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Archaeologists have discovered 81 “extremely rare” tree-trunk coffins at a “previously unknown” early Christian Anglo-Saxon community’s cemetery.

saxon-grave

Historic England believes the finds will “advance our understanding of Middle-Saxon religious beliefs”

Found at Great Ryburgh in Norfolk, their “remarkable preservation” was due to the waterlogged conditions of the river valley.

The Historic England excavation was carried out ahead of the construction of a lake and flood defence system.

Chief executive Duncan Wilson said the graves were “a significant discovery”.

Anglo-Saxon coffins seldom survive because wood decays over time.

James Fairclough, an archaeologist from the Museum of London Archaeology which led the dig, said: “The combination of acidic sand and alkaline water created the perfect conditions for the skeletons and wooden graves to survive, revealing remarkable details of Christian Anglo-Saxon burial practices.”

Archaeologist Matt Champion made the initial discovery.

Landowner Gary Boyce had asked him to put in trial trenches ahead of the planning application for the lake and flood defence system. These revealed high status Anglo-Saxon pottery and Roman Samian Ware.

He said it was all the more remarkable because prior to the dig “all the evidence suggested the field had never been developed”.

They decided to carry out a full excavation in January – and within an hour found the first of over 80 human burials. The dig was completed in June but its findings have only just been released to the press.

Historic England said other important finds included six “very rare” plank-lined graves “believed to be the earliest known examples in Britain” and evidence of a timber structure thought to be a church.

Historic England believes the burials date from between the 7th and 9th Centuries AD and were “the final resting place for a community of early Christians”.

Research is continuing to find out where the bodies came from, how they were related and what their diet and health was like.

Some of the finds will go on display at Norwich Castle Museum.

Article Source (BBC)

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LONDON: Archaeologists said Tuesday they had discovered what were believed to be the best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain, providing an extraordinary insight into prehistoric life from 3,000 years ago.

bronze

The skeleton of a man between 2460 and 2290 BC, during the early Bronze Age, and was buried near the world heritage prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is displayed at the new Stonehenge visitors centre, near Amesbury in south west England on December 11, 2013. (AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)

 

The settlement of large circular wooden houses, built on stilts, collapsed in a fire and plunged into a river where it was preserved in silts leaving them in pristine condition, Historic England said.

Discoveries from the dwellings in Whittlesey, in central England, which archaeologists said had been frozen in time and dated from between 1000-800 BC, included pots with food inside and finely woven clothing.

“We are learning more about the food our ancestors ate, and the pottery they used to cook and serve it,” Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said in a statement.

“This site is of international significance and its excavation will transform our understanding of the period.”

Among the finds at the site, about two meters (6.5 ft) below the modern ground surface, are exotic glass beads forming part of a necklace, rare small cups, bowls and jars. Archaeologists also said that the site was so well preserved that even the footprints of those who lived at the site had been discovered.

There are also charred roof timbers clearly visible in one of the houses and the excavation team have speculated that those living at the settlement abandoned it in haste when it caught fire.

David Gibson, Archaeological Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said they only usually came across a few pits or metal finds at Bronze Age sites.

“This time so much more has been preserved – we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round,” he said. “It’s prehistoric archaeology in 3D with an unsurpassed finds assemblage in terms of range and quantity

Read the full story in the Daily Star

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Two gold rings, possibly used as earrings or to hold hair in place, have been found in Rosset, Wrexham, Wales. Archaeologists say the rings date back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age.

The person who wore the rings was most likely wealthy or had status in the community in some other way, says ITV News.

Archaeologists are uncertain whether the gold rings were used as earrings or to hold locks of hair in place. ‘Lock rings,’ as hair locks are called, have been found in Wales in Pembrokeshire, Conwy, Gaerwen, Newport, Anglesey and the Great Orme.

ITV describes the concentric-ring pattern on the locks as a ‘coastal pattern’ that suggests trade and communication between Ireland and Wales.

‘Northeast Wales was a hotspot for the use and burial of gold ornaments during the Bronze Age. These small but exquisitely made lock-rings add further to this growing pattern, suggesting long lived connections with communities living in Ireland and other parts of Atlantic Europe. …We think that these complete and prized objects of gold were carefully buried in isolated places as gifts to the gods, perhaps at the end of the lives of their owners. – Adam Gwilt, Curator for Prehistory at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives will take possession of the pair of golden rings after they are valuated independently.

Wales has had other spectacular gold finds from the Bronze Age. The Mold Cape is a 3,700-year-old solid gold artifact found in the 19th century within a Bronze Age burial mound at Mold, in Flintshire, Wales. It was finely crafted out of a single sheet of gold, then embellished with exceptional decoration designed to mimic multiple strings of beads amid folds of cloth.  The cape is regarded as one of the finest examples of prehistoric sheet-gold working in Europe and perhaps the world. Its unique form and design demonstrates highly advanced craftsmanship in Bronze Age Europe.

