A metal detectorist who found a rare early-medieval silver brooch has said it was his most “incredible” find ever. The Trewhiddle-style brooch found on farmland at Cheddar in Somerset features detailed interlace decorations with animals thought to be peacocks.
Detectorist Iain Sansome said it was “incredible” to think the treasure used as a symbol of wealth and high status was last held 1,000 years ago.
Somerset Council hopes to keep it in the county once it has been valued.
Mr Sansome added in all of his years of metal detecting this find was “in a different league”.
“When I first saw the brooch I wasn’t exactly sure what it was but I knew it was something special,” he said.
“The fact that the last person to handle it was probably someone of extreme importance and high status over 1,000 years ago is just incredible.”
The South West Heritage Trust conducted a follow-up investigation at the find site but no further significant discoveries were made.
Dr Maria Kneafsey from the Portable Antiquities Scheme said early medieval examples of the brooches were “rare”.
“The fact that no further significant objects were found suggests that the brooch was lost or discarded into the water, rather than deliberately buried,” she said.
The disc brooch dates back to between 800 and 900AD was declared as treasure at an inquest held at Taunton Coroner’s Court in August.
A coffin that was found in a golf course pond contains a 4,000-year-old man buried with an axe
Archaeologists in England have analyzed a half-ton coffin dating to the early Bronze Age that was found under a golf course in Lincolnshire county. The coffin, cut from a single oak tree and thought to be about 4,000 years old, contained human remains, a hafted axe, and a bed of plant material meant to cushion the body in its eternal slumber.
Maintenance workers discovered the burial in July 2019 while tending to a water hazard at the Tetney Golf Club in Grimsby. The coffin was under a gravel mound, a special situation that indicates a certain amount of community involvement in the burial.
As is standard for objects of historical significance found in England and Wales, the find was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which processes such reports and ensures that the objects are properly handed.
Objects made of old wood (think shipwrecks, coffins, and even ship burials) are prone to disintegration when they are removed from water or soil after millennia and exposed to sunlight and air.
To prevent that from happening to the find, the excavated objects were immediately put in bags filled with groundwater, and the coffin was put in cold storage for a year. Afterwards, the coffin was moved to the York Archaeological Trust, where conservators have been working on it and the associated artefacts, including an axe.
“The man buried at Tetney lived in a very different world to ours but like ours, it was a changing environment, rising sea levels and coastal flooding ultimately covered his grave and burial mound in a deep layer of silt that aided its preservation,” said Tim Allen, a Sheffield-based archaeologist for Historic England, in a York Archaeological Trust press release.
An interesting component of the work was the environmental analysis of the plant bedding. Hugh Willmott, an archaeologist at the University of Sheffield who participated in the excavations, said on Twitter that moss, yew or juniper, hazelnuts, and leaf buds were found in the coffin.
The types of floral remains indicated that the burial likely took place toward the end of spring some four millennia ago when a few woolly mammoths still survived. Willmott said in an email to Gizmodo that the hazelnuts may have been a food offering, while the moss could have been a sort of bed for the deceased.
Not much is currently known about the human remains, though the archaeological team suspects it was an individual of some social importance. Willmott said that initial attempts to extract DNA have been unsuccessful.
Dating the coffin is still ongoing—the archaeologists need to do a combination of dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating, which they can cross-reference to find out the year the tree was felled, give or take a couple of years.
A shockingly well-preserved axe was found with the person; the handle looks like it could have been varnished yesterday. The axe head is a combination of stone and fossilized coral.
Based on the object’s shape and size—the axe head is less than 4 inches across—the team believes it was a symbol of authority rather than a practical tool. There are very few of such axes known in Britain, perhaps only 12, according to York Archaeological Trust, making this one of the most eye-catching elements of the discovery.
The wooden coffin joins some 65-odd objects as it found around England. Preservationists said in the same release that the axe should be fully preserved within the year, but the coffin will take at least two years to fully treat, due to the object’s size.
This research comes on the heels of the University of Sheffield’s decision to close its archaeology department, as reported by the BBC in July, and the University of Worcester announcing the closure of its archaeology department, also reported by the BBC.
