4,000 Years old Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Cemetery Unearthed in England
The Northampton Chronicle & Echo reports that an Anglo-Saxon settlement and cemetery, and Bronze Age barrows and burials, were discovered in England’s East Midlands during an archaeological investigation conducted by researchers from the Museum of London Archaeology ahead of a development project.
Traces of more than 20 structures were unearthed at the Anglo-Saxon settlement site. Weapons, cosmetic kits, combs, thousands of beads, some 150 brooches, 75 wrist clasps, and 15 chatelaines were recovered from the more than 150 Anglo-Saxon burials.
The site was excavated as part of pre-construction planning requirements at Overstone Farm where Barratt and David Wilson homes intend to build two to five-bedroom homes, a school and amenities, as part of a new housing development.
Jewellery, weapons and more were found.
An archaeology firm – Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) – was appointed and over the course of 12 months, the archaeologists undertook detailed excavation and recording across a total of 15 hectares.
The work revealed 154 Anglo-Saxon burials, many containing grave goods including weapons, beads and brooches. Simon Markus, project manager at MoLA, said: “The Overstone site contains by far the biggest Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever found in Northamptonshire.
“It is also rare to find both an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a cemetery in a single excavation.
An overview of the site in Overstone.
“The excavations will help us understand the way people lived in both the Anglo- Saxon period, around 1,500 years ago as well as the Bronze Age, nearly 4,000 years ago.
“The human remains will tell us about diet, health and even the origins of the people themselves whilst their buildings can teach us what their day-to-day lives were like and how they utilised the local landscape in these two different periods.”
Jewellery found on the site included roughly 150 brooches, 15 rings, 2,000 beads, 75 wrist clasps and 15 chatelaines – decorative belt hooks.
Other findings included weapons such as spears and shields and everyday items like cosmetic kits and combs.
The site also contains a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement of 22 structures, with 20 more Anglo-Saxon buildings scattered around the site, together with earlier prehistoric evidence including three Bronze Age round barrows, 46 prehistoric burials, and four Bronze Age buildings.
John Dillion, managing director at Barratt and David Wilson Homes South Midlands, said: “We’re blown away by the findings at our site in Overstone and have enjoyed learning more about what the land was previously used for.
“It is amazing to think that settlers have been building homes on this site for around 4,000 years, and we hope to continue this long-standing tradition with our new and already flourishing community.”
All of the findings from the excavations have been removed from the site and are now being analysed by MOLA’s specialist teams.
Manchester Victorian baths uncovered under the car park
Remnants from one of the earliest Victorian bathhouses have been unearthed beneath a car park. The “stunning” remains of Mayfield Baths, where mill workers took baths and washed their clothes, were found by archaeologists in Manchester.
The ornate tiles of the Mayfield baths, whose pools measured nearly 20 meters, were found in “stunning” condition beneath a car park 164 years after it opened.
The building, a grand Italianate design set in the heart of Manchester’s booming “Cottonopolis” district, was demolished after being bombed in the second world war but the remains of its swimming pools have been discovered by archaeologists from the University of Salford.
The bathhouse, which opened in 1857, was a vital public amenity that served generations of Mancunians, most of whom worked in the surrounding print and textiles factories.
The area behind Manchester Piccadilly station has mainly been derelict for years but is undergoing redevelopment as part of plans to build 1,500 homes, retail, leisure and office space, as well as a 6.5-acre park – the first in the city for 100 years.
Graham Mottershead, the project manager at Salford Archaeology, said: “The Mayfield bathhouse is a fascinating example of the social and public health advancements that came about during the Industrial Revolution.
“As the city’s population boomed with factory workers, crowded and substandard living conditions gave rise to the spread of cholera and typhoid. For those living and working around Mayfield, the Mayfield baths would have been a vital source of cleanliness and hygiene.
“The sheer pace of change and innovation during the Industrial Revolution means many advancements were not recorded.
Excavations like this help us to learn a great deal about what is arguably the most important period of human history and, in the case of Mayfield, a location that is so very relevant to the heritage of the people of Manchester.”
The Mayfield Partnership, the public-private company behind the redevelopment, said it would preserve the ornate tiles from the bathhouse and use them in future.
It plans to name one of the new commercial buildings after George Poulton, who became famous in the 1850s as a promoter of public health at the Mayfield baths.
