Bronze Age barrow and Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered at Rothley, Leicestershire

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LEICESTER (UK) – Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have recently excavated a Bronze Age barrow and Anglo-Saxon cemetery under former allotments at Rothley in Leicestershire.

The project has offered a rare opportunity to investigate how different generations have re-used ancient sacred places, with Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon people possibly making connections with Bronze Age barrow builders in order to create their own sense of place in the landscape.

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Site during excavation (Credit: University of Leicester)

A team of archaeologists, led by Dr Gavin Speed from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) has spent the winter investigating the site and uncovering exciting new evidence for Rothley’s ancient past dating back some 6,000 years. The project was funded by Persimmons Homes in advance of a new housing development off Loughborough Road, Rothley.

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Neolithic stone  axe (Credit: University of Leicester)

The earliest activity dates to the Neolithic period (4000-2000 BC) – a stone axe found redeposited in the backfill of the barrow ditch and a near-complete Middle Neolithic ‘Peterborough Ware’ pottery vessel located in a pit close by. Important Neolithc settlement sites (excavated by ULAS in 2005 and 2010) are known nearby and these new glimpses of activity will add further to our understanding of the bigger picture of occupation in the region.

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Neolithic  “Peterborough Ware’ pottery (Credit: University of Leicester)

One of the main focuses of the excavation was a Bronze Age barrow measuring over 30 metres in diameter. The earth mound had not survived subsequent generations of ploughing but the surrounding near-circular ditch was still present with cremation burials close to the ditch edge. The monument broadly dates to 2000-700 BC and more precise dating will be possible following future detailed finds analysis and scientific dating.

The barrow is positioned close to the confluence of the Rivers Soar and Wreake, on high ground with a prominent outlook over the intersection of the Soar valley and the Rothley brook. To the east, a little over a mile away, around the village of Cossington, are other barrows forming part of a small barrow cemetery excavated by ULAS between 1999 and 2001.

Results of the project show that the Rothley barrow has been used repeatedly, creating a long history of activity in the vicinity which shows that it must have acted as an important landmark in the local area.

Dr Gavin Speed, Senior Supervisor at ULAS said: “By the Iron Age the barrow had partly eroded and its ditches had silted up but much of the mound was likely still upstanding, making it a visible landmark in the local landscape even if its original purpose and meaning had changed.”

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During this period (700 BC – AD 43), a large rectangular enclosure ditch was dug partly along the alignment of the barrow ditch, avoiding the central area of the mound. Iron Age farmers appear to have utilised the area as enclosed fields with an entrance on the eastern side of the enclosure on top of the mound and a busy area of pits dug ‘behind’ the mound to the west. The Iron Age inhabitants may not have had any knowledge of the barrow’s original use and meaning but their respect of the surviving earthwork may show that they understood that the area held some significance.

Much later, in the early Anglo-Saxon period (AD 410-700), the barrow became the focus for a small inhumation cemetery. This area of Leicestershire, the Soar valley and its tributaries, has a high density of Anglo-Saxon settlements and cemeteries and an Anglo-Saxon building has been found in an adjacent field in 2010 by ULAS (now under the aptly named Saxon Drive).

Re-use of round barrows during the Anglo-Saxon period is a fairly common occurrence in England. However, there are very few known instances in Leicestershire and the recent discovery at Rothley, with at least twelve burials, is only the second and largest confirmed example to be excavated. Within the barrow mound were six burials, a seventh burial was dug into the backfilled ditch, whilst a further five burials were found in the immediate surrounding area. Unfortunately, the acidic soils have destroyed virtually all evidence of the skeletons, apart from some teeth and tiny bone fragments, but accompanying some of the bodies were metal objects – spears, knives, a ‘spike’, an annular brooch and the boss and studs from a shield. A complete pottery vessel was also found in one grave. These had all been placed with the bodies at burial as grave goods.

The act of Anglo-Saxon people burying their dead close to Bronze Age barrows is seen in numerous examples throughout England. This could simply be due to convenience; however, recent studies have shown that it may be evidence of emergent elites displaying their power by connecting to ancestors of the past through monument re-use. They and their followers would understand the meaning, thus securing control of the landscape.

Via University of Leicester.

