Category Archive 'Anglo-Saxons'

10 May 2019

6th Century Grave of Christian Anglo-Saxon Prince

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The Guardian reports on new information on findings from the Essex grave of a 6th Century Anglo-Saxon prince.

Archaeologists on Thursday will reveal the results of years of research into the burial site of a rich, powerful Anglo-Saxon man found at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

When it was first discovered in 2003, jaws dropped at how intact the chamber was. But it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find is emerging.

Sophie Jackson, director of research at Museum of London Archaeology (Mola), said it could be seen as a British equivalent to Tutankhamun’s tomb, although different in a number of ways.

For one thing it is in free-draining soil, meaning everything organic has decayed. “It was essentially a sandpit with stains,” she said. But what a sandpit. “It was one of the most significant archaeological discoveries we’ve made in this country in the last 50 to 60 years.”

The research reveals previously concealed objects, paints a picture of how the chamber was constructed and offers new evidence of how Anglo-Saxon Essex was at the forefront of culture, religion and exchange with other countries across the North Sea.

It also throws up a possible name for the powerful Anglo-Saxon figure for whom the grave was built.

Previously, the favourite suggestion was a king of the East Saxons, Saebert, son of Sledd. But he died about 616 and scientific dating now suggests the burial was in the late-6th century, about 580.

That means it could be Saebert’s younger brother Seaxa although, since the body has dissolved and only tiny fragments of his tooth enamel remain, it is impossible to know for certain.

Gold foil crosses were found in the grave which indicate he was a Christian, a fact which has also surprised historians.

Sue Hirst, Mola’s Anglo-Saxon burial expert, said that date was remarkably early for the adoption of Christianity in England, coming before Augustine’s mission to convert the country from paganism.

But it could be explained because Seaxa’s mother Ricula was sister to king Ethelbert of Kent who was married to a Frankish Christian princess called Bertha. “Ricula would have brought close knowledge of Christianity from her sister-in-law.”

Recreating the design of the burial chamber has been difficult because the original timbers decayed leaving only stains and impressions of the structure in the soil.

But it has been possible. The Mola team estimates it would have taken 20 to 25 men working five or six days in different groups to build the chamber and would have involved felling 13 oak trees.

“It was a significant communal effort,” said Jackson. “You’ve got to see this burial chamber as a piece of theatre. It is sending out a very strong message to the people who come and look at it and the stories they take away from it. It says ‘we are very important people and we are burying one of our most important people’.”

Objects identified in the grave include a wooden lyre – the ancient world’s most important stringed instrument – which had almost entirely decayed apart from fragments of wood and metal fittings preserved in a soil stain.

Micro-excavation in the lab has revealed it was made from maple, with ash tuning pegs, and had garnets in two of the lyre fittings which are almandines, most likely from the Indian subcontinent or Sri Lanka. It had also been broken in two at some point and put back together.

The burial chamber was discovered only because of a proposal to widen the adjacent road. It was fully excavated and the research has been undertaken by experts in a range of subjects including Anglo-Saxon art, ancient woodworking, soil science and engineering.

The new Mola findings are published on Thursday ahead of a long-awaited new permanent display of Prittlewell princely burial objects at Southend Central Museum. It opens on Saturday and will include objects such as a gold belt buckle, a Byzantine flagon, coloured glass vessels, an ornate drinking horn and a decorative hanging bowl. People will also be able to explore the burial chamber online at www.prittlewellprincelyburial.org.

Essex has sometimes been seen as something of an Anglo-Saxon backwater but the Prittlewell burial chamber suggests otherwise.

“What it really tells us,” said Hirst, “is that the people in Essex, in the kingdom of the East Saxons at this time, are really at the forefront of the political and religious changes that are going on.”

National Geographic article

22 Jun 2018

Ten Things About the Anglo-Saxons

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Edward the Confessor, depicted in the Bayeaux Tapestry.