The remains, which were uncovered by painstaking hand-digging as well as machine excavation, will be used to form a detailed record of the bathhouse by combining the findings with historical documents and digital drawings.
Roman road pre-dating Hadrian’s Wall discovered in Northumberland
An ancient Roman road (formerly) linking north to south has been discovered off the coast of Northumberland. The discovery, which was almost two thousand years old, was made at one of the Settelingstone sites during construction on the water network.
They are thought to be from the road’s foundations and built by Agricola or his successors about AD80, although no evidence of its exact date was found. Archaeologists said given its location it was an “important part” of the early northern Roman frontier.
The ancient remains were discovered by Northumbrian Water when it began improvement works at the site of The Stanegate road, which linked Corbridge and Carlisle. It is a £55,000 investment scheme at Stanegate Roman Road, near Settlingstones, Hexham.
Brian Hardy, Northumbrian Water project manager, said: “We are delighted to have uncovered this important piece of hidden heritage and play our part in helping to protect it.
“We have successfully delivered our investment work, through the use of alternative methods and techniques, to not only enhance and futureproof our customers’ water supplies but also protect this suspected integral part of surviving Roman archaeology.”
The utility company called in its own experts and notified relevant authorities to record and help preserve this important heritage finding.
The relic remnants of the road itself, monitored by Archaeological Research Services Ltd, pre-dates Hadrian’s Wall and had forts along its length – within one day’s march of each other.
This is why the well-known fort at Vindolanda is sited south of Hadrian’s Wall on the course of the Stanegate.”
Philippa Hunter, senior projects officer at Archaeological Research Services Ltd, said: “While monitoring the excavation pit, our archaeologist identified a deposit of compacted cobbles thought to be the remains of the Roman road’s foundations – it is believed to have been built by Agricola or his successors around 80 AD.
“Here, the road was constructed using rounded cobbles set in a layer measuring around 15cm deep, with around 25cm of gravel surfacing laid on top.
“Unfortunately no dating evidence or finds have been recovered to confirm the precise date of the archaeological remains.
“However, given the location of the cobbles along the projected route of the Roman road and its depth below the modern road surface, we are confident the remains identified form an important part of the early northern Roman frontier.”
Roman settlements, garrisons, and roads were established throughout the Northumberland region after Gnaeus Julius Agricola was appointed Roman governor of Britain in 78 AD.
Hadrian’s Wall was completed by about 130 AD, to define and defend the northern boundary of Roman Britain with Stanegate and Dere Street the major road links.
Archaeologists find the source of Stonehenge sarsen stones
A team of researchers from the UK and South Africa has discovered that most of the hulking sandstone boulders — called sarsens — that make up the famous Stonehenge monument appear to share a common origin 25 km (15.5 miles) away in West Woods on the edge of the Marlborough Downs, Wiltshire.
The origins of the stones used to build Stonehenge around 2500 BCE and their transportation methods and routes have been the subject of debate among archaeologists and geologists for over 400 years.
Two main types of stones are present at the monument: the sarsen stones that form the primary architecture of Stonehenge and the bluestones near the centre of the monument.
The smaller bluestones have been traced to Wales, but the origins of the sarsens have remained unknown, until now.
“Archaeologists and geologists have been debating where the sarsen stones used to build Stonehenge came from for more than four centuries,” said Professor David Nash, a scientist in the School of Environment and Technology at the University of Brighton and the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“These significant new data will help explain more of how the monument was constructed and, perhaps, offer insights into the routes by which the 20- to 30-ton stones were transported.”
To learn where the huge boulders came from, Professor Nash and colleagues used portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (PXRF) to initially characterize their chemical composition, then analyzed the data statistically to determine their degree of chemical variability.
Next, they performed inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and ICP-atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES) of samples from a core previously drilled through one sarsen stone — Stone 58 — and a range of sarsen boulders from across southern Britain.
After comparing these signatures, they were able to point to West Woods as the sarsens’ earliest home.
The reason the monument’s builders selected this site remains a mystery, although the scientists suggest the size and quality of West Woods’ stones, and the ease with which the builders could access them may have factored into the decision.
“We still don’t know where two of the 52 remaining sarsens at the monument came from,” Professor Nash said.
“These are upright Stone 26 at the northernmost point of the outer sarsen circle and lintel Stone 160 from the inner trilithon horseshoe.”
