Category Archives: ENGLAND

Archaeologists find graves of high-status Romans In Kent

Human Remains Unearthed At Site Of Early Roman Military Base In Kent

Archeologists working on a building site have discovered two skeletons dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The skeletons were found during the construction of the Aylesham Garden Village near Canterbury and now researchers at the University of Kent are studying them and discovering why they were hidden in the building

These are some of the most recent archeological discoveries on the site, including smaller pieces of pottery and glass dating back 2,000 years to the Roman period.

One of the skeletons found at Aylesham

The dig is being undertaken for developers Barratt Homes and Persimmon Homes by a team from the Faversham-based Swale and Thames Archaeology (SWAT).

SWAT’s Dr. Paul Wilkinson said: “It will be some time before we know much more about the skeletons and their graves. However, the other items we have found have helped to fill in some big gaps in our knowledge of post-invasion Roman life.

One of the skeletons found at Aylesham

“We are quite certain we have discovered what was a military supply depot on the Aylesham site. This would have been set up a year or two after the Romans invaded Britain and we believe would have been manned by soldiers of a Roman legion.

“Not all of them would have been fighting men but specialists in a range of support roles – similar to the British Army of the Victorian era – and would have been posted around an area to concentrate on infrastructure tasks.

“At the center of the Aylesham site were three kilns for firing pottery which was bordered by trenches and ditches.

Local clay would have been used to make the army’s pots, plates, and urns. We have found glass items from Gaul, now France, and other pottery from Germany in Aylesham as well.

“We have discovered some of the urns found in Aylesham were made in the Medway area and these, with local-made items found, suggest the Romans were mass-producing everyday items quickly and efficiently.

Archaeologist Phillipa Foulds examines Roman pottery found at the site

“The site sits on the high ground offering sweeping views of the countryside in a triangle with Canterbury and the Roman ports of Richborough and Dover. It isn’t far from the strategically important Roman Watling Street connecting Dover and Richborough to Canterbury and beyond to Roman London.”

Future plans for the archaeological team center around digging on a site to the east of Aylesham railway station, a short distance from the development.

It is hoped a selection of the Aylesham finds can be eventually put on display.

In an astonishing Bronze Age discovery, a 3000-year-old community has been unearthed

In an astonishing Bronze Age discovery, a 3000-year-old community has been unearthed

Rare archaeological evidence from a prehistoric site of the Eastern England village suggests that Bronze Age Britons liked high-end fashion

The earliest samples of superfine textiles ever identified in England, Excavations, 30 miles northwest of the Cambridge area It is also one of the finest bronze ages ever found in Europe as a whole – and it is extremely important globally.

Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge’s archaeological unit have so far unearthed more than 100 fragments of textile, unspun processed fibre and textile yarn at the site. Some of the yarn is of superfine quality – with some threads being just 100 microns (1/10 of a millimetre) in diameter, while some of the fabrics themselves are so finely woven that they have 28 threads per centimetre, fine even by modern standards. It’s likely that some of the fragments of textile are from items of clothing.

Detail of preserved Bronze Age textile made from plant fibres

Originally, some of the textiles must have been of very substantial size – because they had been folded, in some cases in up to 10 layers. If made to be worn, these folded fabrics may well have been large garments, potentially, capes, cloaks – or even large drapes, perhaps similar to those known from elsewhere in the ancient  (and sometimes modern) worlds – the ancient Greek chiton, the Roman toga and the Indian sari. A drape folded into 10 layers for temporary storage would have served as a substantial garment – potentially up to 3 metres square (i.e. 9 square metres).

Most of the superfine fabrics from the site – Must Farm near Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire – were made of linen. When the village was flourishing around 3000 years ago, textile manufacture seems to have been a key craft practised there. Hundreds – possibly thousands – of flax seeds have so far been found on the site (some of which had been stored in containers). Flax is the crop which produces the fibres used in linen production.

Amber bead and others found in situ

What’s more, the presence on the site of unspun processed fibre, yarn and finished textiles all strongly suggests that the village was involved not only in using textiles but also in manufacturing them. Timber fragments with delicate carpentry, found during the Historic-England-funded excavation may well be the remains of looms.  Indeed fired clay loom weights have been unearthed there.

The archaeologists have also discovered that Bronze Age Britons also had a penchant for a  different type of fabric – made of processed nettle stems (from a locally available non-stinging subspecies of nettle – today known as fen nettles). Unlike flax, nettles grew wild and therefore did not need to be cultivated. What’s more, well-made nettle textile was often particularly fine and silky.

But nettles may well have had additional benefits – at least in the eyes of the users of the fabrics.