History Extra:

The people we call Anglo-Saxons were actually immigrants from northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. Bede, a monk from Northumbria writing some centuries later, says that they were from some of the most powerful and warlike tribes in Germany.

Bede names three of these tribes: the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. There were probably many other peoples who set out for Britain in the early fifth century, however. Batavians, Franks and Frisians are known to have made the sea crossing to the stricken province of ‘Britannia’.

The collapse of the Roman empire was one of the greatest catastrophes in history. Britain, or ‘Britannia’, had never been entirely subdued by the Romans. In the far north – what they called Caledonia (modern Scotland) – there were tribes who defied the Romans, especially the Picts. The Romans built a great barrier, Hadrian’s Wall, to keep them out of the civilised and prosperous part of Britain.

As soon as Roman power began to wane, these defences were degraded, and in AD 367 the Picts smashed through them. Gildas, a British historian, says that Saxon war-bands were hired to defend Britain when the Roman army had left. So the Anglo-Saxons were invited immigrants, according to this theory, a bit like the immigrants from the former colonies of the British empire in the period after 1945.

RTWT

19 Feb 2017

The Alfred Jewel

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Vintage News:

One of the most mysterious and celebrated treasures from Anglo-Saxon England, the Alfred Jewel is believed to be more than 1,000 years old. It was discovered in 1693 in a field at North Petherton, Somerset.

Made of enamel and quartz, this remarkable jewel was made in the reign of Alfred the Great with an inscription “AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN” which means “Alfred ordered me made.” It is an unusual example of Anglo-Saxon jewelry because it begs all kinds of questions about where the materials came from.

The two-and-a-half-inch long jewel made of filigreed gold has an image of a man, which many historians believe is a picture of Christ. Shaped like a teardrop, it was once believed that this jewel was a pendant worn around the neck. However, this would mean that the image of Christ would be permanently hung upside-down.

Another theory is that it might have been the centerpiece of a royal crown but the setting seemed inappropriate for that purpose. According to Webster, the back of the jewel is a flat gold plate which is engraved with either a plant motif or an image of the Tree of Life.

Over the years, many suggestions have been made about the function of this jewel. The most common is that it was a pointer to use for reading manuscripts. It is assumed that it may have been Alfred’s gift to the abbey, which he founded at Athelney in 878 after his defeat of the Vikings.

A description of the jewel was first published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1698. Colonel Nathaniel Palmer bequeathed the jewel to Oxford University and it was on display in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In 2015, after 297 years away, the Alfred jewel was put on display for one month at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton Castle.

17 Sep 2014

Mystery Object

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From the Staffordshire Hoard.

Wikipedia:

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet found. Discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England, on 5 July 2009, it consists of over 3,500 items that are nearly all martial in character and contains no objects specific to female uses. The artefacts have tentatively been dated to the 7th or 8th centuries, placing the origin of the items in the time of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

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My guess is that it is a handle for some sort of small personal tool or weapon. There is a pommel. The problems with my theory are that the grip shaft is very short and would have to have been made to be held between two fingers and the cup-shaped hilt is very delicate and fragile. Might it be the handle for one of those scrapers for erasing your mistake when you are scribing a manuscript?

Staffordshire Hoard website

More videos of objects from the hoard.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

25 Sep 2009

Anglo-Saxon Gold Hoard Found in Staffordshire

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Metal detecting is a popular working man’s hobby here in the United States as well, but Americans can expect to find some coins or possibly Civil War relics. In Britain, there is a lot more history, and a lot older and more valuable treasure lying right in the fields.

The Daily Mail has terrific coverage of a spectacular new find.

The largest haul of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found has been discovered by a metal detector enthusiast on farmland in Staffordshire, it was revealed today.

Experts say the hoard, which is at least as significant as any other treasure from the Anglo-Saxon era ever unearthed, is worth millions and could have belonged to a king.

The discovery of at least 1,345 different items, thought to date back to the seventh century, is expected to redefine perceptions of the period.

