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A stunning Anglo-Saxon pendant still half buried in Norfolk mud
 
Trevor Heaton, writing for EDP24, reports on the stunning gold and garnet Anglo-Saxon pendant which has recently been uncovered in a Norfolk field –
 
Tom Lucking, a first-year UEA landscape archaeology student and keen member of the Suffolk Archaeological Field Group, was exploring the field – with the landowner’s permission – just before Christmas. His detector found a large and deep signal, and he dug down just far enough to reveal the top of a bronze bowl. Instead of carrying on he did exactly the right thing: carefully re-filling the hole and calling in the Field Group’s geophysics team to survey the site, and Norfolk County Council’s Heritage Environment Service to assess any finds.
 
The exquisite 7cm pendant is stunningly made with gold ‘cells’ and red garnet inlays. Some of the garnets have been cut to make animal ‘interlace’, a popular and highly-skilled design technique from the period where representations of creatures are stretched out and intricately interwoven. The bowl turned out to be at the foot of a grave with the badly-preserved bones of an adult Anglo-Saxon. As the excavation continued it was clear that this was a female because of the jewellery being discovered. It included a ‘chatelaine’, a long strip with probably silver rings which would have been hung from a girdle.
 
Read the full article here.
 
See also Anglo-Saxon Art by Leslie Webster. Available from the British Museum.
 
 
Anglo-Saxon limestone panel of St Peter
 
The eleventh century Anglo-Saxon limestone panel (above) of St Peter was discovered in a quarry by stonemason Johnny Beeston, from Dowlish Wake, Somerset, England. Mr Beeston took the panel home and used it as a grave marker for his stray tabby cat, Winkle. After Mr Beeston passed away the panel was fortuitously spotted by a local historian and put up for auction in 2004. It sold for £200,000 – five times its original estimate. Since then, and with the help of a £78,600 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Museum of Somerset was able to acquire the piece when it again came up for sale.
 
Measuring some 45cm (18 inches) square, and thought to date from around 1000ce, the panel is now on permanent display at the Museum of Somerset.
 
More here.
    

The 9th century Alfred Jewel depicting either Alfred the Great or Christ
Image credit the Ashmolean Museum

The Alfred Jewel was found in a peat bog in North Petherton, Somerset, England in 1693 but has been kept at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford since 1718. North Petherton is about eight miles from where King Alfred the Great founded a monastery at Athelney. The Jewel is made of rock crystal, enamel and gold and bears the inscription, in Old English, AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN (Alfred Ordered Me Made). It is thought to have been one of several commissioned by King Alfred and once formed the top of a pointer used for reading or translating manuscripts.

Now, for the first time in nearly 300 years, the Alfred Jewel will return to Somerset where it will be on display at The Museum of Somerset from 31 January to 28 February 2015. Talks by two leading Anglo-Saxon experts will take place during the exhibition period. One by Professor Simon Keynes of Cambridge University on 11 February and the other by Leslie Webster of the British Museum on 25 February.

 

 

 
Some of the Anglo-Saxon coins from a hoard found on Buckinghamshire farmland last December The coins are presently being cleaned, conserved and examined in the British Museum conservation laboratories
©
Portable Antiquities Scheme
 
At the beginning of the year we ran a feature on the exciting Hoard of more than 5,000 Anglo-Saxon silver coins found just before Christmas, 2014, in a Buckinghamshire field by a metal detectorist. On the scene at the time was the Finds Liaison Officer for the area, Ros Tyrrell, whose account of the find can be read on the Culture24 website here.
 
The coins are now being cleaned and conserved at the British Museum. Meanwhile, Ms Tyrrell is reported as saying, on Culture 24, that, “It’s an exceptional find – one of the biggest in the country. It’s the biggest hoard of any sort in Buckinghamshire. The [Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury] would like to acquire them for the people of Buckinghamshire. Whether we can afford them is another matter.”
 
We hope that at least some of the coins will eventually be on display in Buckinghamshire. Meanwhile, a big ‘well done’ to Ms Tyrrell, and all present on the day, not to mention the dedication of the British Museum conservators and curators whose task it now is to clean, conserve and research this extraordinary find.
 
 
Part of the late Anglo-Saxon period silver coin hoard recently found in Buckinghamshire, southern England
 
The Buckingham Advertiser reports today that a hoard of late Anglo-Saxon period silver coins, estimated to be worth over £1 million, has been discovered by a metal detectorist on farmland near Lenborough, Buckinghamshire in southern England –
 
The massive hoard of more than 5,000 silver coins was found on Sunday, December 21, at an end-of-year rally on farmland near Lenborough. Over 100 people from all over the country were at the dig organised by the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club, when one member discovered the hoard, buried 2ft down in a lead bucket or container.
 