In traditional ancient folklore, nettles of various types were often regarded as having magical powers. They were seen as being able to protect both humans and animals from sorcery and witchcraft. What’s more, garments made of nettles were therefore sometimes seen as protecting their wearers from evil. Indeed one of Europe’s most famous folktales – the Wild Swans (written by  Hans Christian Andersen, but thought to be based on traditional folk stories) – reveals how shirts, made of nettle yarn, enabled their wearers to break a witch’s spell.

So far no evidence of any extensive patterns or coloured dyes have been found on any of the linen and nettle yarn textile fragments – although the edge of one piece of fabric (perhaps part of a shawl or cape) seems to have been decorated with fringes, rows of knots, and strips featuring different styles of weave. Certainly, dying the linen would have presented substantial technical difficulties – but bleaching it would have been much less challenging. It is therefore very likely that the natural light brown linen was bleached to achieve a creamy white or possibly even dazzlingly pure white appearance. Basic bleaching of the fabric might well have been achieved with the use of a mixture of urine and milk or by simply laying out the fabrics on wet grass on a succession of sunny days.

The village appears to have been very prosperous, yet tragically short-lived.

The village appears to have been very prosperous, yet tragically short-lived. As well as making (and presumably using) ultra-fine fabrics, at least some of the inhabitants wore exotic jewellery made of blue, black, yellow and green glass manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean region – probably in what is now the Syria or Turkey.

They lived in large well-built houses and had a wide range of tools and other possessions. So far,  around 50 bronze axes, sickles, spears, swords, razors, hammers, tweezers and awls have been found along with some 60 wooden buckets, platters and troughs as well as around 60 well preserved ceramic bowls, mugs and storage jars. Dug-out canoes and two wooden wheels have also been unearthed.

But the archaeological evidence suggests that this thriving and prosperous settlement was probably attacked, burnt and destroyed by its enemies less than a year after it was built.

In the five houses excavated so far, the population seems to have fled or been captured or killed, leaving all their possessions behind – meals half-eaten, salted or dried meat still hanging in the rafters, garments neatly folded on or around well-made wooden furniture.

“It’s a bit like discovering the Marie Celeste. Everything is exactly as it was left. Only the inhabitants are missing,” said the director of the excavation, Mark Knight of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

“This site is providing the modern world with an image of daily life in the British Bronze Age that was until now beyond our dreams. It is only the very specific and unusual circumstances of the destruction of the settlement that has, paradoxically, allowed so much of it to be preserved intact,” he said.

Because the village had been set alight, large numbers of wooden, textile and other artefacts were charred – and because the houses were built on wooden stilts in a river (flanked by marchland), everything ultimately ended up underwater, where it was subsequently covered with silt and mud.

This rare combination of charring and waterlogging and natural burial under sediment has been responsible for the extraordinarily high levels of preservation.

Most of the artefacts have been found inside the settlement’s houses. So far, five of these large 6-8 metre diameter structures have been found at the site. Again, because of charring and subsequent waterlogging, around half of all the wall, roof and other timbers from these buildings have been preserved.

The excavation is being directed by archaeologist Mark Knight of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, with textile research being carried out by a textile specialist, Dr Susanna Harris of the University of Glasgow. Because of its national and international importance, the entire project is being funded to the tune of £1.4 million by Historic England and the owner of the site, one of the UK’s major brick-making companies – Forterra.

The finds include the largest group of prehistoric textiles ever discovered in Britain – and the largest collection of complete bronze, wooden and ceramic artefacts ever found in a British Bronze Age settlement.

Iron Age Gold Coin Hoard Declared Treasure

Iron Age Gold Coin Hoard Declared Treasure

A collection of Iron Age gold coins has been declared treasure by Suffolk’s senior coroner, having been discovered almost a year ago.

The gold Stater coins found near Blythburgh, east Suffolk last February. Image courtesy of Suffolk County Council.

19 coins were found near Blythburgh, east Suffolk last February by a metal detectorist.

The anonymous finder reported the discovery to Suffolk County Council, and through them, the coins have been the subject of extensive cleaning and analysis for the past year, ready for sale to museums keen to display the collection to the public.

The gold hoard has been described as “really unusual” given the area it was found, with experts usually finding these types of coins just north of the River Thames – some 90 miles away from Blythburgh. The hoard even includes one previously-undiscovered style of coin.

The Iron Age was a rough period of time at its longest, ranging from 1200BC to 15BC, though this timeframe varies per country in Europe.

The prevalence of iron spread across the world from Asia and the Middle-East to Europe around this time and led to the development of improved tools, weapons, and armour.

Speaking to the BBC about the find, archaeologist Dr. Anna Booth described the significant find as an example of “cross-cultural interaction” between nearby counties.

