Category Archives: MEDIEVAL

Revealed: Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

Revealed: Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Invisible city

For centuries, the Angkor region’s wealth of artefacts drew looters, archaeologists. They focused their attention, both good and ill, on Angkor Wat and a few other nearby moated temple complexes. Based on those ruins, the first European explorers to encounter Angkor in the 19th century assumed Khmer urbanites lived in what were basically moated cities of a few thousand people. These European explorers thought Angkor Wat was something like a medieval walled city in Europe, which typically held fewer than 10,000 people. They explained all the moated complexes in the Angkor area by suggesting that maybe the royal family and their people were moving from one moated city to the next overtime. But as archaeologists learned more in the intervening century, something about those population numbers seemed off. Beyond the moated cities were vast canal systems and reservoirs hinting at something bigger.

The ruins of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay covered with forest. An urban network was revealed by the lidar imagery around this temple.

Unfortunately, most of Angkor had become a tangle of jungles and small farms by the 20th century. There was little evidence of medieval settlements beyond the moats’ precise edges. Even if explorers were willing to hack through the dense growth, there was little to find. In a Khmer city, only the temples were made from stone. Everything else was built from perishable materials like wood. All that remained of Angkor’s homes and other non-religious structures were the elevated clay mounds of their foundations, which had been designed to prevent flooding during Cambodia’s intense wet season. Most of the city’s dramatic waterworks for flood runoff and water storage had been reduced to pits and troughs in the Earth. It was practically impossible to identify a medieval Angkorian house deep within the jungle.

All that changed when airborne LiDAR (for “Light Imaging, Detection, And Ranging”) came into common use for mapping in the early 2000s. Archaeologists working in Cambodia immediately seized on it. By scattering light off the surface of the planet, LiDAR systems can produce maps with accuracy down to the centimetre even if the ground is covered in heavy vegetation. The system is ideal for a place like Angkor, where the city’s remains are cloaked in vegetation and characterized almost entirely by elevated or depressed plots of ground.

The LiDAR rig was a Leica ALS70 HP instrument, mounted in a pod attached to the right skid of a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter along with a 60 megapixel Leica RCD30 camera.

With funding from the National Geographic Society and European Research council, archaeologist Damian Evans and his colleagues conducted broad LiDAR surveys of Angkor in 2012 and 2015. The team’s mapping rig consisted of a Leica ALS70 HP LiDAR instrument mounted in a pod attached to the right skid of a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter alongside a 60 megapixel Leica RCD30 camera. It was as if an invisible city suddenly appeared where only overgrowth and farmland existed before. For the first time in centuries, people could discern Angkor’s original urban grid. And what they saw changed our understanding of global history.

Archaeological researcher Piphal Heng, who studies Cambodian settlement history, told Ars that the LiDAR maps peeled back the forest canopy to reveal meticulous grids of highways and low-density neighbourhoods of thousands of houses and pools of water. There was “a complex urban grid system that extended outside the walls of Angkor Thom and other large temple complexes such as Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, and Ta Prohm,” he said. With the new data, scientists had solid evidence that the city of Angkor sprawled over an area of at least 40 to 50 square km. It was home to almost a million people. The scattered, moated complexes like Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom were merely the most enduring features of what we now know was the biggest city on Earth during the 12th and 13th centuries.

This aerial photo shows what Angkor Wat looks like today, surrounded by vegetation and a few areas of modern farms and homes. None of the vast city grid from 800 years ago is visible.
In the LiDAR map, you can clearly see the central urban grid of Angkor extending from Angkor Thom (top left) and Angkor Wat (bottom left).
Here you can see the areas covered by the LiDAR surveys in 2012 and 2015.
A map of the greater Angkor area, showing the extent of the urban sprawl revealed by LiDAR.

From legend to reality

The city of Angkor has its origins in the ninth century during the reign of Jayavarman II. He unified large parts of Southeast Asia by establishing the Khmer Empire across regions we know today as Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Inscriptions on temple walls at Sadok Kok Thom in Thailand describe how he established a city called Hariharalaya, located near Siem Reap in the Angkor area. But the inscriptions also say that Jayavarman II declared himself a supreme ruler or “god-king” in a lavish Hindu ceremony held at his residence on Kulen Mountain in a city called Mahendraparvata. Accounts of the Kulen Mountain phase in Jayavarman’s life are so sparse and fantastical that debates have raged among scholars about whether he actually lived in Mahendraparvata at all.