Mold cape

Mold cape (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Bronze Age burial mound was found in a field named Bryn yr Ellyllon (Fairies’ Hill) by workmen in 1833. It had been placed on the body of a person who was interred inside a cist (stone-lined grave) within a burial mound. Inside the mound, archaeologists also found the remains of woven textile, 16 fragments of sheet bronze, a bronze knife, fragments of a second gold cape, two gold ‘straps’, an urn with large quantities of burnt bone and ash, and the remains of hundreds of amber beads, which would have originally been on the cape.

Archaeologists and scholars were stunned. At the time and place this gold cape was made, people in Britain lived in temporary settlements and fluid communities, and they moved with their livestock and possessions through the landscape. They did not build cities or palaces, yet they were capable of creating incredibly sophisticated objects like the Mold Gold Cape.

Not far away, in England, archaeologists recently explained how intricate gold pieces like those found at Stonehenge could be fashioned by people with relatively crude technology. One piece alone was estimated to have taken 2,500 hours to complete. These pieces from near Stonehenge used a different gold-smithing process than the Welsh pieces.

Detail of the decoration of the dagger handle showing the zig-zag pattern made by the tiny studs.

Featured image: Detail of the decoration of the dagger handle showing the zig-zag pattern made by the tiny studs. (University of Birmingham and David Bukach photo)

According to Discovery News, the gold work involved such tiny components that optical experts believe they could only have been made by children or adults with extreme short-sightedness, and would have caused lasting damage to their eyesight.

In 1808, William Cunnington, one of Britain’s earliest professional archaeologists, discovered what has become known as the crown jewels of the King of Stonehenge. They were found within a large Bronze Age burial mound just a short distance from Stonehenge, known today as Bush Barrow. Within the 4,000-year-old barrow, Cunnington found ornate jewelery, a gold lozenge that fastened the owner’s cloak, and an intricately decorated dagger.

A report in The Independent explained the amazing process involved in creating the handle of just one dagger, adorned with up to 140,000 tiny gold studs just a third of a millimetre wide. The first stage involved manufacturing extremely fine gold wire, just a little thicker than a human hair. The end of the wire was then flattened to create a stud-head, and was then cut with a very sharp flint or obsidian razor, just a millimetre below the head. This delicate procedure was then repeated literarily tens of thousands of times.

“Next, a tiny bronze awl with an extremely fine point was used to create minute holes in the dagger handle in which to position the studs,” wrote The Independent. “Then a thin layer of tree resin was rubbed over the surface as an adhesive to keep the studs in place. Each  stud was then carefully placed into its miniscule hole – probably with the help of a very fine pair of bone or wooden tweezers,  because the studs are too small to have been placed in position directly by the artisan’s fingers.”

Featured image: Archaeologists are unsure whether a pair of gold rings found in Wales were used as earrings or hair locks. (Photo by Amgueddfa Cymru)
Read more: http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/bronze-age-gold-rings-high-status-person-found-wales-002831#ixzz3VnGJYgJA

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This rich archaeological landscape offers a wealth of prehistoric temples, Neolithic harvest hills for fertility rituals and communal tombs. Visit mysterious Silbury Hill, Europe’s largest artificial mound, the Neolithic communal tomb of West Kennet Long Barrow, Old Sarum, Overton Hill Sanctuary, Avebury, Britain’s largest henge and Stonehenge. These tours depart from Bath but can be organised from Salisbury or even London

At Wessex Guided Tours we aim to provide the best planned, best led and altogether the most fulfilling and enjoyable archaeological tours available.  Our private day excursions offer the best opportunity to explore and experience some of Britain’s most iconic and significant ancient sites, guided by our archaeologist guides.

We specialise in archaeology tours, and as a result we believe we offer an excellent Stonehenge Access Toursspecialist service.

Private Tours:

Our itineraries are original, imaginative, well-paced and carefully balanced. Knowledge of the subject matter and the destinations combine with detailed attention to practical matters to ensure an enriching and smooth-running experience.

If you are travelling as a small group, you can design your own day trip or simply select one of our regular itineraries but have exclusive use of the vehicle for the day. We will collect you from any location within central London, Bath or Salisbury. The duration of your vehicle hire is 8-10 hours depending on the places that you are visiting and traffic conditions on the day.

Our most popular tours include:

Stonehenge, Bath and Avebury Archaeologist Guided Tour: Walk the paths of ritual specialists and builders of Britain’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring prehistoric sites.