The Campaign to Save British Archaeology was launched in response to the closures. This trend is a troubling one. Had the Sheffield archaeological team not been close by when the Bronze Age coffin was unearthed, the cultural heritage could’ve quickly deteriorated.
Thanks to the quick thinking of the nearby archaeologists, the objects are being preserved and will be displayed at The Collection Museum in Lincolnshire.
‘Anglo-Saxon church’ in Stoke Mandeville discovered by HS2 archaeologists
Archaeologists working on the HS2 project has discovered evidence of an Anglo-Saxon church, located at St Mary’s Old Church in Stoke Mandeville, England.
Excavations were conducted by LP-Archaeology in conjunction with Fusion-JV, to examine a Norman church that was built in AD 1080 and an associated churchyard.
Beneath the Norman levels, the team discovered flint walls forming a square structure, enclosed by a circular boundary and burials. The foundations of the structure are around 1 metre in width and have similarities to the Saxon Church in Barton-upon-Humber, St Peter’s.
Within the foundations is evidence of Roman roof tiles, suggesting that the Saxons constructed the early church using recycled Roman material from a nearby Roman settlement.
Dr Rachel Wood from Fusion JV said: “The work undertaken at Old St Mary’s is a unique archaeological opportunity to excavate a medieval parish church with over 900 years of meaning to the local community.
It also gives us the opportunity to learn more about the community that used the church and to understand the lives they lived.
Woods added: “To have so much of it remaining, including the walls and even some flooring, will provide a great deal of information about the site prior to the construction of the Norman church in AD 1080.
The discovery of this pre-Norman, possible Saxon Church is a once career opportunity for archaeologists and will provide a much greater understanding of the history of Stoke Mandeville.
Helen Wass, HS2’s Head of Heritage, said: “Once again, our vast archaeology programme has given us the ability to reveal more about the history of Britain.
The discovery of a pre-Norman church in Stoke Mandeville allows us to build a clearer picture of what the landscape of Buckinghamshire would have been like over 1000 years ago.
Ancient stone tomb linked to King Arthur legend is older than Stonehenge, scientists say
According to researchers, a mystery stone tomb in western England known as Arthur’s Stone — named after the mythical King Arthur — originated almost 6,000 years ago as part of an elaborate “ceremonial landscape” across the whole area.
Excavations this year near the ancient stone structure in rural Herefordshire, just east of the River Wye between England and Wales, show that the site was first occupied by an earthen mound pointing to another ancient structure nearby; but that a few hundred years later, it was rebuilt and realigned to point to hills much farther south, project leader Julian Thomas, a professor of archaeology at the University of Manchester in the U.K., told Live Science in an email.
“This is a ceremonial landscape like those around Stonehenge or Avebury, but rather earlier,” Thomas said. “It certainly implies that this is a location that was politically or spiritually important at the start of the Neolithic.”
Arthur’s Stone consists of nine upright, or “standing,” stones that support an immense “capstone” weighing more than 25 tons (23 metric tons). The passage underneath leads to what’s thought to be a burial chamber, although no human remains have been found there.
The structure gets its name from legends of King Arthur, who is said to have resisted the Saxon invasion of Britain about 1,500 years ago.
Several historical events have also taken place there, including a duel between knights during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.
In 1645, during the English Civil War, King Charles dined with his army there. And according to the website Mysterious Britain, Arthur’s Stone was C.S. Lewis’s inspiration for the “stone table” where Aslan the Lion was sacrificed in his “Narnia” stories.
The excavations revealed that the first earthen mound at the Arthur’s Stone site pointed to the so-called Halls of the Dead, which teams led by Thomas discovered on a ridge a little over 1,000 yards (910 meters) away in 2013.
The Halls of the Dead were originally large timber buildings that were deliberately burned down and replaced by three earthen burial mounds, possibly after a local leader had died. The remains of similar wooden buildings have been found at Neolithic cemeteries in Europe.
The original mound site was retained by a palisade of upright wooden posts and was very similar to the central mound at the Halls of the Dead site, Thomas said. But the posts soon rotted away and the mound collapsed, so a second monument was built at the site up to 200 years later.
