Monday, 31 December 2012

Let us Raise a Glass

Well here we are at the end of 2012, what a year it has been.  Thankfully the world didn't end so I can once again thank my readers for continually reading my musings, you really are amazing and we have passed the 4000 views marker!  Something I never dreamt would happen when I started writing.  Blog technology tells me that the Advent Calender posts were successful and the amount of hits it registered was amazing...with this in mind 2013 will have artefact of the month as a regular feature.  I of course want to make this blog as good as I can and to do it I would love feedback from my viewers.  The Thanet research will continue and I hope to add some other bits and bobs along the way...deciding what is the hard part.

Thank you again for sticking with me and let us raise a glass to 2012's archaeological achievements and the adventures that 2013 may bring.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Twas The Night Before Christmas...

As a Christmas Eve treat we have a particular favourite of mine

Image taken from the British Museum
it is of course the Ringlemere Cup, discovered in Ringlemere, Sandwich, Kent.  This Bronze Age cup dates to around 1700-1500BC and is made from sheet metal.  Before damage it would have formed an S shaped vessel, with a rounded bottom; making use rather difficult.  It has a corrugated top and a single handle; the second of its' type in Britain, but one of only 5 known in Europe.  On discovery it was identified through the Portable Antiquities Scheme and has since been declared as Treasure, through the Treasures act; with the finder and land owner splitting the money paid by The British Museum for its' acquisition.

Since discovery a full excavation has taken place around the findspot and a barrow was located by Canterbury Archaeological Trust.  On my last visit Dover Museum had a beautiful display, in the gallery adjacent to the Dover Boat, in relation to the cup.  There is now a replica of the cup in position as the original is in the Prehistory Galleries of The British Museum, but, it is still well worth a look if you are in or around the area.  The cup has been on many journeys since its' discovery in 2001, it made a brief tour of Britain and even made a stop off in Wales! It also found its way in 2006/2007 back home to Kent, where I feel it belongs.

It is often suggested that the cup was placed in the barrow as part of a burial, subsequently the modern plough has taken its' toll and the cup is clearly damaged.  During the excavation CAT found no trace of a burial and as such new theories have emerged; the most popular alluding to a votive deposition.  Hoards and Barrows are well known within Kent, particularly to the East of the county, with my knowledge (unsurprisingly) being related to the lovely Thanet (often seen in the Bronze Age as the Isle of the Dead!).  It therefore seems a plausible notion.  The excavation revealed several Iron Age and Saxon burials in and around the original barrow, thus showing that the area remained a significant one.

Due to the damage visualising the cup in all its' glory can be tricky so I shall leave you with this...

A British Museum Reconstruction
That brings us to the end of our Advent Calender for 2012, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

I'm going to take the opportunity to thank you all for reading and I hope each and every one of you have a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Small yet Mighty

Today we are exploring Germany, the Vogelherd Cave to be precise.  The cave is located in the picturesque Lone Valley and has yielded some astonishing Upper Palaeolithic art.

Image taken from
This beautiful horse is approximately 32,000 years old and has been carved from mammoth tusk.  Over the years the layers of ivory have started to flake and unfortunately the legs have broken.  The horse is tiny, measuring only c.5cm long and c.2.5cm high, yet it is clear that its' carver was skilled in the art form.  The purpose of the carving is unknown, but the polished finish suggests that it was intended to be displayed.  The horse is thought to be a stallion due to the curved neck, however, such positioning also suggests that the horse was not best pleased and the legs are likely to have assisted the viewer in identifying this.  Despite being small it is most definitely mighty, it is certain to leave an impression with any visitor to the Museum Schloss Hohentübingen, Tübingen (Germany), where it currently is housed.  This is thought to be the oldest known portable horse depiction and was kept company by several other animal carvings, mainly in ivory, but some were stone.  The cave is thought to be a safe area where food was processed and consumed; the presence of such material culture suggests to me that it provided semi-permanent shelter for a group when hunting in the area.  I think that this artefact needs no theories, what it was made for does not seem important, its' creation alone is remarkable.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Family Fun

Well it's the season for family gatherings and with it comes the dreaded game of Monopoly, so here we have...

Image taken from the BBC
a Roman gaming board.  Well a fragment of one, discovered in bonnie Scotland.  It is thought that the board was originally 15 squares by 8, with each player having 15 counters and a king.  The game was called 'Ludus Lutrunculi' and we think it worked a little bit like chess or checkers. 

I didn't pick this artefact to tell you all about Roman games, instead I picked it to show a different side to those rotten Romans!  They are always seen as an invading force, imposing their customs on those around them.  We spend much of our time studying the impact they had on such societies, particularly in terms of military involvement.  We see them as building military centres, basing soldiers in areas where they were experiencing unrest and disruption to their overall plans.  One of their lasting legacies in Britain is Hadrian's Wall, still in situ it is a popular tourist attraction now, but, it has not always been that way; it was once a means of keeping away the unwanted and declaring the lands they classed as their own.  Despite this harsh and physical barrier a gaming board found it's way into Scotland.  This game shows the human side of the Romans, identifying that despite being seen as a military machine, they were people.  They were social, miles from home and on the whole very few of them are likely to be truly Roman.