Archaeologist Ros Tyrrell, the Finds Liaison Officer for Bucks, who is based at the Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury, was at the rally to record any finds made on the day, when the major hoard of more than 5,251½ Anglo Saxon silver coins was uncovered. Miss Tyrrell was immediately called over to help excavate the coins.
 
Weekend Wanderers founder Pete Welch said: “From the outset it was done properly and I’m pleased about that.” The coins, which Mr Welch said were in “superb condition”, show the faces of some of the kings of England, from 1,000 years ago. They include coins from the reigns of Ethelred the Unready (978-1016 AD) and Canute, or Cnut (1016-1035 AD).
 
A Bucks County Museum spokesman said: “This is one of the largest hoards of Anglo Saxon coins ever found in Britain, and when the coins have been properly identified and dated, we may be able to guess at why such a great treasure was buried.”
 
More here, and a preliminary report on the find by the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club here.
 
 
 
Anglo-Saxon helmet cheek piece from the Staffordshire Hoard
 
BBC News England reports that –
 
Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths knew how to treat gold to make it appear more golden, fresh research has revealed. Analysis of the Staffordshire Hoard showed goldsmiths knew how to remove alloyed metals such as copper and silver from the surface of objects. The finding exposes the flaws in archaeological methods used to calculate an object’s gold content by analysing its surface, experts said. It comes as a new display of the items opened in Birmingham. “Relatively little is known about Anglo-Saxon goldsmithing, but achieving this surface treatment would have been a skilled task, one we now know they were familiar with,” a museum spokesman said.
 
About 200 objects were scanned using X-ray technology to determine their elemental composition during the British Museum study. Gold was highly valued in Anglo Saxon society and may also have been believed to have magical or sacred qualities. It is not known how the inferior metals were removed.
 
Full BBC article and video here. See also the article by Maev Kennedy in the Guardian here.
   

Great Gold Cross from the Staffordshire Hoard

Discover the hidden secrets of the Great Gold Cross, one of the Staffordshire Hoard’s most iconic objects. View other films in this series and find out more about the history of the West Midlands, on the History West Midlands website: http://www.historywm.com

 

The Inscribed Strip from the Staffordshire Hoard

Dr David Symons reveals the secrets of another object from the Staffordhshire Hoard – The Inscribed Strip…

More on the Staffordshire Hoard here.

 

A guest feature by Littlestone.

William Stukeley’s 1758 plan of Caesaromagus (present day Chelmsford) in the Bodleian Library, Oxford

After twelve years in Lancashire, eight in Wiltshire and thirteen in Japan, I finally ended up in the old English market town of Chelmsford (Essex, south-east England). That was thirty two years ago next month. Chelmsford is some forty miles from London and so was well within commuting distance of my new job in the capital. Houses in the town were affordable, schools for the kids looked good and that, basically, was all I knew about the place – other than the welcome signs as you entered the town which proudly (though somewhat inaccurately) claimed Chelmsford as ‘The Birthplace of Radio’ (the Marconi connection). All, that is, until I heard of an archaeological excavation undertaken by the British Museum back in the early 80s. The excavation was of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Springfield Lyons on a derelict piece of land just down the road from where I then lived. Sadly, after the BM’s excavation, the site was again abandoned and is now rapidly disappearing under a new business park.

The derelict site of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Springfield Lyons, Chelmsford before being developed into a business park

Little by little though I learnt that Chelmsford had a bit more of a history to it than just an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The area had been occupied from Neolithic times and once boasted an impressive prehistoric cursus (the Springfield, or Chelmer, Cursus ) with a wooden circle at one end (now both sadly buried under a supermarket and modern housing development).

But here’s the interesting bit; two thousand years ago Chelmsford was (and still is) situated midway between Colchester and London – both important Roman towns. Perhaps that’s why it somehow earned the distinguished Roman place-name of Caesaromagus (Caesar’s Marketplace). Why it should have been called Caesaromagus is something of a mystery as it was, “…a great honour for a town to have the imperial prefix incorporated in its name, and no other town in Britain was so honoured…”* Although Caesaromagus is mentioned on a 3rd century Roman map (the Antonine Itinerary) its exact location puzzled scholars for centuries. It wasn’t until 1758 when William Stukeley (of Avebury and Stonehenge fame) correctly identified Chelmsford as the Roman town of Caesaromagus. Stukeley even drew a plan (top) of what he thought the town looked like; although the plan is purely fictions and Stukeley has incorrectly placed it on the north side of Chelmsford’s River Can and not on the south side where excavations show it was actually sited.