“It is possible that these stones were once more local to Stonehenge, but at this stage, we do not know.”
“We also don’t know the exact areas of West Woods where the sarsens were extracted.”
“Further geochemical testing of sarsens and archaeological investigations to discover extraction pits are needed to answer these questions.”
Boudicca revolt: Essex dig reveals ‘evidence of Roman reprisals’
BBC News reports that archaeologists have found a ten-acre settlement made up of 17 roundhouses surrounded by a defensive structure that was burned down and abandoned in the late first century A.D.
Researchers think the residents of this high-status village may have participated in the revolt against the Roman invasion led by Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni tribe.
“The local Trinovantes tribe joined the A.D. 61 rebellion and after Boudicca’s defeat we know the Romans punished everyone involved,” said Andy Greef of Oxford Archaeology East.
“The local Trinovantes tribe joined the AD61 rebellion and after Boudicca’s defeat we know the Romans punished everyone involved,” said Andy Greef.
The excavation by Oxford Archaeology East ahead of a housing development by Countryside Properties began during the first lockdown and lasted eight months.
The enclosure was “clearly an important place” with an “avenue-like entrance” and continued to expand after the Roman invasion in AD43, so archaeologists were surprised it was not resettled after its destruction.
Further evidence of the settlement’s abandonment was the complete lack of Roman burials in subsequent centuries, Mr Greef added.
Despite this, the site remained a centre of “votive offerings” – possibly linked to the cult of the Roman god Mercury – until the end of the Roman occupation in the Fourth Century AD.
Mr Greef said: “More than 100 brooches, 10 Iron Age coins, dozens of Roman coins, hairpins, beads, finger rings and a lovely copper alloy cockerel figurine were discovered.
“It could be there was a shrine on the site that continued to attract people and, as it’s very close to the Roman road Stane Street, it was easy to access.”
The dig also revealed “one of the most significant assemblages of late Iron Age pottery from Essex in recent years”.
Many months of analysis lie ahead, but once completed, it is hoped some of the finds will find homes in Essex museums.
Archaeologists try to identify silk and gold-clad woman buried in London’s Spitalfields 1,600 years ago
The Independent reports that researchers from the Museum of London Archaeology have analyzed the 1,600-year-old burial of a woman discovered in a lead coffin placed inside a stone sarcophagus in northern London. Known as the “Spitalfields Lady,” her head had been placed on a pillow stuffed with bay leaves.
Archaeologists have succeeded in piecing together after 21 years of investigation, the remarkable tale of an ultra-high-status Roman aristocrat buried more than 16 centuries ago in London. The extraordinary facts, released today, implies that she might well have been a member of the senatorial elite that presided over Roman Britain’s final years.
‘It is possible that she was the wife of one of the last Roman kings of Britain,’ said Dr Roger Tomlin, a leading scholar of Roman Britain and author of Britannia Romana, a major study of its people and social history.
What’s more, her funerary apparel featured at least one band of woollen textile, which appears to have been dyed purple. Purple was the colour normally associated with imperial or aristocratic status – and experts believe that the dye used to adorn her garment was probably the most expensive in the whole of the ancient world, most likely coming from an eastern Mediterranean species of sea snail, used to produce the dye for imperial and senatorial togas.
Additionally, isotopic research on her teeth shows that she was brought up in Rome itself. Buried in a pure lead coffin inside a large stone sarcophagus, she made her journey to the next world equipped with the very finest of grave goods.
They included at least two continental-made glass perfume vessels: a 41cm tall, 2.5 to 5.5cm diameter biconical container made of very thin 1mm thick colourless glass – and a roughly 25cm tall, 3cm diameter beautifully patterned cylindrical colourless glass vessel, the like of which has never been found before anywhere in the territories covered by the Roman Empire.
Both vessels probably held perfumed oils – and the latter one was equipped with a unique 24cm long dipstick made of the semiprecious stone, jet (quarried in what is now the Whitby area of Yorkshire).
The investigation also revealed that, in her grave, her head rested on a pillow filled with bay leaves, almost certainly imported from the Mediterranean area. Scientific tests also showed that pine and pistachio tree resin had been used to freshen the air in her coffin.
“Her presence in the Spitalfields cemetery shows that, even towards the end of Roman Britain, London was fully integrated into high status economic and political networks,” said Michael Marshall, a specialist in Roman archaeology at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), the organisation which investigated the Spitalfields discovery.