So when the bickering starts on Christmas Day about who won, who cheated, which rules to follow, you can take some comfort in the fact it has been happening since the Roman Period!

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Final Countdown?

Well it is December 21st 2012 and the World is thankfully still did the Maya get it wrong?  Well lets investigate....

First things first, what does it look like? 

Traditionally we expect to see something a little bit like this

Image taken from the Daily Mail
But the Maya also used their pyramids to help them along, so calenders could also look a bit like this

Image taken from How Stuff Works
So how does it all work?

Well we have days, months, years, counts and cycles to get our heads around so we will go with a step by step approach and hopefully you will still be with me at the end!

The lowest unit is a kin or 1 day and 20 kin make 1 uinal or 1 month...with me so far?  Each uinal is based on the movements of the moon making the Maya calender lunar focused.

18 uinal is equal to 1 tun which is 360 kin, after the 20th kin of the 18th uinal there are 5 days left over, these are known as wayeb.  These days are particularly important as they are free days, meaning all gods are able to access the world, even those of the underworld.  This means that all fires must be put out and the Maya community almost becomes one of mourning; fires must be put out, no food can be consumed if it has been cooked and there are even rules about washing and brushing hair.  To break these rituals is to invite the gods of the underworld into your life and bring upon bad luck; to be born in these days is considered a terrible curse and your life would be filled with misery.

20 tun is equal to 1 katun and 20 katun is equal to 1 baktun which is about 394 years.  Still with me? This continues up to 1 alatun which is equal to about 63 million years, so what does this mean for the end of the world?  Well considering the calender only started on August 6th 3114BC with the beginning of the Maya world, we have a while left yet!!

So what about these counts and cycles?

First we have the Tzolkin cycle, this is known as the divine calender and is needed to make sure all religious activity occurs at the right time.  It consists of 260 days or kin each with a number from 1-13 and one of 20 Maya names.  The cycle starts again after reaching the 260th day.

Then we have the Haab cycle, this is where the uinal and the tun come into things.  This calender is solar based, providing the 360 'normal' days and the 5 days of wayeb or 'free' days, full of bad luck.  Unlike we do in our calender the Maya did not take the quarter days into consideration.  The original uinal were named according to seasonal processes, which was logical until the quarter days were left out...then eventually the uinal names were a little more abstract.  After the Haab cycle has been completed 52 times, it is judged to be the end of the Calender Round, this occurs once in most lifetimes; meaning a longer dating method is needed, this is the Long Count.

The Long Count is a means of calculating when an event happened in relation to a set day, this start day is thought to be August 6th 3114BC in our calender.  It is this count that is said to have ended today, however, Long Counts also run in cycles and instead of being the end, its really a beginning.  Today wasn't about doom and gloom, instead a celebration of a new beginnings!

So there we have it...the Maya Calender.  Hopefully you stuck with me to the end and all made some sense at least. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

When a Stone is not just a Stone

Image taken from
 I have opened today with an image of the truly breathtaking Skara Brae, Orkney.  With Winter Solstice almost upon us today had to focus upon the Neolithic, an era where so much research is focused upon the interaction of people with the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets.  It is a period I love dearly, but, have rarely been fortunate to study.  So today I will tell you a little bit about the beautiful Skara Brae and then share one of my favourite Skara Brae artefacts.

Today is wet, windy and all together rather bleak, but, nothing like Orkney in the Winter of 1850.  A storm hit Scotland and such was its' strength that some 200 people lost their lives.  It also uncovered one of the World's most well preserved and admired archaeological sites.  The 'village' of Skara Brae was known once more...and William Watt wasted little time in exploring the ruins, quickly setting up an amateur excavation.  By 1868 and after uncovering 4 houses his attentions were no longer upon Skara Brae and the site was once more left to the elements.  This was until 1913 when sadly a group of individuals visited the site looting and plundering an unknown number of artefacts, which by now could be anywhere.  It was again left, then the Winter of 1924 set in and another storm hit Orkney, this time causing part of a house to be swept away, this time it was decided that something had to be done and Skara Brae's future rested with Edinburgh University and more specifically Gordon Childe.

By the 1970's 10 houses were fully excavated and the insight gained into Neolithic life was ever rising.  The houses formed a pattern, 9 having almost identical layouts, with one bucking the trend.  This lone house was quickly interpreted as being an area of crafts, a theory supported by the vast amounts of bone and ivory it contained.  Skara Brae is now listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and excavations and surveys are ongoing.