To find out more, archaeologists targeted Kulen Mountain in their latest LiDAR survey. Evans published some of the first results from this 2015 survey in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Royal Academy of Cambodia archaeologist Kaseka Phon explained to Ars via e-mail that the LiDAR has uncovered an Angkor-like city grid at the abandoned city of Mahendraparvata on Kulen Mountain. Plus, the LiDAR “shows not only features of the construction, but also water features” that are clearly versions of Angkor’s incredible water management facilities. The new survey revealed massive stone quarries, now filled in, that produced the rock used to build some of the temples of Angkor. Kulen Mountain’s role in the birth of the Khmer Empire is no longer a legend—it’s an established historical fact.

This transformation of legend into fact has been a theme of the LiDAR surveys. Angkor’s huge population is described in temple inscriptions and reports written by Chinese travellers who visited the city during the 12th-century reign of King Suryavarman II, who built Angkor Wat. But historical sources are often exaggerated or incomplete. Plus, it was difficult for Western researchers to believe that the Khmer Empire’s great city was home to almost a million people, dwarfing European cities of the same era. Now, such facts are impossible to deny.

Angkor city planning

Angkor reached megacity proportions in the 12th century when Suryavarman II ordered the construction of Angkor Wat (which he dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu). At that time, the urban sprawl in Angkor was not only enormous, but it was centrally planned with rigorous precision. Heng told Ars that “the shape of roads, walls, moats, mounds, and ponds were probably made based on urban templates commissioned by the Angkorian rulers” while residents of different neighbourhoods probably had different degrees of freedom to modify those plans. Heng continued:

At temples such as Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, the grid usage was significantly varied. For example, based on our recent excavations, after the urban grid was laid out, there is little evidence of modification—if at all—in a series of habitation mounds inside Angkor Wat. While for Ta Prohm, its inhabitants seem to have more freedom in modifying parts of their gridded mounds.

To learn more about everyday life in Angkor Wat, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign archaeologist Alison Carter has done excavation work on some of the residential mounds inside the enclosure. In 2015, she got funding from the National Geographic Society to excavate one of the residential mounds identified via LiDAR. Carter discovered what appears to be the remains of a brick stove, complete with ceramic vessels for cooking. Chemical analysis revealed remains of pomelo fruit rind, seeds from a relative of the ginger plant, and grains of rice. This is what archaeologists call “ground-truthing,” and it’s further confirmation that the mounds we see in LiDAR are actually from households rather than other structures.

The picture that’s emerging of Angkor is much like a modern low-density city with mixed-use residential and farm areas. As Evans put it to Ars, “in the densely inhabited downtown core there are no fields, but that nice, formally planned city centre gradually gives way to an extended agro-urban hinterland where neighbourhoods are intermingled with rice-growing areas, and there is no clear distinction between what is ‘urban’ or ‘rural’.” The city was a miracle of geoengineering with every acre transformed by human hands, whether for agriculture or architecture.

Perhaps Angkor’s greatest technological achievement was its sophisticated waterworks, including artificial canals and reservoirs. People strolling through the city 800 years ago would have passed through neighborhoods whose carefully arranged homes were built alongside rainfall ponds for families, as well as enormous canals for the city as a whole. Massive rectangular reservoirs held water all year around for agricultural use.

Each neighbourhood would have looked slightly different, though all relied on the same water infrastructure. The city had to survive the floods of the rainy season and slake the thirst of people and farms in the dry season. For centuries, it accomplished this incredible feat, which modern cities still struggle with. Suryavarman II ruled a city whose mythic proportions were enabled by the most sophisticated engineering techniques of his day.