Terry Herbert, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, came across the collection as he searched a field near his home with his trusty 14-year-old detector and is now in line for a seven-figure sum.

It had been hidden for more than 1,300 years but was recently thrown up by ploughing and amazingly, some was just sitting on the top of the ground.

Experts have already examined the 1,345 items but another 56 clods of earth have been X-rayed and are known to hold more metal artefacts, meaning the figure is likely to rise to around 1,500.

At least 650 are gold, weighing more than than 5kg, and another 530 are silver, weighing around 1kg. This is far bigger than previous finds – including the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk.

Many of the items in the hoard are warfare paraphernalia inlaid with precious stones, including sword pommel caps and hilt plates.

Experts say it is the best example of Anglo-Saxon workmanship they have ever seen and may have belonged to Saxon royalty, possibly the King of Mercia.’

Archaeology expert Leslie Webster, who used to work at the British Museum, said: ‘(It is) absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.’

It was officially declared treasure by a coroner today, which means the haul will now be valued by committee of experts before being offered for sale.

They may take more than a year to value the collection and, given its scale, the financial worth will be massive.

Once a valuation and sale is complete, its market value will be split between Mr Herbert, who is unemployed, and the owner of the farmland where it was found.

Roger Bland, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum: ‘I can’t say anything other than we expect it to be a seven-figure sum.’

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

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The gold-proud of warriors, trod the mould grassy, exulting in gold-store.
–Beowulf (William Morris translation)

You can gloat over the treasure hoard looted from those puny Christians, just like a true follower of Odin, at the Staffordshire Hoard web-site.

22 Jul 2009

Who Killed the Men of England?

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Jonathan Shaw in Harvard Magazine explains that studies of population DNA suggest that an effective policy of sexual apartheid practiced by the newly arrived Anglo-Saxons could have eliminated British male Y chromosomal DNA in as few as five generations. The Spanish conquistadores in Colombia and the Vikings in Scotland and Ireland left similar DNA patterns, in which the male heredity of the modern population is overwhelming traceable to the invaders, but female mitochondrial DNA predominantly descends from the conquered population.

Moral? Successful invaders get the girls. At some level, history amounts to a contest over who gets to reproduce his DNA, and who does not.

There are no signs of a massacre–no mass graves, no piles of bones. Yet more than a million men vanished without a trace. They left no descendants. Historians know that something dramatic happened in England just as the Roman empire was collapsing. When the Anglo-Saxons first arrived in that northern outpost in the fourth century a.d.–whether as immigrants or invaders is debated–they encountered an existing Romano-Celtic population estimated at between 2 million and 3.7 million people. Latin and Celtic were the dominant languages. Yet the ensuing cultural transformation was so complete, says Goelet professor of medieval history Michael McCormick, that by the eighth century, English civilization considered itself completely Anglo-Saxon, spoke only Anglo-Saxon, and thought that everyone had “come over on the Mayflower, as it were.” This extraordinary change has had ramifications down to the present, and is why so many people speak English rather than Latin or Celtic today. But how English culture was completely remade, the historical record does not say.

Then, in 2002, scientists found a genetic signature in the DNA of living British men that hinted at an untold story of Anglo-Saxon conquest. The researchers were sampling Y-chromosomes, the sex chromosome passed down only in males, from men living in market towns named in the Domesday Book of 1086. Working along an east-west transect through central England and Wales, the scientists discovered that the mix of Y-chromosomes characteristic of men in the English towns was very different from that of men in the Welsh towns: Wales was the primary Celtic holdout in Western Britannia during the ascendance of the Anglo-Saxons. Using computer analysis, the researchers explored how such a pattern could have arisen and concluded that a massive replacement of the native fourth-century male Britons had taken place. Between 50 percent and 100 percent of indigenous English men today, the researchers estimate, are descended from Anglo-Saxons who arrived on England’s eastern coast 16 centuries ago. So what happened?


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