It is often said that the settlement is small, a village maybe, however it is also often forgotten that Skara Brae was once much further in land and a great deal is likely to be lost to sea.  Surveys have also indicated further dwellings in nearby fields, though excavation is not yet possible.  The wealth of artefacts remaining on the site leads many to suggest that Skara Brae is Britain's Pompeii.  A theory that may not be too far from the truth, well minus the volcano bit!  The preservation is amazing and the cultural remains are unparallelled for a site of its' type.  Why did the inhabitants leave all their belongs behind?  Surely they would need them where ever they moved to?  For us as archaeologists the fact they left everything means we can do far more with the site, but as people if we stop and think about it, it means they left in a hurry.  There was no planning, just up and gone, which means one thing...they were scared.  It is thought that the 'village' was shielded by sand dunes, providing shelter from the Orkney elements.  However, the dunes that kept them safe may well have been what caused them to flee.  If a storm, such as that of 1850, occurred the protector would quickly become the enemy and begin to fill their homes.  Some say it was quickly which caused them to up and leave, others argue it was slowly and leaving was far more controlled and for other unknown reasons.  I am pretty convinced by the storm personally, it is was revealed it after all!

I keep hinting at artefacts and how they were left, but you have yet to see any, so I think it is about time I shared.

Image taken from
They are carved stone balls and have presented archaeologists with yet more mystery.  They appear in their highest numbers in North-East Scotland, but are known in the rest of Scotland, the very North of England and Ireland.  They are all roughly the same size, c6cm in diameter, but their stone type and weight vary dramatically.  This rules out them being used a measurements for traded goods, but does open endless new questions.  Some people think the carvings and bobbly bits are there to make securing a rope to them easier, thus allowing them to be used as weaponry.  Considering geographies and period I am far from convinced by this interpretation. 

Geography plays a part in the second theory.  North-East Scotland and its' islands have many Neolithic standing stone monuments and these carved balls are found in locations close by.  As such it has been suggested that they were used to roll the wooden sleepers that carried some of the stones to their destinations.  It is suggested that is why they are all of similar size, however, would they not be left with the standing stones, why would you take them home again?

Some people have suggested that they are net weights or sinkers, used to assist in fishing.  The number of bones and shells from sea based creatures certainly adds to this theory in the case of Skara Brae.  As does the lack of presence in graves, suggesting that they were not owned or significant in the afterlife.  I would expect to find them on beaches rather than in 'villages', but if they had left in a rush this is possible.

My favourite theory is a bit more in line with the gods and the Solstice.  It states that the carved balls are a form of rune or oracle.  They are thrown, moved, rolled and how they fall tells their users what the gods want from them.  The varied shapes and bobbles have the potential to relate to different gods.  It also explains the conformity in size and styles, if the purpose is cosmological they are made within the boundaries of the belief. 

So there you have the theories, what do you think?  Do you agree with one? Or do you have something different? Don't forget to share!!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A Gift From a King?

Today's artefact mixes beauty, mystery and monastries...

Image taken from The Ashmolean
It is the ever impressive Alfred Jewel!  It was discovered in 1693, North Petherton, Somerset and was bequeathed to Oxford University in 1718 by Colonel Nathaniel Palmer.  It now resides in The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and a replica is held in the North Petherton Church.  The teardrop artefact is some 6cm long and made from gold, with a cloisonné enamel plaque inserted in the centre and covered with a teardrop pieces of quartz.  It is sometimes suggested that the quartz was originally cut in the Roman period and happened to fit well for the purpose of Alfred's Jewel.  Its' purpose is much debated, over the years it has been suggested that it was everything from a pendant to the central piece of Alfred the Great's crown! Why Alfred the Great? Well it is inscribed with 'Aelfred mec heht gewyrcan' which translates to Alfred ordered me made.
This has always been assumed as being a royal reference, particularly due to it dating to the late 9th century AD.  This is of course possible, but, I find the lack of royal title a little unusual.  There is a fair case in favour of such theories and it goes a bit like this....
Firstly it is of course the inscribed name and the period.  Secondly is the ornate nature of the Jewel, it so beautifully made that a master craftsman would be required, the sort that royal houses employ.  So far I'm not too convinced either, but, there is some history to go with it!  Alfred the Great is renowned for his military exploits, but, he was also a cultural fellow and was very keen to develop the role of the Church within England.  He was keen to have key religious texts translated and distributed amongst the monasteries, one such text was the Pastoral Care of Pope Gregory the Great.  This text was written in c. 890 and Alfred died in c. 899 so he just about had time to get it translated and distributed across the land.  However, this text came with a little added extra, an aestel, to ensure the script was carefully followed and read in an appropriate manner.  This is furthered by the enamel plaque, the image illustrates a man, seemingly of the cloth, sometimes said to be St. Cuthbert.  Alternatively he has been likened to a silver brooch held at the British Museum, of similar date, which depicts the senses.  On this brooch, much like the Alfred Jewel, a man is depicted holding flowers in each hand which is said to represent sight...somewhat appropriate for an image upon an aestel.  This information is all well and good but how did the potential aestel get to North Petherton?  Well some 8km away is the location of one of the monasteries that Alfred the Great sent the text and aesel to way back in the 9th Century.  It is possibly an elaborate coincidence and studies are guided by the desire for it to be connected to Alfred the Great.  I am not sure myself, I think I would like to know a bit more about it and its' contexts before I make up my mind, but, it is nice to think that 9th Century royalty made a mark across their lands, with such gifts. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A Glimmer of Hope in the Darkest Hour