The rebuilt monument, probably consisting of the stones that remain today within a second earthen mound, also had an “avenue” of wooden posts that pointed toward a prominent gap between two hills on the horizon about 12 miles (20 kilometres) away, he said.
“Significantly, the stone elements are on the later alignment, along with the post avenue, and that is one of the reasons why I think they form part of the later version of the monument,” Thomas said. “I think the initial emphasis is on the internal relationships between the monuments that make up the complex but that later, the focus shifts outwards.”
Arthur’s Stone is now one of the most distinctive and best-known Neolithic monuments in England. Several local legends link it to King Arthur. However, it must have stood for several thousand years by his time, and most historians think Arthur probably didn’t exist.
According to one tale, marks on one of the stones were made by Arthur when he knelt there to pray; another story is that those marks are the indentations of the elbows of a giant he killed. The monument also supposedly marks where Arthur was buried.
Mysterious ‘Super-Henge‘ Found Near Stonehenge High-resolution ground-penetrating radar and other archaeological technologies have revealed up to 9 large intentionally placed stones outlining a crescent-shaped arena less than 2 miles away from the well-known Stonehenge in the UK Durrington Walls area. The site was home to a large Neolithic prehistoric settlement built about 4,500 years ago.
Arthur’s Stone seems to have been part of a ceremonial landscape during the early Neolithic period beginning about 5,700 years ago. The realignment of the stones about 5,500 years ago seems to have been part of an expansion of that landscape.
For example, the later alignment may have indicated that that the gap in the hills it pointed to was an important route for travellers or “a source of some important resource, or a place where allied communities lived, or another place of spiritual significance,” Thomas said.
Other features of the landscape, including several other earthen mounds and a Neolithic “causeway” and enclosure, were “an indication that this was a place that people came to for gatherings, meetings, [and] feasting … and a place that retained its significance for centuries,” he said.
Revealed: The ‘lost’ Anglo-Saxon monastery discovered next to Cookham church
Archaeologists from the University of Reading have excavated a ‘lost” Anglo-Saxon monastery, in the present-day Berkshire village of Cookham, England. Despite being mentioned in a historical text, the location of the monastery had remained a mystery, with contemporary records placing it under the rule of a royal abbess: Queen Cynethryth, the widow of the powerful King Offa of Mercia.
Excavations were conducted by archaeologists from the University of Reading on the grounds of Holy Trinity, where they uncovered the remains of timber buildings that would have housed the inhabitants of the monastery, alongside artefacts providing insights into their lives.
Dr Gabor Thomas, the University of Reading archaeologist who is leading the excavation, said: “The lost monastery of Cookham has puzzled historians, with a number of theories put forward for its location.
We set out to solve this mystery once and for all. “The evidence we have found confirms beyond doubt that the Anglo-Saxon monastery was located on a gravel island beside the River Thames now occupied by the present parish church.
“Despite its documented royal associations, barely anything is known about what life was like at this monastery, or others on this stretch of the Thames, due to a lack of archaeological evidence.
The items that have been uncovered will allow us to piece together a detailed impression of how the monks and nuns who lived here ate, worked and dressed. This will shed new light on how Anglo-Saxon monasteries were organised and what life was like in them.”
A network of monasteries was established on sites along the route of the Thames to take advantage of what was one of the most important trading arteries in Anglo-Saxon England, enabling them to develop into wealthy economic centres.
The stretch of the Thames in which Cookham falls formed a contested boundary between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, so the monastery here had particular strategic and political importance. In spite of this historical background, the exact location of the monastery has been long debated.
Wealth of evidence
The excavation, in August, sought to answer this question by investigating open spaces straddling the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, which still stands today.
The team have discovered a wealth of evidence including food remains pottery vessels used for cooking and eating, and items of personal dress including a delicate bronze bracelet and a dress pin, probably worn by female members of the community.
Clear evidence has emerged for the layout of the monastery which was organised into a series of functional zones demarcated by ditched boundaries.
One of these zones appears to have been used for housing and another for industrial activity indicated by a cluster of hearths probably used for metalworking.
‘Influence and status’
Dr Thomas added: “Cynethryth is a fascinating figure, a female leader who clearly had genuine status and influence in her lifetime. Not only were coins minted with her image, but it is known that when the powerful European leader Charlemagne wrote to his English counterparts, he wrote jointly to both King Offa and Queen Cynethryth, giving both equal status.