Comparison of major temple complexes in the 12th to 13th centuries, all at the same scale. Later developments (right column) show more variable grids than earlier ones (left column), with areas within the moat divided neatly into ~100×100 m “city blocks.” 6a: Angkor Wat. 6b: Beng Mealea. 6c: Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. 6d: Preah Khan of Angkor. 6e: Ta Prohm. 6f: Banteay Chhmar.
“Mound fields” across Cambodia. Panels a,b are in the Phnom Kulen area. Panels c,d are immediately to the north of the main temple complex at Sambor Prei Kuk. Panels e,f are Immediately to the west of Banteay Srei temple at Angkor. Panels g,h: Near the exit of the East Baray reservoir at Angkor, new archaeological mapping (3g) based on the 2012 ALS data has added further detail to a ~10×10 grid of mounds (3h) and revealed a second mound field to the south of the exit. Panels 3a,c and e are conventional aerial imagery acquired in the 2015 campaign. Panel 3g is based on archaeological maps by Damian Evans, Christophe Pottier and Pelle Wijker.
Unexplained, rectangular coil patterns associated with major temples across northwest Cambodia, revealed in LiDAR maps.

Mysterious coils and mounds

Plenty of unknowns remain at Angkor, and the LiDAR surveys have revealed two previously unseen structures that nobody has been able to explain so far. The first is a complicated rectangular maze pattern dubbed the “coils,” “spirals,” or “geoglyphs.” These were first spotted outside the moat at Angkor Wat during the 2012 survey, but the 2015 survey revealed similar coils outside the enclosures at Beng Mealea and Preah Khan. At first glance, they appear to be waterworks, but Evans and his colleagues dismissed that idea because they are too shallow and are cut off from the city’s general waterworks.

Currently, the reigning hypothesis is that these rectilinear coils were specialized gardens for growing plants used in temple rituals. The often-flooded channels might have contained lotus, while the raised areas could have supported “aromatics such as sandalwood trees.”

More mysterious are the so-called “mound fields” found near some of Angkor’s largest reservoirs and canals. Unlike the residential mounds excavated by Carter and her colleagues, these mounds aren’t packed with ceramics and food remains. They are just mounds, clearly the foundations for an elevated structure or structures. Their locations suggest that they may have been related to the city’s waterworks, but of course, correlation does not equal causation. Further research is needed to unlock the secrets of the coils and mound fields.

What Lies Beneath? Finding North America’s lost medieval city

What Lies Beneath? Finding North America’s lost medieval city

At the time of its existence, this city was larger than Paris or London and housed about 30,000 citizens.  This is around the size of Juneau Alaska today (if you include the surrounding boroughs). If this estimate is correct, It was the largest city in the United States until the 1780s, when the population of Philadelphia finally surpassed it. So where was this lost historic capital?

The city was known as Cahokia. It reached its peak population in 1050 and was then abandoned in 1400. We don’t even know the name of the people who lived there.  The city was named after the tribe of Cahokia who lived there, but the tribe of Cahokia claimed no connection with the city; it was the European explorers who named it.

A group known as Mississippians are the original inhabitants. They were great builders and craftspeople, and they had a significant influence on the surrounding areas—just check out the extent of the territory they have been reported to have impacted.

Artist’s recreation of downtown Cahokia, with Monk’s Mound at its centre.

Studies suggest that Cahokia was in fact the first melting pot in North America, drawing in people from surrounding areas (as much as one-third of their population consisting of immigrants from other tribes and groups). These people could have migrated away after the decline of the city, meaning that the Cahokia tribe might not be the descendants of the city builders.

So again, where was this metropolis hiding? How do we know it even existed at all? I bet you wouldn’t guess it was buried under the suburbs of St. Louis, would you? If this city was right under our noses all this time, why are we only really exploring it now?

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Exploration of the area occurred sporadically, and earthen mounds don’t make for particularly exciting discoveries like gold or jewels. So, this lost city went the way of most—instead of preserving the shifting space, for monuments or museums, it was used for growing room as the population in the area expanded.

The growth of human civilization can be a bit unforgiving at times to ancient historical sites. Famous historical cities of the world are built on the ruins of their own past. Cahokia is no different.