Today I was going to bring you an image relating to Prehistoric Cave Art, so I set about some research.  I decided the best place to start was Lascaux caves, I have seen the images so many times but I have never taken the time to properly look.  I am so glad I waited, their website (as long as you have Flash Player) provides quite the explorers experience.  I was truly amazed! I shall give you my thoughts on the matter then give you the details on how to explore it yourself...we can all be Indie for just one day!! Here's a glimpse...

You are probably wondering why I sold this as a glimmer of hope, so I'll explain.  The cave was discovered by 4 teens in 1940, World War II was well underway and France was a bleak and weary land.  In September of that year they explored a 'fox den' convinced it would give them a secret entrance to a manor house, they didn't get that...they got something far better!  The boys saw the cave paintings explored as best they could and told their teacher what they had found.  He went to see for himself and was amazed at their find, and told the Chair of Prehistory in Toulouse.  A photo study was carried out by October and the site was given national historical importance shortly after.  In 1947 study was continuing but the caves were open to the public, by 1955 visitor numbers were still growing and shortly after provisions were made to make the cave more suitable.  By the late 70's there were noticeable affects on the caves of the visitor numbers and it was promptly closed to the public in order to preserve it.  Study is on going and a replica cave was built, which is still open today. 

Such a discovery in 1940 must have brought glimmers of the World that local people thought they had left behind.  It provided an escape from all the death and destruction that had become the World.  The care that was shown to Lascaux during War must have told the French people that there would be an end and it would end well...why else would time and money be spent on their heritage?  If the caves had not been found during the War years, funding and security may well have been harder to come by...but this cave and its' art showed how long people had lived in the region, they could be billed as French and utilised in terms of propaganda.  This was probably of more value at the time than the caves ever have been to the world of heritage...they provided light at the end of the ever growing tunnel.

I'm sure you are all set to explore now and if you haven't already stopped reading my musings and done a Google search (Thank you for sticking with me!) here is the all important link:

Happy Exploring!

Monday, 17 December 2012

A Time for Sharing...

Today's artefact is one that symoblises two things; the social nature of food consumption and the best wetland Iron Age site in England....

Image taken from the BBC
It is the lovely Glastonbury bowl! This bowl is probably one of the best known artefacts from the assemblage discovered at The Glastonbury Lake Village.  The Village is thought to have been established in c.300BC and had declined by 100AD to the point of disuse.  The Village was built upon a wooden platform and formed an artificial island in a peat bog, known in my part of the world as a Crannog.  It is thought by 100AD the water levels had raised so high that the site had to be abandoned and as such it was quickly lost.  Until 1892 when Mr Arthur Bulleid discovered the Village, though excavation was conducted until 1892.  During this excavation much of the Village was unearthed and the wood was in extremely good condition, knowing that the peat and water was required to keep the Village it was reburied and studied from field notes and artefacts that it was safe to remove.  On the whole the site and its' artefacts are cared for by The Glastonbury Antiquarian Society, founded by none other that Bulleid.  They ensure the site is kept wet and run a small museum to display the many artefacts.  This bowl is a beautiful example of Iron Age craft and serves as a reminder of day to day life and the need for food; however the ornate pattern and attention to detail may be an indication of more than the need for a bowl.  I'm sure many of you have used a bowl today, but none quite as fancy I'm guessing?  The decoration and material suggest that the consumption of food was a public affair in this Village, may be only certain times a year, but public none the less.  Been as we are in the festive period it is easier to consider the social importance of consuming food.  It is present at most parties and gatherings, we feel the need to prepare our own food more at this time of year, little things like making our own cake, pastry or pie, that we may be wouldn't do other times of the year...why? Because Christmas is special, it's the time of year we let people know how important they are and by making our own foods it's a way of expressing it, through the act of sharing what we have.  There is nothing to suggest that a similar psychology wasn't present in Iron Age Britain, it wouldn't have been for Christmas, but, it may have been for the Winter Solstice.  This bronze bowl is a good example of an artefact that, with a little thinking outside of the immediate box, can provide us with more information than functional activities. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Precious Little Moments

Today's artefact is more of a feature and serves as a reminder that every moment is precious...