Stonehenge, Salisbury and Avebury Archaeologist Guided Tour: Walk the paths of ritual specialists and builders of Britain’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring prehistoric sites. Britain’s most beautiful landscapes. Visit one of England’s most impressive Cathedrals at Salisbury.

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During a recent Stonehenge and Bath private tour a client quizzed me  “What exactly happened to the Baths once the Romans left and why did it fall into such decline?”  I though I would take the time to give a more detailed Image and up to date answer:
 – Aquae Sulis – was one of the jewels of Romano-British civilisation. What happened to it when the Romans left? Roman specialist James Gerrard has been studying the tantalising evidence for the end of Roman Bath.

The remains of the temple and baths dedicated to Sulis Minerva at Bath are some of the most evocative Roman ruins in the country.  On a chill winter’s morning, with steam rising from the Great Bath, it does not take much to understand why this place was special in Roman Britain and famed across the empire.

Most research at Bath has gone into understanding how and why temple and baths were built. My interest, in contrast, has always lain at the other end of the Roman period. I want to know what happened when the Romans left. Did this oasis of Classicism in Britain come to a rapid end in the 5th century? Did it perish before the fire and sword of Anglo-Saxon invaders? Or did life continue, dominated by the monumental structures of the Roman city?

Excavations at Roman Bath stretch back over 200 years to the efforts of 18th century antiquarians. It is, however, the excavations of 1978-1983, directed by Peter Davenport and Barry Cunliffe, that have given us the most detailed account of the site. The inner precinct was one of the targets of those excavations, and the result was a sequence of activity from construction through to ruin and the subsequent development of the medieval town.

Between the well-paved surface of the inner precinct and the massive scree of collapsed masonry marking the collapse or demolition of the Roman temple, the excavation team hit archaeological pay-dirt. Dismissed by earlier excavators as ‘mud and rubble’, a series of layers of sediment interleaved with paved and rubble surfaces was found which contained the evidence for the Temple of Sulis Minerva’s final years.

The layers of mud and rough paving sandwiched between the inner precinct’s paved surface and the massive layer of demolition rubble above clearly contains the evidence for the demise of the temple. For some, everything up to the demolition of the temple can be contained within the 4th century, while for others, the sequence runs on into the 5th and even 6th century.  This debate has, if not raged, then certainly bubbled away in the background for the best part of two decades.

Only absolute dating techniques can truly determine whether the temple was demolished early (at the end of the 4th century) or late (in the 6th or 7th century). Calibration of the radiocarbon dates gives a series of calendar dates at 95.4% probability – meaning that there is a 95% chance that the date falls between the earliest and latest dates given. All the dates are early, none extending beyond the early 5th century except for Sample 4, which returned a determination of AD 130-540; even in this last case, there is an 82% chance that the date falls between AD 320 and AD 470, with only a 6% chance that it falls between AD 480 and 540.

ImageThe implication is that layers of paving and sediment were laid over the Period 4 (see table) surface in a fairly swift succession.  The subsequent re-pavings were all of rubble and dumped tile. There were also traces of small structures being built against the north wall of the spring reservoir. It seems that what had been built as a great architectural monument in the 2nd or 3rd century was being remodelled much more simply from whatever materials were to hand in the late 4th.

Also significant is that by Period 5b (see table) architectural fragments were incorporated into the rough paving, showing that the temple complex was falling into a state of disrepair, and that the great altar, the ritual focus of the whole complex, had been demolished. That the altar was not rebuilt is surely significant. Either it could not be reconstructed, or by the late 4th century it held no significance for people visiting the temple and spring. 

The excavators argued that the temple structures had been deliberately demolished, perhaps to salvage the iron clamps and lead sealings that held the masonry blocks in place. To demolish a structure as big as the Temple of Sulis Minerva to extract small quantities of reusable metals, when it existed in such large quantities,  seems hard to believe.

What, then, was the motive? How the West Country was ruled in the 5th and 6th centuries is beyond historical reconstruction. The British monk Gildas tells us that there were political units ruled by kings and tyrants, but the organisation of those kingdoms remains obscure. What is clear is that by the late 5th century there were individuals and communities in the South West capable of commanding and controlling resources on a large scale.

Image The demolition of the temple and baths should be seen in the same light as the construction of refortified hillforts: a community mobilised the resources and labour necessary to remove a major set of structures from the ancient Roman townscape, just as they did to create new high-order settlements in the surrounding countryside. Gildas hints at why they might have done this. Writing in the early 6th century, he rages against British kings for their sins: they were murderers and usurpers. But not once does he call them ‘pagans’.

 The end of Roman Bath may be the story of a cult centre that had been supported by the Roman state, that staggered on for a few decades after the collapse of Roman power, but then succumbed in the late 5th century to the attacks of a post-Roman Christian community engaged in an ultimately successful struggle for political, economic and religious supremacy.