Artist’s impression of Caesaromagus’ 4th century octagonal Romano-Celtic temple Chelmsford Archaeological Trust

Sometime around 325ce however an impressive, octagonal stone temple (above) was constructed in Caesaromagus for the worship of a Romano-Celtic deity (or deities). The temple stood on what is now the Baddow Road roundabout, close to where the Roman town was then situated. Similar temples, of the same date and plan, have been found in London and on the continent; perhaps the most famous of which is Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel at Aachen in Germany. The Aachen Cathedral, which now envelopes the octagonal Palatine Chapel, is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe. Constructed by Charlemagne around 796 it has seen the coronations of thirty German kings and twelve queens.

Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel AachenDomInsideOktogon by Maxgreene. Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What is interesting, and what has recently been reported by Christopher Howse in the Daily Telegraph, is that Caesaromagus’ octagonal stone temple, “…was behind the design of the third most influential ecclesiastical structure in the history of the Latin Church, after St Peter’s Rome and the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In third place came Charlemagne’s palace church at Aachen. The Roman tradition that it was built in is represented by a temple from AD 325 unearthed in Chelmsford in 1970.” Howse goes on to say, “As an exemplar of the Roman tradition embraced by Charlemagne, Chelmsford is invoked by Professor Eric Fernie, the former director of the Courtauld, in his splendid new volume Romanesque Architecture, an addition to the Pelican History of Art published by Yale.”

So, from what I thought was little more than a convenient place to commute from, Chelmsford turned out to be a place of unassuming mystery, not to mention one with a long and intricate history. A timeline that begins in the Neolithic with a cursus and wooden circle, through the Roman period giving rise to a well-organised little town boasting an octagonal temple of impressive stone construction. Then on through the medieval to the more recent past and the ‘Birthplace of Radio’. And, lest it be forgotten, Chelmsford was the first place anywhere in the world to employ electric street lighting 🙂 Oh, and I almost forgot, it was from Chelmsford that the Quaker, William Penn, left England in 1682 to establish the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, and it was from Penn’s endeavours that the city of Philadelphia was later planned and developed.

No small accomplishment for a little marketplace on the fringes of the once great Roman Empire. That’s not quite the end of the story though. I mentioned at the beginning of this feature that I’d lived for thirteen years in Japan. A lot of my spare time was spent visiting Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Japan boasts what is probably the oldest wooden building in the world – the Hōryū-ji (法隆寺) temple built in 607ce in Nara Prefecture, western Japan. Within the Hōryū-ji compound there’s a small wooden hall known as the Yumedono (Hall of Dreams). The Yumedono was built in 739ce to assuage the spirit of Prince Shōtoku (the prince was an Alfred the Great sort of figure who promoted Buddhism in Japan). The Yumedono stands on the site of a slightly earlier building commissioned by Prince Shōtoku himself. There is also, still in existence, a similar but slightly later building at the Eizanji-temple not far from the Yumedono in Nara Prefecture.

The octagonal hall at Eizan-ji temple in Nara Prefecture is thought to date from before 764ce

There are two things about Prince Shōtoku and the Yumedono. The first is that both the Yumedono and the Eizan-ji buildings are octagonal halls. The second is that legend has it that the Prince was born in a stable. The Hall of Dreams was built 414 years after the Romano-Celtic temple in Chelmsford so there would have been plenty of time for the idea for this style of building to reach Japan from the West, along with other goods and ideas via the Silk Road. Indeed, other aspects of temple building in Japan were influence by Greco-Roman styles of architecture and there are countless artefacts of Persian, Greek, Roman and Egyptian origin in the early 8th century Shōsō-in (正倉院) Imperial Repository in Nara (see also the Trust’s feature on Roman jewellery found in 5th century Japanese tomb). It would be fascinating indeed if the inspiration for Prince Shōtoku’s Hall of Dreams had its origins in Roman octagonal temples – perhaps even the one here in Chelmsford.

* Caesaromagus: A History and Description of Roman Chelmsford by Nick Wickenden, Keeper of Archaeology, Chelmsford Museums Service. A Chelmsford Museums Service Publication, 1991.

Full Telegraph article here. And for a light-hearted glimpse into the life and times of Chelmsford during the Roman period see Channel 4’s Chelmsford 123 situation comedy produced by Hat Trick Productions in 1988 and 1990.