Up goes a drive-in movie theatre here, a subdivision there, and a variety of other infrastructure required of our time. The area today is like any other in modern America, crisscrossed by roads and highways like veins in an ever-changing landscape, but underneath all of that, it is filled with a rich history.

What was in the city?

While we have known about the ancient city for hundreds of years, our knowledge has largely been restricted to the awareness of mounds seen above the surface. Those mounds are pretty impressive though. Consider that all the mounds in Cahokia were built by hand. People dug up clay and transported it by hand, likely in woven baskets.

Aerial view of Monk’s Mound via WesternDigs
Evidence of the human sacrifices uncovered at Mound 72.

One of the most notable mounds is the one called Monks Mound. Monks Mound rises 100 feet high (about 30 meters) and has three distinct levels. Archaeological evidence shows that there was a building at the peak of the mound which could have risen another 50 feet (15 meters).

This mound is estimated to have taken as much as 250 years to build, but new evidence suggests it might have been completed in a mind-blowing 20 years. The entire structure was made up of an estimated 22 million cubic feet/623 thousand cubic meters of the earth (that’s a lot of baskets).

To put the size of the mound into perspective, the base of the mound is comparable to the Great Pyramid at Giza, and it is the largest prehistoric earthen construction in America north of Mexico.

Archaeological studies suggest that the city is so much more than just mounds. There are extensive ceremonial areas, including at least one Woodhenge – a structure similar to Stonehenge in the UK, that was used to monitor the movement of the sun and stars to predict events such as harvests.

There are also extensive living areas, the grand plaza gathering area, a copper workshop, burial sites, and evidence of an extensive wooden palisade (estimated at 15 feet tall, or 4.6 meters). Over 1,000 years ago, this was a pretty happening place.

Unfortunately, as the construction techniques in Cahokia involved using wood and earth, there are no stone ruins like we might see in Egypt or Rome. This means that the city was more easily reclaimed by nature—but that doesn’t make it any less impressive than its ancient counterparts.

Lessons from the past

If you’re thinking Cahokia sounds pretty amazing, you’re right. So, the obvious question is, why was it abandoned?

This is one of the most interesting questions about abandoned cities. In modern times the idea of abandoning a fully-formed city seems ludicrous (especially considering real estate prices in Toronto and Vancouver).

New studies of the flood patterns of the Mississippi River might be shedding some light on the situation. The rise of Cahokia falls in line with periods of relatively low flooding. This would have made farming and city expansion relatively easy. Then, towards the end of the city’s life, the floods returned, with one flood around the year 1200 being as much as 33 feet (10 meters) high. That’s the kind of stuff we make disaster movies about, so it is pretty easy to understand how that could contribute to the decline of the city.

Flood researchers are also careful to say that there was likely a multitude of causes contributing to the decline of the city, such as war or disease. It boggles the mind in many ways. Think of our modern cities. What would it take for us to abandon New Orleans, New York, or another metropolis?

The whole area was designated as a state historical site about 40 years ago and made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. It is always comforting to see history receive the recognition it so richly deserves, but this ancient metropolis also has a lesson for all of us in modern times: the greatest cities of mankind are often very dependent on specific environmental circumstances, and if those circumstances change they can have a very dramatic impact on the people who live in and around them.

Medieval Priest’s Remains Unearthed in England

Medieval Priest’s Remains Unearthed in England

Over 50 burials unearthed by archaeologists in the Lincoln Cathedral included a remarkable medieval priest burial.

A skeleton is believed to be that of a medieval priest found, who had been buried in the area that is now the building’s West Parvis.

The priest had been carefully buried with a pewter chalice and paten, used during communion and key symbols of the work of the priest. Similar examples have been dated to as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries.

His burial is just one of more than 50 found immediately around the cathedral; from the West Front at the main entrance to the Dean’s Green to the north.

The burials were found during excavations by Lincoln-based Allen Archaeology Ltd as part of the National Lottery-funded Lincoln Cathedral Connected project. The excavations were to enable drainage works and landscaping around the cathedral.

The area between the West Front of the Cathedral and the neighboring Exchequergate Arch is known to have been used as a burial ground for the cathedral and the church of St Mary Magdalene in the Bailgate. Part of the area of the Dean’s Green was also used as a burial ground for the cathedral, as were the many green spaces surrounding it.