“We are thrilled to find physical evidence of the monastery she presided over, which is also very likely to be her final resting place.”
Cynethryth joined a religious order and became the royal abbess of the monastery after the death of her husband, King Offa, in AD 796. Before his death, he had ruled Mercia, one of the main Anglo Saxon kingdoms in Britain, which spanned the English Midlands.
King Offa is considered by many historians to have been the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great. He is known for ordering the creation of the earth barrier on the border between England and Wales, known as Offa’s Dyke, which can still be seen today.
Cynethryth is the only Anglo-Saxon queen known to be depicted on a coin – a rarity anywhere in Western Europe during the period. She died sometime after AD 798.
Traces of Medieval Abbey Uncovered in Northeastern England
A team from York Archaeological Trust are currently based in Museum Gardens, where the Environment Agency will soon start work on a major upgrade of the flood embankment as part of the York Flood Alleviation Scheme.
Both the Environment Agency and the City of York Council recognised the historical importance of the area, which was once the grounds and precincts of St Mary’s Abbey and invited experts to survey the site for ancient remains.
The dig began in July and details of some of the preliminary findings have now been revealed.
York Archaeological Trust staff hoped to find traces of medieval buildings that were once part of the abbey complex, of which The Hospitium is the only survivor still intact today. There had not been investigations on the site previously because it had never been subject to development.
Initially, topsoil stripping revealed pottery and other items dating from the 19th century, when the Yorkshire Philosophical Society first landscaped the area as a botanical garden.
Yet below the Victorian layer was evidence of earlier activity. Across the trench is rubble including limestone roof and floor tiles, suggesting that several buildings were demolished following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. However, this razing could have taken place at any time up until the 1830s, when the garden landscaping began.
The Hospitium was renovated around this time, but historians are aware that several other buildings would have stood on the south side of the precinct.
Short sections of medieval wall uncovered during the dig suggest that these structures extended east from The Hospitium – a lodging house for lay guests of the monastery which historians believe may have also acted as a warehouse for goods delivered through the river gate.
York Archaeological Trust project manager Ben Reeves explained: “This area had never been developed, and our principle is that we don’t disturb unless necessary. We won’t be going any deeper than we need to and only to the same level as the construction work.
“We know that in the 19th century, buildings such as stables were demolished, and there could have been outbuildings from all periods. We’ve identified some wall remains and are investigating them.
“We expected to find some form of remains, and our aim is to record and re-bury them. Nothing will be removed or damaged.
“It’s difficult to say when the buildings were cleared – was it in the aftermath of the Dissolution or much later? In the 1830s did they decide they wanted to keep The Hospitium but not the others?
“It was a relief to find the structures below the level of the trench so that their discovery won’t impact on the scheme. They will be covered over and preserved.”
The dig is expected to conclude by the end of the month, after which the site will be returned to Environment Agency contractors BAM.
Evidence of Neolithic Dairy Farming Found in Wales
BBC News reports that dairy fat has been detected on pottery unearthed at the Trellyffaint Neolithic monument, a site in southwest Wales where two concentric earthen henges have been found.
Dairy farming could have been happening in Wales as early as 3,100BC, according to new research. Shards of decorated pottery taken from the Trellyffaint Neolithic monument near Newport, Pembrokeshire, were found to contain dairy fat residue. The residue could only originate from milk-based substances such as butter, cheese, or more probably yoghurt.
George Nash, of the Welsh Rock Art Organisation, said it was the earliest proof of dairy farming in Wales.
Project leader Dr Nash said Julie Dunne of the University of Bristol had detected the dairy fat residues from the inner surfaces of the pottery, as well as dating them with 94.5% accuracy to 3,100BC.
“It’s incredibly rare to find any archaeological remains such as bone and pottery in this part of Wales because of the soil’s acidity,” he said.
“So, we can’t say for certain that this is the earliest example of dairy farming, but it is the earliest that anyone has been able to prove, using new revolutionary direct dating methods.
“The discovery of this pottery is important because it is right on the cusp of when a new Neolithic ideology was taking hold.”