They are the infamous Laetoli Footprints, excavated by Mary Leaky and Paul Abell in 1978.  Located in Tanzania, some 43km from Olduvai Gorge, the footprint trail survives for 27m and is believed to represent 3 individuals.  One is said to have walked in the footprints of another, possibly to or from a watering hole, a theory supported by a number of animal tracks preserved in the same way. 
3.6 million years ago these early humans took these steps, but who were they?
This is a factor that is often contested, but, it is as a rule accepted that they are the footprints of Australopithecus afarensis.  It is known that they were bipedal and the tracks indicate that they did not require their arms to balance them, in terms of floor support.  With one set of prints being smaller than the other, it is thought that sexual dimorphism provides the answer, so one is male (larger) and the other female (smaller).  It is thought that they walked across the wet ash leaving prints much like we do in sand or snow.  However, before they were washed away they either set as the ash cooled, or another eruption occurred and the footprints were preserved.  Recent studies suggest that they set as there is little evidence for volcanic activity, but this is still being explored and not yet widely accepted. 
Like us they walked heel first and use the toes to balance and push themselves forward for the next step to be possible.  The gaps between the prints are short, suggesting that they had shorter legs than we do, meaning they are early bipeds, yet to develop the means to walk long distances and greater speeds. 
This perfectly captured moment has inspired many tales and art works, designed to determine why they were there, how they may have looked etc but by far my favourite is this one...
 Image taken from JMSAZ at 23hq
It captures such a private and beautiful moment, allowing us all to remember the importance of maintaining the 'people' when studying our pasts.
This celebration of a moment is always poignant at this time of year, but, more so following the tragic loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I, like many, would like to extend my condolences to all those grieving families and friends. I am not in any way religious, however the sentiments of these words can extend beyond their biblical references.
Image taken from Emergence International

Saturday, 15 December 2012

A Little More Festive Fashion

Today's artefact is an ornate and amazing find...

Image taken from The British Museum
This golden cap was discovered in an ancient burial mound in 1833, by a group of workmen in Mold, Flinshire, Wales.  The cape is beautifully decorated and extremely delicate, it has been painstakingly restored after being crushed upon discovery.  It took many years for all the pieces to be reunited but the British Museum is confident that they now have it all.  The cape was not found alone, some 300 beads were included in the chamber placed around the body, along with a coarse blanket and an urn containing burnt human remains.  I am confident in saying that the cape was not everyday Bronze Age fashion, I am also confident that it was created for a woman due to its size.  The usage of the cape will remain unknown, however, its' form is likely to restrict the movement of the person wearing it.  This suggests that it has a formal and specific role within Bronze Age life, possibly in relation to religious and/or ceremonial activities.  It is the only example known, which makes interpretation increasingly more difficult.  Despite this I am sure like me, you are able to admire the work that has gone into its' creation and the wow factor that it produces.  The cape is currently on display in Gallery 51 of the British Museum.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Perfect Pots

Today's artefact is a particular favourite of mine and has featured within work I have conducted...

Image taken from Moody. G. 2008 The Isle of Thanet from Prehistory to the Norman Conquest Stroud: The History Press
This beautiful urn was discovered in Margate, Kent in 1924 by Arthur Rowe, he suggests in his recordings that the urn was restored, but as you can see from the image it is difficult to see where this occurs.  The urn is a dark grey colour, almost black in terms of the face, with the inner colouring slightly lighter.  It measures some 17.5cm at the widest surviving point, with a mouth diameter of c.12.5cm.  Where measurable the urn is c.5mm thick and this appears to be consistent.  Under the neck there is a groove, this runs around the urn at a consistent distance from the rim and above a punctured ‘dot’ pattern.  Further to this the urn is decorated with curved ‘leaf shape’ pattern, marked out with a groove and in filled with further puncturing.  This appears distinctly La Tène I in nature.  Whether the urn was made in Thanet or imported cannot be determined within the available literature, but either way it suggests a strong and developed link between Margate and areas such as the Rhine.  There is a suggestion that it was wheelmade, largely due to the consistency in thickness.  Its' discovery in a Middle Iron Age contexts means for this to be the case it must be imported as the technology does not reach Britain until the Late Iron Age.  The connection with the Rhine suggests the importance of waterways in communication, trade and exchange; it was clearly central to Iron Age life and is beautifully represented within this urn.  This urn is without doubt one of my favourite artefacts, it represents all that I understand of Middle Iron Age Thanet and is a symbol of the connected world I believe the Britons were a part of. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

This Little Piggy Went to Market

Today's artefact is an insight into a forgot people from the ancient world....

Image taken from
This little terracotta pig originates from Cyprus as is approximately 3000 years old.  It has an interesting provenance, discovered by Mr Cesnola and presented to Mr James Bibby in 1878.  Mr Cesnola was an archaeologist working in Cyprus on behalf of the British Museum and Mr Bibby was a Liverpool based ship owner.  It is told that the pig was part of an assemblage gifted to Mr Bibby as a thank you for halting a riot on the island.  So it seems this little pig, standing at only 8cm tall, has had a dramatic life...but what was it for?  This is where it reveals an aspect of society that is often forgotten...children! It is believed that this pig and others like it are rattles, used as a means of entertaining and comforting young children, much like many of us do today.  The little pig is hollow, but contains several beads allowing for noise to be created by little hands.  The size of the artefact makes it perfect for children to handle, however, the material is fragile and not of the durable nature you would expect for children.  It's survival suggests that the artefact was well curated during it's life, however the circumstance of its' discovery is unknown.  Without such a context truly understanding the role of such artefacts is difficult, however, it does provide a potential record of the ancient world's youngest residents...perfect at Christmas!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

God's of Wonder

Another double posting for you lucky lot! This time with a splash of Rome....