Excavating the priestly burial.

In addition to the skeletons excavated during the project, several other historic artifacts are currently being studied and dated. Some will be displayed as part of the new Lincoln Cathedral visitor center, which is due to open in summer 2020.

Other finds from the excavations include a hand from a statue that may be from a very early frieze, and a coin depicting the face of Edward the Confessor, the last king of the House of Wessex, who ruled from 1042 to 1066. The coin was minted between 1053 and 1056, so pre-dates the building of the current Cathedral.

Evidence was also uncovered of high-status Roman buildings in the area of the new visitor’s center, which is within a building previously used as a deanery.

Highly-decorated painted wall plaster from three different rooms, a near-complete incense burner, a perfume jar, and a Roman spoon were among the notable finds.

Some of the Roman wall plaster was painted with intricate flowers and leaves design, while the rest features colored bands. It may be possible for some to be reconstructed in the near future.

Edward the Confessor coin which is at least 964 years old.

Natasha Powers, Senior Manager at Allen Archaeology, said: “Since our work began on the Cathedral as part of the Connected project in 2016, we have uncovered significant evidence of Lincoln’s medieval, Saxon and Roman past.

“The objects we have found are not only beautiful and interesting in themselves but importantly they enable us to better interpret the lives of those who occupied the city in previous centuries.”

The decorated Roman plaster discovered at Lincoln Cathedral.
The decorated Roman plaster discovered at Lincoln Cathedral.

The overall project includes vital restoration and renovation works to the iconic building, which is due to be completed in 2022.

Further discoveries are expected after the excavation of Roman and medieval features around the gothic landmark.

Remains of medieval child found with other skeletons just yards from St Patrick’s grave in Northern Ireland

Remains of a medieval child found with other skeletons just yards from St Patrick’s grave in Northern Ireland

Medieval skeletons were found beside Down Cathedral in Downpatrick

The medieval skeletons were found beside Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down.

Archaeologists first thought they had found the lost cemetery of 13th Century Benedictine monks.

But they have said the oldest skeleton is that of a five or six-year-old child who died almost 1,000 years ago.

Archaeologist Brian Sloan believes there is “more to be found” in Downpatrick

The most recent skeleton is that of a young woman, believed to be a late adolescent, buried between 1317 and 1429.

Experts said she was suffering from severe tooth abscesses at the time of her death and believe she may have traveled to the on-site monastery in search of medicine or prayer.

A community dig was led by archaeologists from Queen’s University in Belfast, working with volunteers to prepare the ground for the erection of a replica high cross. Visitors from around the world flocked to the area as the dig unfolded.

‘Rich picture of medieval life’

Ancient pottery and animal bones were also recovered in the buried kitchen of a 13th Century Benedictine Abbey as well as a flint tool dating to about 7,000 BC.

Blackberry seeds, sloe pips, fish bones and charred wheat grains from bread-making were also found.

Medieval jugs found during the dig have been carefully pieced together

Excavation director Brian Sloan said subsequent analysis, including radiocarbon dating of three of the skeletons, had uncovered a “rich picture of medieval life”.

Although analysis of the skeletons is ongoing, he said evidence showed the young child had lived and died before the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1177 AD.

He said the young woman had lived sometime between 1317-1429 AD when the site was occupied by the Benedictine Abbey.

Mr. Sloan said the other archaeological finds had offered an insight into life in the abbey and a glimpse into an 8th Century Christian monastic site.

“We can use this evidence to build up a picture of the diet and everyday activities of the monks who lived and prayed here,” he added.

An arrow head from 12th or 13th Centuries is among other items found during the excavation

“The large pottery shards have been painstakingly pieced together at Queen’s University Belfast giving an idea of the shape, size, and decoration of the vessels.

“A rich environmental picture is being established through the processing of the soil samples taken during the excavation.”

Metalwork recovered from an ancient pit has also been analyzed and include fine copper alloy dress pins, a socketed arrowhead, a horseshoe, a pair of iron shears and a length of chain with a suspension hook still attached.