“Her grave goods demonstrate the ways in which a highly mobile social elite was capable of displaying their power and sophistication,” he said.
The 215-page full-colour report on the decades-long investigation into the cemetery, and the skeletons and grave goods found in it, is being published today by MOLA. However, one of the big remaining enigmas is the identity of the ultra-high status Spitalfields lady herself. There is no inscription on the sarcophagus or associated with the grave – and it’s likely that her gravestone was looted many centuries later to help construct medieval London or even to build the medieval metropolis’ city walls.
But the archaeological evidence may be sufficient to allow historians to explore a number of options as to who she was. The ultra-high status nature of her funerary clothing, the probable purple dye, her stone sarcophagus, her grave goods and the fact that she was brought up in Rome, all suggest that her family was probably of senatorial or equestrian rank.
Her grave is by far the highest status ever found in Roman Londinium. In late Roman London, there would have been only a very limited number of individuals of that sort of background.
It is therefore conceivable that she was either the wife of a governor of Flavia Caesariensis (the British province covering what is now the English Midlands, East Anglia, and southern England, north of the Thames) or, possibly, that she was the wife of one of the overall bosses of late Roman Britain (a so-called vicarious Britanniarum – Britain’s imperial “viceroy”).
The style of her grave goods and other evidence reveals that she almost certainly died in the four or five decades after around AD360. Of the dozen relevant vicarii, who ruled Britain in that period, the names of only four of them have survived. What’s more, hardly any names of the wives of mid-to-late fourth-century Roman rulers in Britain are known.
One, a lady called Namia Pudentilla, illustrates the sort of women Britain’s Roman governors and vicarii married. Namia”s husband, Flavius Sanctus, married a noblewoman from a senatorial family. He was a governor in Britain in the mid-fourth century. Archaeologists and historians are now able to piece together the life story of the Spitalfields lady.
She was probably born (and certainly brought up in) Rome in the mid-fourth century. When she was four or five years old, she suffered a brief (but potentially serious) illness which temporarily stopped her tooth enamel growing (a fact that has been spotted by the archaeological investigators).
It’s likely that her potentially very high-ranking fiance married her when she was in her mid-to-late teens and he would probably have been up to twice her age. She then appears to have accompanied him to London (probably because he had been appointed to a high government position there – potentially as a governor or as Britain’s vicarius).
However, probably within two or three years of arriving in the Romano-British capital, she died – most likely in childbirth (or from some then common disease like tuberculosis, typhoid, cholera or scarlet fever).
It’s possible that her death took place in the final quarter of the fourth century or conceivably even in the first decade of the fifth. That was a pivotal period in the history of Britain, as it represents the run-up to the end of Roman rule in Britain in AD410. The Roman government collapsed in Britain several generations before similar collapses occurred in continental western Europe and that chronological difference, in turn, helped to shape subsequent British and English history in ways that were very different to those that operated on the continent.
Among the governors and other political players who could conceivably have been the Spitalfields lady’s husband are:
– Alypius of Antioch, vicarius of Britain from around 361 to 363. He was involved in a temporary re-paganisation of the Empire
– Civilis, vicarius of Britain in around 369, who temporarily cleared Britain of barbarian invaders
– Chrysanthus a vicarius of Britain, who had been a Roman governor in Italy before being posted to London
– Victorinus, the vicarius of Britain who may well have been the very last conventionally appointed Roman ruler of Britain.
Another possible candidate for being the Spitalfields lady’s husband could conceivably be one of the four individuals in Britain who declared themselves Emperor during the chaotic years between AD383 and 407.
Upon finding the cache, the family, in the New Forest district of Hampshire, a county in southeastern England, notified the British Museum, which runs the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).
This program partners with local people who find historical artefacts in the United Kingdom, so the findings can be documented and studied, the British Museum said in a statement Thursday (Dec. 10).
The coins were likely buried in about 1540, while King Henry VIII was still alive, but it’s unknown whether this burial spot was like a piggy bank, where someone regularly deposited coins, or whether the hoard was buried all at once, according to the British Museum.
Whoever saved the coins, however, was a person of means: The collection was worth about £24 at the time, the equivalent of $18,600 (£14,000) today, Barrie Cook, a curator of medieval and early modern coins at the British Museum, told The Guardian. That’s much more than the average annual wage during Tudor times.