When the Frankish nun Bertana founded what was to become Bath Abbey in the late 7th century, all that was left of the Temple of Sulis Minerva were a few ruins and wall stubs sticking up through the mire, and some vague memories of a great Classical religious sanctuary.

Simon – Bath guided tours
Histouries – Bringing History alive

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I have just been up to Staffordshire to see the hoard with my own eyes – wow!  If you are visiting Britain this year make sure you allow time to visit the museum.
The largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found, was discovered last summer by a metal-detectorist in a field in Staffordshire and is set to revolutionise our perceptions of life in the 7th and 8th centuries. With more than 650 items made from gold, and more than 500 in silver this is truly a king’s ransom!
Intricately carved with elaborate Anglo-Saxon art styles, some with fine garnet cloisonné, the hoard is not only dazzling but highly intriguing.  Most of the objects appear to have been deliberately broken prior to burial and, still more surprisingly, there were no brooches or pendants, no feminine dress fittings; moreover, there were none of the traingular three-rivet gold buckles or any belt fittings so often found in male graves of this period. These intricately decorated and bejewelled finds, martial and masculine in nature, appear to the trophy winnings of a mighty warrior or warriors: hilts from swords or fragments from helmets. Of the 84 sword pommels found, 68 are gold, 11 silver and five are copper alloy or base silver.

Most fragments come from the hilts of swords, pieces of helmets and at least two Christian crosses; five highly unusual and enigmatic small gold snakes were also found, unlike any finds so far discovered.
I would like to hear your comments on the use of metal detectors in Britian?

David – Stonehenge Tour Guide
Histouries UK – Bringing History Alive

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From the grassy deserted plains of southern England rises a circle of standing stones, some of them up to 24 feet tall. For centuries they have towered over visitors, offering tantalizing hints about their prehistoric past. For centuries, everyone who has stood before them has wondered the same thing: Who built this mysterious rock monument? And why?

“Since Stonehenge was built and rebuilt over a period of centuries, no one group has sole credit for its construction, but the main building seems to have been done by a people known as the ‘Beaker Folk,’” says Benjamin Hudson, professor of History and Medieval Studies at Penn State. The Beaker Folk (who earned their name from the distinctive inverted bell-shaped pottery drinking vessels they made) scattered throughout prehistoric western Europe.

The earliest construction at Stonehenge began about 3000 B.C., says Hudson, with a stone circle inside a ditch and bank. Within that circle lay a timber building; researchers have excavated from the site about 56 pits containing the remains of human cremations.

Construction continued for 600 years, in several phases of landscaping: Burial mounds (most pointing east-to-west) and ceremonial pathways were added to the site. In 2400 B.C., the builders erected the large sandstone blocks which give the site its name. (Coined by Henry of Huntingdon, a twelfth-century English historian, “Stonehenge” means “hinged or supported stones.”)

The means of moving those enormous standing stones has provoked centuries of speculation, with theories ranging from demonic powers to Merlin’s magic to alien technology. The reality is much more ordinary, says Hudson. “Much of the construction was little more than putting enough men under a stone to move it into place,” he notes, “although some basic engineering was required for the larger stones and the lintels.” One theory holds that the builders used simple inclines and levers to move the stones into place. Like the Egyptian pyramid-builders, the Stonehenge constructors relied more on brute labor than sophisticated technology.

Though one of the most complete and monumental examples of Neolithic and Bronze Age construction, Stonehenge was not alone in its time. Hudson notes one estimate that places it among 300 surviving stone monuments throughout the British Isles—including the famous stone circle in Avebury. The connections between and among these sites often remain murky, and undoubtedly many creations of the Beaker Folk have returned to nature, leaving few traces of their existence.

“Stonehenge forces us to reconsider the period of history that is not accompanied by written records,” Hudson says. Since the builders left no explanation, the precise purpose of their work remains obscure. One theory sees Stonehenge as a temple, pointing to the elaborate landscaping surrounding the site. More recently, historians and archaeologists have suggested it provided an observatory for either moon or sun cults. The Beaker Folk are believed to have been sun worshipers who aligned Stonehenge with certain important sun events, such as mid summer and winter solstices.

While the absence of records makes it nearly impossible to be certain about Stonehenge’s purpose, the site itself does leave us with a portrait of Beaker Folk society. “The building of the monument required knowledge of civil engineering, transportation, and quarrying,” he says. “The society that constructed it was wealthy enough to afford such an expensive venture and it also had a developed theology that provided the guidance for the designs whose meanings still elude us.”

Perhaps it is that elusive meaning that has, for centuries, drawn people to Stonehenge, to sit and wonder among the silent stones.

David – Stonehenge Tour Guide
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