 

Discover the hidden secrets of the Great Gold Cross, one of the Staffordshire Hoard’s most iconic objects. View other films in this series and find out more about the history of the West Midlands, on the History West Midlands website.

Sutton Hoo and Europe, AD 300–1100. Room 41. The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery
Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

In 1939, archaeologist Basil Brown investigated the largest of many Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on the property of Mrs Edith Pretty in Sutton Hoo. He made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of all time – an undisturbed burial of an important early 7th-century East Anglian. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the excavation, come to the British Museum for a lecture on Friday 25 July where John Preston, nephew of Mrs Pretty, will relate the story behind the excavation.

The National Trust are celebrating the anniversary with a grand 1930s garden party on Saturday 26 & Sunday 27 July at the National Trust Visitor Centre at Sutton Hoo. There’ll be music, entertainment, tours of the mounds, cream teas, vintage cars, and much more!

The remarkable treasures are on display in the Museum’s newly refurbished Room 41. You can also learn more about the Sutton Hoo ship burial with a tour on Google Cultural Institute.

Source: The British Museum.

   

Offa’s Dyke descending to the Clun Valley in South Shropshire. This is not the section that has been destroyed
Used with permission
©
Jim Saunders, the Offa’s Dyke Association

According to the Wikipedia entry, “Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law does not excuse” or “ignorance of the law excuses no one”) is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.” It’s puzzling, therefore, that The Daily Mail reports today that –

A traveller who destroyed a 1,200-year-old listed monument will not be prosecuted because he ‘didn’t know it was an important ancient site’. A section of the world famous Offa’s Dyke, which marks the boundary between England and Wales was completely bulldozed by a traveller known as Danny. The ancient listed earthwork on the Welsh border is a World Heritage site which sits alongside the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal in terms of importance.

See our earlier feature here

   

A Conversation With The Past from CLASP videos on Vimeo.

We’ve discussed the question of displaying and/or reinterring human remains before (please see our The question of reburial… feature) but this 2014 video about the debates and decisions concerning the re-interment of Anglo-Saxon remains excavated at Whitehall Farm throws a slightly more sensitive (and perhaps more sensible) light on the issue. As Moss (one of our members) says, “There has been an interesting discussion elsewhere about the reburial of nine Anglo-Saxon skeletons. The group have obviously discussed the implications of what is taking place. You may find the vicar slightly intrusive, but she keeps Christianity at bay. Fifteen minutes long, but a thoughtful approach by all concerned…”

Click on any of the links above to watch the video.

 
Buckle from a sword belt found in Mound 1 of the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial
Anglo-Saxon, early 7th century ce
©
The Trustees of the British Museum
 
Room 41 at the British Museum is now open. The refurbished gallery, Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300–1100, has been made possible through a generous donation by Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock and will display the British Museum’s unparalleled early medieval collections, the star of which includes the famous Sutton Hoo treasure. It is the first full refurbishment of the gallery since 1985, involving replacement of the flooring and roof, and renovation of the internal architecture.
 
Marking 75 years since their discovery, the gallery’s centrepiece will be the finds from the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk, one of the most spectacular and important discoveries in British archaeology. Excavated in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, this grave inside a 27m-long ship may have commemorated an Anglo-Saxon king who died in the early AD 600s. It remains the richest intact burial to survive from Europe. Many of its incredible treasures, like the helmet, gold buckle and whetstone have become icons not only of the British Museum, but of the Early Medieval as a whole. The project coincides with the BP exhibition: Vikings: life and legend in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.
 
Admission free.
Opening hours 10.00-17.30 Saturday to Thursday, 10.00-20.30 Fridays.
 
An accompanying publication is available from the British Museum Press entitled Masterpieces: Early Medieval Art by Sonia Marzinzik. A volume exploring the history of Europe and the Mediterranean from the end of the Roman Empire to the twelfth century, as told through objects in the British Museum’s collection. Hardback, £25. Please support the British Museum by buying directly from them.
 
More here.

The Staffordshire Hoard: Unveiling the story so far…
Video History West Midlands

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found. In this film we find out about the first stage of conservation work on the artefacts …and what secrets have been revealed.

From History West Midlands. See also the Staffordshire Hoard website. Though not connected directly to the Staffordshire Hoard this may also be of interest (click on photo for details) –

An example of Anglo-Saxon folded (woven) sword steel in the Sutton Hoo Exhibition Hall at Sutton Hoo, Woodbridge (see LS’ comment above)
Image
The Heritage Trust

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