December 11th

Today we have something a little bit special...

Image taken from
It is the head of the goddess Sulis Minerva, celebrated primarily in Bath, England.  This statue is slightly larger than life, cast from bronze and carefully gilded in gold leaf.  The head has clearly been removed in a deliberate act, thought to have occurred during the rise in Christianity and the banishing of Pagan belief.  This goddess is particularly special as she is actually two goddesses merged into one, allowing for the sacred springs of Bath to be just that for local Britons and the settled Roman population.  Sulis, arguably had the springs first, she was the local goddess and like Minerva stood for very similar things...they were both able to provide wisdom and success to their followers.  This resulted in the Roman visitors combining the two, it meant the superstitious Romans could edge their bets, the local population would be happier and it showed some common ground between the two conflicting camps.  This particular example is believed to have come from the temple situated near the springs, which is why it is so ornate in comparison to other examples of Sulis Minerva sculpture.  She is also only known within the region of Bath, with similar goddesses taking her role elsewhere in Britain.
December 12th
Today is carrying on the theme of religion in the Empire...
Image taken from English Heritage
It is the Temple of Mithras, Carrawburgh, Hadrian's Wall.  There are three such Temples known across the length of Hadrian's Wall and the cult of Mithras is well known within the Empire.  It is believed to have been borrowed by the Romans from those in the East, probably Persia, though this is not certain.  It seems to have been a fairly secretive Cult with certain rites having to be achieved before cult practice can begin, how much of this is true is unknown as there are few detailed references relating to Mithras.  It is known that he was a god of honour, truth and courage and as such held a strong appeal for solider and traders alike.  It also said that slaves were keen to be involved in the Cult, maybe he provided them a source of encouragement and belief when the world seemed to be against them.  It is clear as to why he would be favoured on Hadrian's Wall, it would have been a cold, lonely and hostile place, the very edge of the Empire and forever away from the lands that the soldiers may have called home.  Much like the slaves, they would need comfort and words that could stir courage to ensure honour and bravery.  

Monday, 10 December 2012

Magical Moments

Today is a far more modern artefact, that was chosen in light of the recent decision to create Flanders Field Memorial in London to mark the centinary anniversaries of World War I.

Image Taken from Portable Antiquities Scheme
This medal is a Distinguished Conduct Medal, which was issued to Sgt. G.H. Humber of the Royal Field Artillery in 1919.  It was discovered by a metal detector club in Surrey who were keen for it to be reunited with its' family.  Sgt Humber was born in 1889 in the Isle of White and sadly died there in 1985, before the discovery of his medal.  The Club and PAS issued details of the medals discovery in local newspapers in both Surrey and the Isle of White.  This answered many questions and reunited the medal and its' family.  Sgt Humber was active throughout the war, leading men in 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918, in various battles in a brave and honourable manner.  The Isle of White newspapers were contacted by three of his grandchildren and the story continued to unravel.  Before they married, he and his wife Bessie lived with her parents on Batchelors Farm, near to the find spot.  He is thought to have found work in the area around 1920 and this is possibly when his medal was lost.  Before his death he was presented with a substitute medal, however I can only imagine how is family felt knowing the original had been discovered.  This artefact is a powerful one, capable of evolking all manner of emotions for all manner of people and able to ensure that the actions of the fallen and those that returned are never forgotten.  The Flanders Field Memorial in London is set to enhance this for many years to come.

An Iron Age Weekend

Hello everyone, I was away for the weekend and had posts all set-up ready to go live by themselves, but technology failed here they are!

December 8th

War, Peace or Other

Today we have an artefact that almost always immediately shouts of war....

Image taken from Shropshire Council
It's the Jackfield Sword, found in the River Severn, near Telford in the 1970's.  The sword dates to the Early Iron Age and is a relatively rare find, made of bronze.  The sword is leaf shaped and in beautiful condition considering it's age.  The hilt is missing, but the fittings are in place, suggesting that it was made of organic material.  It is likely that the wood or bone would have been carved in order to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the sword.  During the Early Iron Age there is little evidence for warfare and the deposition of this sword in a river furthers such notions.  It is one of a number of bronze and iron artefacts that have been found in watery deposits and as such it is believed that they have a ritual significance, potentially relating to a lost cosmology.  It is often said that ritual is used by archaeologists as a means to avoid artefacts and sites that do not fit into our plans, however, there surely had to be a level of belief and tradition.  It features in cultures all over the world, so why not in prehistory?
December 9th
Today is the turn of something a little bit different....