A number of items are now on display in the High Cross Gallery at Down County Museum in Downpatrick, in two new cases funded by the British Museum Trust, while research work continues on the collection of artifacts, dating from the Mesolithic (c. 7000 BC) period.

Mr. Sloan added: “This is fantastic as Downpatrick has almost been ignored from an archaeological and historical point of view. “It has got my blood flowing. I believe there is more to be found.”

Skeleton of man who had his throat slit by Anglo Saxon executioners 1,000 years ago is uncovered during excavations for a new wind farm

Skeleton of man who had his throat slit by Anglo Saxon executioners 1,000 years ago is uncovered during excavations for a new wind farm.

During the excavation job for a wind farm, remains of a Man believed to be the victim of an execution that killed 1,000 years ago were discovered.

During a dig in preparing for the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm, archeologists discovered the adult guy, aged between 25 and 35, with deadly cut marks on his throat.

The skeleton was recovered intact with the exception of a few small bones missing from the hands and feet.

He was laid facing upwards with his arms at his side in an East-West alignment, with no sign of a coffin.

A vertebrae from the skeleton 

The remains were found during surveying work for the route for onshore cabling on the South Downs at Truleigh Hill, north of Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

Jim Stevenson, project manager for Archaeology South East, said:

“Specialist osteological assessment and radiocarbon dating have revealed that the skeleton is most likely to be an execution burial of the later Anglo Saxon period of around 1010 to 1025 AD.

“Most significantly, two cut marks made by a sharp blade or knife were found at the mid-length of the neck, which would have proved fatal for the individual.”

The skeleton was found during work for a wind farm 

The isolated burial was found along the ancient route of the South Downs Way in an area of known prehistoric graves recorded in the West Sussex Historic Environment Record.

It is believed some were once identifiable as visible surface burial mounds, were excavated in the 18th and 19th centuries and sometimes coincide with isolated burials.

The Rampion Offshore Wind Farm, 13km off the Sussex coast, is due to be fully operational later this year.

Once complete, it will provide enough electricity to supply almost 347,000 homes a year, equivalent to about half the homes in Sussex.

Plans for tennis court to be dug up to search for remains of Saxon King.

Plans for a tennis court to be dug up to search for remains of Saxon King.

Saint Edmund is believed to have been killed by the Vikings in the 9th century after refusing to denounce his Christianity.

His remains were kept in a shrine in Bury St Edmunds but were later lost during Henry VIII’s reign and the desecration of the Benedictine Abbey.

Now, Bury St Edmunds Believe it might have the remains of Saint Edmund, a Saxon monarch, buried under one of his tennis courts.

The Tennis courts in the grounds of Abbey Gardens Bury St Edmunds where archaeologists could be set to look for King Edmund’s remains

At the time of the desecration of the Benedictine Abbey, during Henry VIII’s reign, the remains were lost.

But historians believe the remains may well be below the tennis courts in Abbey Gardens, which sit on top of a former monks’ graveyard in the sedate East Anglian town.

Plans to move the courts are being considered so archaeologists may soon be allowed to look for King Edmund’s remains underneath.

The plans have the backing of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, who own the Abbey Gardens, near St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

Robert Everitt, the local councillor in charge of the project said: “It would be an incredibly important historical discovery if he was found under there.

“It is something the borough want to do and the cathedral are in agreement as well, but we need to ensure we replace the courts.

“We are looking at St James Middle School courts, which are not being used [as the school is closed]. They would be ideal and would ensure people can play tennis right next to Abbey Gardens.”

Academic researcher and historian Francis Young, who was born in Bury, said: “The commissioners who dissolved the Abbey on November 4, 1539, mentioned nothing about the body, and given St Edmund’s royal status it is likely they would have quietly allowed the monks to remove the body from the shrine and relocate it.

“According to a third-hand account from 1697, St Edmund was placed in an iron chest by a few monks but sadly the account does not give the location within the Abbey precincts where he was buried. On balance, however, the monks’ cemetery is the most likely location.”