Dr Nash, who teaches at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, termed the period a “Neolithic package” that included animal husbandry, pottery making, food procurement and different ways of burying and venerating the dead.
It gradually replaced the hunting, fishing and gathering way of life which had typified the previous era.
Interest in Trellyffaint began when former University of Bristol archaeology graduates Les Dodds and Phil Dell conducted several geophysical surveys on and around the Neolithic stone chambers.
They discovered two concentric henges along with other buried objects. The henges – two circular earthen banks – are roughly contemporary with Stonehenge, dating from the mid to latter part of the Neolithic period, between 3,000BC and 2,000BC.
However, Dr Nash said it is important to view the period as a continuum of social and ritual development rather than a single event.
“As the population grew throughout this period, communities had to diversify the way in which they sourced their food,” he explained.
“Initially, farming was a far riskier economy than hunting, fishing and gathering, as if you had one outbreak of disease – one crop failure – then you were prone to starvation and instability.
“It is probable that throughout the Neolithic period in western Britain, both natural resources and farming played equal roles in providing communities with the resources they needed.
“The pottery recovered from this excavation probably reveals something about the veneration of the earth and what it could provide, hence the offering of dairy products within a ritualised landscape”.
The survey discovered the main chamber was largely in a good state of preservation. However, at some point in the recent past, the enormous capstone covering the chamber had slipped off its supporting upright stones. Up to 75 engraved cupmarks – gouged circular indentations – and several intersecting lines were recorded on top of this stone.
New religious ideology
The cupmarks, which feature on only a handful of Neolithic burial-ritual monuments in Wales, suggest the stone formed part of a new religious ideology where rock art represented the night sky and constellations.
Maybe a few hundred years later, the community using Trellyffaint made the decision to yet again change their worldview, which resulted in the construction of the two concentric henges a few yards north of the monument.
For this new set of monuments, offering dairy products rather than looking towards the night sky became the new way of veneration. The artefacts discovered will be presented to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff for safekeeping, while the team’s research is due for publication in several international scientific journals.
Archaeologists have discovered a bronze key handle that shows lions were used in executions in Roman Britain. The handle, which depicts a “Barbarian” wrestling with a lion, was discovered beneath a Roman townhouse in Leicester’s Great Central Street.
It also shows figures of four boys cowering in terror.
Excavation leader Dr Gavin Speed, from the University of Leicester, said nothing quite like it had been found “anywhere in the Roman Empire before”.
“When first found, it appeared as an indistinguishable bronze object, but after we carefully cleaned off the soil remarkably we revealed several small faces looking back at us, it was absolutely astounding,” Dr Speed said.
The object was found by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) in 2017, then studied at King’s College London and the findings have now been published in the journal Britannia.
Co-author Dr John Pearce, from King’s College, said: “This unique object gives us our most detailed representation of this form of execution found in Roman Britain.
“As the first discovery of this kind, it illuminates the brutal character of Roman authority in this province.”
Roman law sanctioned the execution of criminals and prisoners of war through the public spectacle of throwing them to the beasts, defined by the Latin term damnatio ad bestias.
This form of execution was often used to symbolise the destruction of Rome’s enemies – members of tribes who lived outside the Roman Empire and were collectively known as “Barbarians“.
This new evidence of Leicester’s Roman past was found along with Roman streets, mosaics floors and a Roman theatre. Nick Cooper from the ULAS said the handle would have been purpose-made in Leicester for a very important house.
The townhouse where it was found stands next to the newly-discovered Roman theatre.
“It’s one of the most exciting finds we’ve had in Roman Leicester and it’s got a great story to tell about life in Roman Leicester and the potential evidence it gives for activities that might have taken place in the theatre, or possibly an amphitheatre that we haven’t discovered yet,” Mr Cooper added.
“Within a small handle, about 10cm long, you have a story evolving there of the practice in Roman law where criminals and prisoners of war are condemned to be killed by beasts.
“That was slightly worse than being condemned to the mines, which is the other way that prisoners often met their end.”
The bronze handle will go on public display at Leicester’s Jewry Wall Museum which is currently being redeveloped and will reopen in 2023.