Image taken from Portable Antiquities Scheme
It is the beautiful Tanworth Comb, discovered in Warwickshire, 2006.  Finds like this traditionally would be lost to the record, until the Portable Antiquities Scheme came to being.  This comb is a metal detecting find and its' finder did the right thing in taking it for study and identification.  It is dated to the very end of the Iron Age or very early Roman Period.  The comb is made of copper alloy, with both the front and back decorated with a detailed pattern.  Through study it has been determined that the decoration was cast rather than added after the creation process.  The teeth of the comb are fairly wide apart which suggests that it was not meant for human hair, but, instead it may be for the grooming of animals such as horses.  This is another rare find and serves as a perfect example of what can happen when the world of archaeology and the metal detectoring enthusiasts come together.  It also featured on Britain's Secret Treasures, Summer 2012.

Friday, 7 December 2012

It's the season to be jolly...

So today we have an artefact that is a must for all those office parties....
Image taken from The British Museum
It is of course the drinking horn!  With no way of putting them down it's easy to see why their Viking owners had such a reputation for being drunkards.  This example was however, found in an Anglo-Saxon context, along with a matching horn in a princely burial.  Discovered in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, the auroch horns are larger than their Scandinavian counterparts and suggest that this worldly Prince knew how to party!  Their silver gilding suggests he had a talented metalworker and money was no object to him either, between the metalwork, carving and cost of the animal, these were expensive party pieces.  But they were nothing compared to Scandinavian equivalents...
Image Taken from World Nomads
The above example is far smaller, but also far more ornate.  Scandinavian examples, like this one from Denmark, are often decorated with Norse gods and religious myth, confirming their association with celebration.  Such artefacts are likely to have be utilised during feasts and festivals to ensure a steady supply of mead was available to their owner.  They are generally seen as being a male artefact, but there is nothing to truly support this notion.  Our Princely example is sixth century AD in date, however, drinking horns were not a sudden invention, they were recorded by Tacitus when he encountered Germanic Tribes.  He describes them in a similar vein to our Princely examples, they were clearly seen as hit then as Roman examples are also known.
It seems that the drinking horn is still desirable, in searching for a suitable example to share with you I came across website after website selling modern examples based on those of the past.  So maybe you can take on to the office party after-all....

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Fabulous Fashion...Iron Age Style

Today I have for you a fashion must have, forget Tiffany's it's all about the shale ladies (and gents).

Image taken from Glasgow Museums
This particular example was discovered in a churchyard in, Portpatrick, Scotland.  It is currently held by Glasgow Museums; however it sadly does not feature in a display and is currently in storage.  Whether you want to call it a bracelet, a bangle or an armlet its' beauty is timeless.  This example is thought to be Iron Age but it is possible that it was Roman. 
Shale bracelets have been a must have accessory since the Bronze Age and areas such as Kimmeridge, Dorset were centres of production.  Their frequency across Britain is testament to the trade routes that were utilised in Prehistory.  The production of such artefacts left an inner shale disc, perfectly formed with a slight dent in the centre, these were so frequently discovered in the Dorset region that they were initially thought to be an early currency.  This example is rare as it is completely in tact, they are usually discovered in a fragmentary condition and this is likely to have helped the formation of the currency theories.  The work that went into its' creation is clear to see, they are always perfectly rounded, smooth and still polished to a point that after the mud is wiped away they shine like they were made that morning.  It is hard to know who wore them or why!  They pop up everywhere, in contexts associated with both genders and some are so small they are potentially for children.  I would not say that they were a practical item, more an item of adornment, but, their presence within the archaeological record suggests that they were treasured items and well curated by their owners.  They have always amazed me, always a piece of prehistoric perfection.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Bronze Age Beauty

Today's artefact is all about the dainty....

You may well be wondering what on Earth I am showing you...well it is a beautiful faience bead, hailing from a Bronze Age settlement in Shaugh Moor, Dartmoor and currently held within Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.  This tiny bead is only 0.5cm long and is one of a number found at the site.  It is made of a large amount of tin, a common material for the area and one that seems to have been important throughout it's human occupation.  It was well known in the Roman World and is thought to be a commodity traded indirectly with Rome for centuries before they made contact.  Plymouth Museum make many comments about this tiny artefact, the abundance of tin suggests to them that it was an item of status, tin was important so to use is as decoration showed wealth and with it a presumed power.  I am not sure how I feel about wealth and power tales, however, there is no denying the skill of the metalworker or the taste of the owner!  Another area that they draw attention to is the potential for this bead to have held a spiritual power, presenting tin with a 'magical' quality.  Its' transformation from a dull black material to that of shiny silver is a feature we assume the Bronze Age peoples were unable to explain through science.  Therefore a sense of awe is assumed.  Whether or not this was the case I do not know, I do however, feel it is a nice thought.  To give this little bead such significance means that to someone in Bronze Age Shaugh Moor it meant the world.  Much like jewellery does in the modern world, it provided the owner with something, maybe it was comfort, a reminder of a loved one, joy or connection will forever be a mystery but it would certainly have meant something.  It is easy to forget ownership and emotional connection when studying artefacts as all to often all we can do is imagine the person who may have owned it, we have no link to them other than the artefact in our hands.  These artefacts still provide and emotion to us whether it's the wow factor, a sense of wonder or horror, they trigger a reaction.  This should always be remembered when we utilise and study artefacts such as this bead, the people of the past should not be omitted from our archaeological accounts.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Back to our Roots?