His remains were kept in a shrine in Bury St Edmunds
His remains were kept in a shrine in Bury St Edmunds

If the monks did use an iron chest it would help archaeologists distinguish the monks’ graves from that of the king. A heritage partnership is tasked with preserving and promoting the Abbey ruins, with the removal of the courts aimed at improving the experience for visitors.

Edmund was the King of the East Angles in the 9th Century. It is widely accepted that Edmund was killed by Vikings. It is thought his place of death was somewhere in Suffolk or Norfolk.

His myth tells of brave King Edmund refusing to denounce his Christianity and being killed by several arrows. The Vikings then removed his head so Edmund could not be buried whole. However, loyal followers were able to find his head after a wolf called to them, shouting “here, here, here”.

Shortly after his death, a shrine containing his remains was built in the Abbey in a town called Bedericesworth.

This town later became Bury St Edmunds and the most popular and famous pilgrimage in England, visited by many kings. Saint Edmund later became the Patron Saint of England.

The Abbey was desecrated in the 16th Century when his remains are believed to have been removed from the shrine.

Ghosts of the past: 3 haunted royal Medieval residences of Britain

Ghosts of the past: 3 haunted royal Medieval residences of Britain

From the chilling apparition of a royal pageboy who haunts Glamis Castle, to the tragic Jane Seymour who carries her severed head about Hampton Court Palace, Caroline Taggart explores 3 of the most haunted sites in Britain…

3. Hampton Court Palace, London

One of the joys of Hampton Court is that it is two palaces for the price of one: there’s the Tudor construction and also the palace built by William and Mary two centuries later. So it’s fitting that you should also find there two royal ghosts.

Two of Henry VIII’s wives are said to haunt Hampton Court – one of them more peacefully than the other. The wife said to have been Henry’s favourite – number three, Jane Seymour – died here in 1537, shortly after giving birth to the longed-for son, the future Edward VI.

In Hampton Court’s Chapel Royal, you might start by admiring the exquisite ceiling, vaulted and painted in striking midnight blue with a repeating pattern of stars and the royal motto ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ picked out in gold. Then if, having been dazzled by looking up, you care to look down, you can contemplate the peculiar rumour that Jane Seymour’s heart and other organs may be buried beneath the floor.

The rest of her body is in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where she lies next to her husband. She was the only one of Henry’s wives to be given a queen’s funeral. But Jane may not entirely have left Hampton Court.

It is suggested that a ghostly lady in a long white gown has been seen carrying a lighted taper down the so-called Silver Stick Staircase and out into the Clock Court, and that she may be Henry VIII’s third queen. If it is indeed Jane, she isn’t alone in her wanderings.

Tradition has it that Katherine Howard – wife number five – upon learning that she was to be charged with adultery, ran along the processional route that leads from Henry VIII’s quarters to the chapel, screaming and begging her husband for mercy. The royal guards seized her and forced her back to her own apartments. She never saw Henry again, but her ghost, still screaming, is regularly seen and heard in what is now called the Haunted Gallery.

Two of Henry VIII’s wives are said to haunt Hampton Court – his third wife, Jane Seymour, and his fifth, Katherine Howard.
Two of Henry VIII’s wives are said to haunt Hampton Court – his third wife, Jane Seymour, and his fifth, Katherine Howard.

2. Glamis Castle, Angus

Widely recognised as the home of William Shakespeare’s Scottish nobleman Macbeth, Glamis is now better known as the childhood home of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; and as the birthplace of the late Princess Margaret in 1930. It is also said to be the most-haunted castle in Scotland.

One of its most appealing ghosts is a mischievous pageboy. The story goes that this naughty boy was frequently punished by being told to sit on a stone seat just outside the room that is now styled as the Queen Mother’s sitting room. One freezing cold night, everyone went to bed and forgot about him. The pageboy, doing what he was told for once, obediently sat there all night and froze to death.

Today, visitors still occasionally trip over as they enter this room, supposedly because the boy sticks out his foot as they pass by. It’s tempting to imagine he sticks out his tongue, too.

The nearest Glamis has to a royal ghost, though, is the so-called Lady in Grey, Janet Douglas (c1498–1537), who was widow of the sixth Lord Glamis. Douglas’s clan had a long-running feud with the royal Stuarts and, in order to be avenged on the family and claim Glamis for himself, in 1537 James V accused Janet of witchcraft and put her on trial in Edinburgh.