Tribes took the place of counties in the Iron Age period, and the ‘minting’ (hammering) of the coins is thought to have occurred between 45-25BC, though Dr. Booth estimates that the coins were later buried – perhaps around 20AD.

The gold Stater coins and two of the smaller quarter Staters. Image courtesy of Suffolk County Council.

Many of the coins – determined as gold Staters and quarter Staters – depict Addedomaros, King of Trinovantes.

Bearing that in mind, it would be logical to assume that the trading was between the Trinovantes, who occupied Suffolk and Essex, and the Catuvellauni – located in the place of modern-day Hertfordshire and London. This would connect it to the Thames region.

However, territories varied and it could well have been that the Trinovantes occupied territory north of the River Thames, but may well have lost Blythburgh, which lies near the border with the Iceni tribe of Celts who occupy what would be Norfolk and parts of the Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire Fens.

Museums across the UK have begun declaring their interest in taking the coins from Suffolk County Council, with Dr. Booth speaking of “a lot of interest” in the Blythburgh hoard.

Expert Invasion – How the Romans conquered Britain – Roman Rule

The Helmet That Shows Celtic Warriors Helped the Roman Army Conquer Briton

An important find was discovered at an old Iron Age shrine in England. It included coins and other items from both the Iron Age and the Roman era.

A 2,000-year-old unique Roman cavalry helmet was found among the finds. Having been re-examined some 10 years after is first discovered, some believe that the helmet throws an interesting new light on the nature of early relations between Britons and Rome and the development of Roman auxiliary forces.

The helmet was found as part of a treasure that was uncovered by a retired teacher, Ken Wallace, with a hand-held metal detector that he bought for approximately $300 (£260). 

It was found in Hallaton, Leicestershire, in the East Midlands. Mr. Wallace knew he had found something big and he immediately reported his find to the relevant local authorities. Later he was paid $200,000 (£150,000) and the owner of the land where the find was made received a similar amount.

Experts began an extensive dig of the site in 2010 and according to the Daily Telegraph they uncovered “5,000 coins and the remains of a feast of suckling pigs.” There was also found some ingots and fragments of metal that came from a Roman cavalryman’s helmet. The find of the headgear was hailed as very important and it came to be known as the ‘Hallaton helmet’ after the area where it was unearthed.

Hallaton hoard parade helmet

According to the Daily Telegraph, the cavalry helmet was “restored from 1,000 fragments by experts at the British Museum.” It was made of sheet iron and was once ornately decorated with gold leaf designs and had cheek pieces and was most likely worn by a cavalryman. 

The reconstruction of the Roman helmet allowed specialists to study it and they were able to find designs with images of battles, victories and a female figure escorted by lions, probably a goddess. There is also the figure of a Roman Emperor on a horse who is apparently, accompanied by Victoria, the goddess of Victory, on one of the cheekpieces.

Parts of the decorated cheek pieces of the helmet. Remains of 7 cheekpieces in all were found, meaning there were pieces of several helmets left at the shrine.

The helmet pieces were dated to the Roman invasion of Britain (43 BC), which was ordered by Emperor Claudius (10 BC-54 AD) of the Claudian-Flavian Dynasty.

It was something of a mystery as to why the helmet was offered at the shrine and also its origin, as at the time it would have been controlled by local Celtic tribes. There were several theories proposed for the presence of what would have been a highly prized object at the shrine including it was a diplomatic gift or booty from a raid.

Roman Cavalry Reenactment – Roman Festival at Augusta Raurica.

However, the theory was put forward and it was one that had dramatic implications for our understanding of the Roman conquest of Britain. It has been proposed that the helmet did not belong to a Roman but to a Briton and that he deposited it at the shrine. The BBC reported that “its date, close to the Roman invasion of 43 AD, meant it could be evidence of Celtic tribes serving with the Roman army.” 

This theory is very plausible because there are an extensive documentary and archaeological evidence that non-Romans served in the Emperor’s armies as auxiliaries.

These were recruited from tribes inside and outside the Empire and they provided extra manpower to the legions – for example, many Germans fought with Julius Caesar during the conquest of Gaul. 

The reconstructed helmet possibly indicates that Celtic Britons served as auxiliaries during the reign of Claudius.  It is well-known that they served as auxiliaries, but it was not thought that they fought with the Romans at such an early date. Moreover, such an elaborate helmet may show that Britons may even have risen to a high rank in the Roman army.

The discovery led some to conclude that some Celtic tribesmen actually served with the invaders during the conquest of modern-day England.

The helmet provides strong evidence that was even Celts from Briton who served in the Roman army before the conquest, having dramatic implications for our understanding of Ancient Britain and the evolution of the Roman army.