In all likelihood, a wealthy merchant or clergy member buried the hoard, John Naylor, a coin expert from the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, told The Guardian.
“You have this period in the late 1530s and 1540s where you have the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and we do know that some churches did try to hide their wealth, hoping they would be able to keep it in the long-term,” he said.
The newfound coins are “an important hoard,” Naylor added. “You don’t get these big gold hoards very often from this period.”
As for the coins themselves, it’s a mystery why the initials of Henry’s wives were present. In 1526, Henry and Thomas Wolsey, an English archbishop, statesman and cardinal of the Catholic Church, redid the monetary system, changing coins’ weights and beginning new denominations, such as the five-shilling gold coin, The Guardian reported.
“Not only does he change denominations, but he also has this very strange decision of putting his wife’s initials on the coin,” Cook said.
Such a move had no precedent. And given Henry VIII’s many marriages (six in all), the initials changed frequently. But after his third marriage to Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward VI who died shortly after childbirth, Henry discontinued the practice, meaning that his following wives (Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr) did not see their initials on English money.
The hoard is just one of over 47,000 artefacts documented by PAS in 2020. Another newfound, notable hoard includes the 50 South African Krugerrand minted during apartheid in the 1970s.
This stash, also found buried in a garden, was unearthed in the town of Milton Keynes, about 50 miles (80 kilometres) northwest of London. Each of the 50 coins weighs 1 oz (28 grams) and is made of solid gold, the museum reported.
“How they ended up in Milton Keynes and why they were buried are, for the moment, a mystery,” museum officials wrote in the statement. An official in Milton Keynes is trying to find the coins’ original owner or heirs.
Stunning dark ages mosaic found at Roman villa in Cotswolds
In Britain, life at the beginning of the dark ages is commonly perceived to be a fairly uncomfortable period, an epoch of trouble and misery with the expulsion of Roman rulers leading to economic misery and cultural stagnation.
But a stunning discovery at the Chedworth Roman villa in the Cotswolds suggests that some people at least managed to maintain a rich and sophisticated lifestyle.
National Trust archaeologists have established that a mosaic at the Gloucestershire villa was probably laid in the middle of the fifth century, years after such homes were thought to have been abandoned and fallen into ruin.
The mosaic, found in what may have been a summer dining room, is not quite as splendid as the ones at the villa dating to Roman times, but it seems to show the residents were clinging on to a very decent standard of living.
Martin Papworth, a National Trust archaeologist, said the find was hugely exciting. He said: “The fifth century is a time which marks the beginning of the sub-Roman period, often called the dark ages, a time from which few documents survive, and archaeological evidence is scarce.”
Four hundred years of Roman rule ended in Britain in about 410AD. Papworth said: “It has generally been believed that most of the population turned to subsistence farming and, after the break with Rome, Britannia’s administrative system broke down into a series of local fiefdoms.
“What is so exciting about the dating of this mosaic at Chedworth is that it is evidence for a more gradual decline.
The creation of a new room and the laying of a new floor suggests wealth, and a mosaic industry continuing 50 years later than had been expected.”
The fifth-century mosaic is of an intricate design. Its outer border is a series of circles alternately filled with flowers and knots. It is of poorer quality than the fourth-century ones found at the villa and others like it.
There are several mistakes, suggesting the skills of the craftspeople were being eroded. But it is nevertheless an attractive floor.
The identities of the people living at the villa in this era are lost in the mists of time. “They could have been dignitaries, people with money, influence, and friends in high places,” said Papworth.
He suggested it was also possible that the area was not so badly affected by hostile raids that were taking place in the north and east.
“It is interesting to speculate why Chedworth villa’s owners were still living in this style well into the fifth century. It seems that in the West Country, the Romanised way of life was sustained for a while.”
It was possible to date the mosaic thanks to traces of carbon found in a trench dug to build a wall to create the room the mosaic was found in.
Dating the carbon strongly suggested the wall was built between 424 and 544 AD. The mosaic was laid in the newly created room after the wall was built.
Stephen Cosh, who has written about Britain’s known Roman mosaics, said: “I am still reeling from the shock. It will be important to research further sites in the region to see whether we can demonstrate a similar refurbishment at other villas which continued to be occupied in the fifth century. But there is no question that this find at Chedworth is of enormous significance – it’s tremendously exciting.”