Today's artefact is a true taste of Prehistory, it's some 230,000 years old.....

It is of course a handaxe, this is a Paleolithic example and hails from a cave in Denbighshire, Wales know as Pontnewydd.  Pontnewydd is associated with Neanderthal activity and some 19 individuals were in part identified within the cave.  These are the oldest known inhabitants of Wales and are credited by many as being the first Welsh people.  Their lives were without doubt tough, they lived during a glacial period, food was scarce and the nature of their tools suggests that their technique required them to be within close proximity to the prey.  The presence of ice would have minimised vegitation and as such meat was essential to survival.  To us, in our modern world, this artefact can look simply like stone, often over looked in museums everyday, but to the Neanderthal community of Pontnewydd it was all that stood between them and death.  The range of individuals found alongside this hand axe are varied in age, there is a presence of young children and developed adults, suggesting that the cave was at least a temporary home for this community before a disaster struck.  The likelihood of this being their permenant dwelling is slim, the Neanderthals were nomadic peoples and during this period there was no English Channel, we were part of the Continent.  Where these people had come from or were looking to reach will never be known, but it is possible that they found themselves in Pontnewydd purely through the ongoing feat of seeking food.  

Monday, 3 December 2012

A little bit of bling....

Today I have a rather special little something....The Broighter Boat!

Image taken from
This beautiful gold boat is a particular favourite of mine and until very recently I thought it was an isolated find, however, it was in fact, part of a gold hoard dating to the first century BC.  This is by far the shining light of the deposited artefacts and now takes pride of place in the National Museum of Ireland.  The hoard was found near Limavady, Northern Ireland in 1896 by Tom Nicholl, interestingly Belfast only holds replicas of the hoard and this particular artefact does not feature in the Ten Major Pieces (as chosen by National Museum of Ireland).
The boat is modest in size reaching c.18cm in length and some c.7.5cm in width.  Despite this it is the best known model of a vessel of the period, particularly one that is truly sea-worthy.  In reality wood is the most likely material of construction though hide may be possible.  The Broighter Boat is complete with oars, two sets of 9, with 8 benches present.  It is thought that a bench may be missing this making it possible that 18 people we required to power a presumed real version.  The vessel also has a rudder allowing for control and tools were also found with it relating to grappling.  There were also 3 forks, a spear and a yardarm.  The details contained within the boat make it highly desirable for study into prehistoric vessels and the potential they had for trade and population movements...I certainly wouldn't say no! But it also illustrates the skills of the metalworkers involved and the importance of the piece.  The fact that this little boat survives so well is testiment to it being part of a hoard, I am of the belief it was made to be buried, possibly to please an Irish water deity such as Manannán mac Lir. 
I hope you have enjoyed the Broighter Boat as much as I do, but today I have a little bonus for you, particularly Iron Age fans....Many of you may have seen posts relating to an Iron Age helmet and associated brooch and spike, but for those that haven't I wouldn't want you to miss out so be sure to visit Annie at:

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Archaeology Advent...

Christmas is fast approaching so I thought it was only right to get into the spirit of the season....but with an archaeological twist!  So here is the first instalment of my archaeology advent calender.  So how will it work I hear you cry...well everyday on the run up to Christmas I will share a beautiful artefact with you all.  I know it's starting a day late so today you get two, you lucky things you!

So December 1st.....

This beautiful button scraper was discovered within the Great Carn, Cefn Bryn, (Gower, South Wales) during excavations between 1983-1985 under the watchful eye of Dr Anthony Ward.  It was brought to my attention during my studies in Kent, when I studied the lithic assemblage.  This scraper was my favourite from all of the diagnostic period, so I wanted to share it with all of you.  It's tiny, yet perfectly formed.  It was worked on all faces, however, it was discovered within the spoil heap, so in terms of site interpretation it is limiting.

December 2nd......

Taken from

For today we have the Capel Garmon Firedog, a beautiful example of Iron Age metal working.  The firedog is usually utilised in pairs and is associated with the hearth and cooking cauldrons of the period.  The condition of this example is spectacular and as such it was likely deliberately placed within the ground.  The firedog is now housed within the Origins Gallery of the National Museum Wales, Cathays, however it likely to see a move to St Fagans, National Museum of Welsh History in the near future.  I feel that this artefact speaks for itself so rather than waffle on I shall leave you to admire it.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, who knows what you might discover.....