Board-game piece from the period of first Viking raid found on Lindisfarne

Board-game piece from the period of first Viking raid found on Lindisfarne, England.

The first wave of Viking raids in England has announced a small glass crown as a rare archaeological artifact.

On the holy island of Lindisfarne, a tidal island located off the north-western coast of England in Northumberland, a small working glass artifact was uncovered.

The Times reports that historians claim the crown was gameplay from the hnefatafl (king’s table) games strategy board gamed in England, Ireland and Scandinavia, prior to the arrival of chess in the 12th century, made from spinning blue and white glass with green glass bobbles.

The relic, which is no bigger than a grape, is described as being “of exquisite workmanship” showing influence from across the North Sea and if it is indeed a hnefatafl gaming piece it is a rare archaeological treasure linking the English island with the Vikings at the beginning of a turbulent period in English and Scandinavian history.

A ‘Viking’ teaching how to play the ancient board game, ‘hnefatafl’.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is perhaps best known for the 8th century illuminated gospels manufactured in the island’s first monastery, but in 793 AD the island was sacked in what was the first major Viking raid in Britain or Ireland.

The newly discovered gaming piece, according to a report in the Guardian, is thought to have maybe been accidentally dropped by a Viking or owned by a “high-status local” imitating Norse customs. Regardless, the treasure offers archaeologists a hard link between Lindisfarne ’s Anglo-Saxon monastery and the Norse raiders that sacked it.

Dr. David Petts, the project’s lead archaeologist and senior lecturer in the archaeology of northern England at Durham University, said that while the exact location of the island’s early wooden monastery is not known, recent excavations on the island by archaeologists and volunteers from  DigVentures have located a cemetery and a building.

DigVentures excavations on Lindisfarne are crowdfunded and greatly staffed by volunteers and this rare find was made last summer by the mother of one of the excavation teams who visited the site for a day celebrating her birthday.

Found in a trench dating to between the 8th and 9th centuries the gaming piece dates to around the time of the first Viking raid and according to DigVentures’ managing director, Lisa Westcott Wilkins, several of the most significant finds from Lindisfarne have been made by members of the public.

The “big argument”, says Wilkins, is whether you can do real archaeology with members of the public, but “you can” as long as it is properly supervised, she says.

When Wilkins was first presented with the tiny glass piece she says her “heart was pounding, the little hairs on my arms were standing up”, but as a scientist, she had trained herself out of having an emotional response to even such a fine piece, “it’s a piece of evidence, bottom line,” she said. But because the piece is “just so beautiful and so evocative of that time period,” the scientist said she just couldn’t help herself.

Game pieces, from the board game ‘hnefatafl’, similar to the glass artifact discovered in Lindisfarne.

Dr. Petts said we often tend to think of early medieval Christianity, especially on islands, “as terribly austere: that they were all living a brutal, hard life” but this was not the case for everyone.

According to the archaeologist, even if it is proven the game this piece belonged to was being played by pilgrims or wealthy monks in the period before the Vikings raided, he says, it demonstrates that the influence of Norse culture had already extended across the Nordic regions.

Moreover, the professor says, in the 8th century Lindisfarne was “a bustling place peopled with monks, pilgrims, tradespeople, and even visiting kings,” and the sheer quality of this piece suggests someone on the island lived an elite lifestyle.

Ruins of Lindisfarne priory.

According to Anglo-Saxon writers, the opening weeks of the year 793 AD were worrying times in northern England with folk reporting whirlwinds, sporadic lightning, and even “fiery dragons flying in the air”.

And while in most years the preceding famine would have fulfilled the meaning of these prophetic signs, on  June 8th darkness spread on England in the form of a fleet of heathens who appeared on the east horizon “and miserably destroyed God’s church on  Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter”.

I have been careful not to call the Viking raid on the island of Lindisfarne, the first, but the “first major” attack on England, for only four years before, in 789 AD, according to English Heritage, “three ships of Northman had landed on the coast of Wessex, and killed the king’s reeve who had been sent to bring the strangers to the West Saxon court”.

But the assault on Lindisfarne differed greatly from this skirmish because it was a direct strike at the Christian sacred heart of the Northumbrian kingdom, desecrating what is known as “the very place where the Christian religion began” in England. It was where the venerated Cuthbert (d. 687) had served as a bishop and where his remains were worshiped as that of a saint.

Stained glass depicting St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

The message delivered by the 793 AD raid was clear: we don’t just want your fields, fish, and women, but we are here to topple your king. And in this context no more fitting a discovery could ever have been made on Lindisfarne than an easily breakable crown.