Even in the superstitious times of the 16th century, the charges were so obviously trumped up that there was rioting in the streets.

But it made no difference: Janet was burned at the stake on Castle Hill in Edinburgh on 17 July 1537.Some 150 years later her ghost found its way back to Glamis, where today’s castle guides make macabre mileage from warning visitors that she occupies a specific seat in the chapel – perhaps the one being occupied at that very moment

Glamis Castle, Angus

1. Nottingham Castle

After 20 years of foolish decisions, the disastrous monarch Edward II was deposed in 1327 by his queen, Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer. Visitors to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire can still see the dungeon where Edward died in what one historian has described as a “suspiciously timely” manner.

Although the official account said that Edward had died of natural causes, many theories abound as to how he may have been murdered, including death by the intimate administration of a red-hot poker or, as the 16th-century playwright Christopher Marlowe had it, by being forced to lie on a bed while his executioners put a table on top of him and stamped on it.

Isabella and Roger briefly controlled the kingdom in the name of her teenage son, now Edward III, but the young Edward soon decided to take power into his own hands. On 19 October 1330, still a month short of his 18th birthday, the king launched a dramatic coup against Isabella and Roger at Nottingham Castle. He took his mother and her lover prisoner and hauled Mortimer off to the Tower of London. On 29 November, after a token trial, Roger was hanged ignominiously at Tyburn.

Hanging was, at this time, the form of capital punishment used to punish common criminals. Given Mortimer’s rank, it would have been more respectful to have beheaded him on Tower Hill.

Mortimer’s ghost supposedly made its way back to Nottingham and it is said that the apparition can sometimes be seen in one of the man-made caves in the labyrinth under the castle. If you stop for a drink at the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, the centuries-old pub set among the caves, you may just see him.

The caves at Nottingham Castle, where the ghost of Roger Mortimer has supposedly been spotted.
The caves at Nottingham Castle, where the ghost of Roger Mortimer has supposedly been spotted. 

Rare Bone Disease Detected in Medieval Skeletons

Medieval skeletons reveal an ancient and unusual form of bone disease that caused people to die as young as 35 Uncovered at Nottingham, England

Paget's disease of bone is a common disorder that interferes with the body's natural bone recycling process. It causes new bone to be generated faster than normal — but such is softer and weaker than it should be (Pictured: a collarbone showing visible signs of the condition)
Paget’s disease of bone is a common disorder that interferes with the body’s natural bone recycling process. It causes new bone to be generated faster than normal — but such is softer and weaker than it should be (Pictured: a collarbone showing visible signs of the condition)

According to a new archeological study, skeletons excavated from Norton Priory in England contain a rare and unusually aggressive form of bone disease similar to the disease of Paget.

Paget’s bone disease is a chronic disorder that gradually replaces old bone tissue with new bone tissue. The new replacement tissue, however, is weak, making some bones easy to fracture, break, and damage.

The earliest reports of Paget’s disease were found in ancient Roman remains, but little is known about the history, origin, and evolution of the disease.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham and a team of collaborators analyzed excavated remains from the priory dating back to the Medieval period. Six out of the 130 skeletons excavated contained a strange form of Paget’s.

As much as 75 percent of the skeletons of some individuals were affected by the disease.

The researchers also calculated an age of death as low as 35 for some of the individuals directly due to the disease.“We identify an ancient and atypical form of Paget’s disease of bone (PDB) in a collection of medieval skeletons exhibiting unusually extensive pathological changes, high disease prevalence, and low age-at-death estimations,” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team sequenced DNA from the preserved remains and used RNA and protein analysis to identify an ancient protein similar to one called p62, which plays a fundamental role in Paget’s disease today.“

Detection of ancient p62 as one of the few noncollagenous proteins in skeletal samples (bones and teeth) based on a combination of peptide sequencing and Western blotting is strongly indicative of a diagnosis of PDB…,” the researchers wrote.

Paget’s disease is believed to have originated in Western Europe and the UK.