear the heads of both King Harold and William the Conqueror (a small number also sport the image of Edward the Confessor.) Some coins even have one  king as heads and the other as tails. This seems to indicate the person striking  the coins was deliberately using an old tool to avoid paying taxes on a new one with an updated image.

The Chew Valley coin hoard is the largest Norman find in England since 1833 and may be worth millions.

And it also shows that when it comes to taxation, some things never change no matter what century you’re in.

 

CHEW VALLEY COIN FIND

 

BAY

COIN

Three dazzling treasure finds in Norfolk….!

 

How does that song go? Some guys have all the luck….? Well, a young ‘student-turned-archaeologist’ named Tom Lucking certainly does. And I’ll warrant he’s already sick of jokes about his name! Anyway, his find has now been declared treasure trove. He found the jewel, now known as the Winfarthing Pendant, near Diss. Norfolk in 2014.

To read more about this pendant, go to this article.

The Croesus-fingered Mr Lucking struck again last September, finding “a brooch dating back to between 1200 and 1300” at Wymondham, Norfolk.

To read more about his second big find, please go to this piece.

Now it seems (according to the first link above) that in 2017 a second pendant was found near the site of the Winfarthing Pendant, although not, it seems, by Mr Lucking. It has now also been declared treasure trove. I do not know who did find it, but here is a picture:-

The children of Barnard Castle delve into history….

The following passages are taken from the Teesdale Mercury

“….HUNDREDS of children in and around Barnard Castle have been learning more about medieval ailments while helping St Mary’s Church in the town raise cash for vital repairs.

“….The church is working with archaeology group DigVentures to engage people in the town’s heritage as part of a bid for Lottery funding to repair a wall that is pulling apart. Work also needs to be done to many of the ancient windows.

“….Previously the archaeology group invited people to take part in a photogrammetry project to create 3D images of various objects and artefacts that can be found in the church. In the latest round of workshops primary school pupils have been invited to learn about the medieval times of Richard III who has important links to the church.

“….Archaeologist Harriet Tatton said pupils were led on a path of discovery into how scientists used DNA testing to confirm they had discovered King Richard III’s body in 2012….”

It’s good to know the children around Barnard Castle are learning about their area’s wonderful history. And, hopefully, about the king who, had he lived longer, would have improved the lot of so many ordinary people.

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