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Sensational archaeological discovery in Norway confirms Viking saga

(Via Niku) – Archaeologists working in Trondheim in Norway are amazed by the discovery of a human skeleton in the bottom of an abandoned castle well. The skeleton provides evidence that confirms dramatic historical events mentioned in the Sagas.

The location and contents of the well are mentioned in Sverre’s Saga, a chronicle of one of the kings of Norway, and one of very few historical manuscripts describing events in the Norwegian Viking age and medieval period.

Scholars have questioned the chronicle’s trustworthiness as a historical document. But now, at least one part of the saga seems to hold truth – down to the tiniest detail.

– This is truly astonishing. As far as I know there is no known example of the discovery of an individual historically connected with an act of war as far back as the year 1197. And the fact that this actually corroborates an event described in Sverre’s saga is simply amazing, says lead archaeologist at the site, Anna Petersén.

Sensational archaeological discovery in Norway confirms Viking saga

A unique time capsule: The body was thrown in from where the man is standing. The stone rubble directly above the body are clearly visible.Man left in castle well for 800 years
In 1197 King Sverre Sigurdsson and his Birkebeiner-mercenaries were attacked and defeated in his castle stronghold, Sverresborg, by his rivals, the Baglers. According to the Saga, the Baglers burned down buildings and destroyed the castle’s fresh water supply by throwing one of King Sverre’s dead men into the well, and then filling it with stones.Now, following a trial excavation in the well, archaeologists can confirm this dramatic story. Archaeologists managed to retrieve part of the skeleton they found in the well in 2014. A fragment of bone produced a radiocarbon date that confirmed that the individual lived and died at the end of the 12th century, the same time as the incident described in the Saga.

Skeleton and well structure
The archaeologists from The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research have returned this year to conduct a full excavation of the well with the goal of removing the layers of dumped stone and ultimately the whole skeleton.

The excavation of the stone debris down to the very first stone that hit the Birkebeiner’s body has given the archaeologists additional insight into the nature of events in 1197. In addition, it exposed the timber posts and lining for the large castle well.

– This is a unique glimpse of an important historical event. You can almost feel it. Its almost as if you were there, enthuses Petersén.

The archaeologists at Sverresborg are being supported by a forensic specialist from the Trondheim police district, which adds to the feeling that we are witnesses to the result of a brutal crime.

The excavation is funded by the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

Photos:

Sensational archaeological discovery in Norway confirms Viking saga
The body

 

Sensational archaeological discovery in Norway confirms Viking saga
Archeologists from NIKUnorway working in the well

 

Sensational archaeological discovery in Norway confirms Viking saga
Overview of the Castle site
Sensational archaeological discovery in Norway confirms Viking saga
The possible appearance of the Castle in 1197. Information plaque from the site.

Viking treasure hoard 1,000 years old discovered in Scotland

The first images have been released of Viking treasure buried in a Scottish field for more than 1,000 years. The objects were found inside a pot unearthed in Galloway and include rare items such as a silver brooch from Ireland and silk from around modern-day Istanbul as well as gold and crystal. The items date from the ninth and 10th centuries, and are part of a wider hoard of about 100 pieces, which experts say is the most important Viking discovery in Scotland for more than a century.

See more on The Independent

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New Discovery Pushes Back Date Of Human Existence In Ireland By 2,500 Years

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A remarkable archaeological discovery in a Co. Clare cave has pushed back the date of human existence in Ireland by 2,500 years.

This discovery re-writes Irish archaeology and adds an entirely new chapter to human colonisation of the island – moving Ireland’s story into a new era.

Radiocarbon dating of a butchered brown bear bone, which has been stored in a cardboard box at the National Museum of Ireland for almost 100 years, has established that humans were on the island of Ireland some 12,500 years ago – 2,500 earlier than previously believed.

Since the 1970s, the oldest evidence of human occupation on the island of Ireland has been at Mount Sandel in Co. Derry. This site has been dated at 8,000 BC, which is in the Mesolithic period, indicating that humans had occupied the island for some 10,000 years.

However, new analysis of the bear patella – or knee bone – originally found in Co. Clare in 1903 gives us undisputed evidence that people existed in Ireland during the preceding Palaeolithic period at 10,500 BC, some 12,500 years ago.

This is a major breakthrough for archaeologists who have spent decades searching for earlier signs of human occupation on the island.

The discovery was made by Dr Marion Dowd, an archaeologist at IT Sligo, and Dr Ruth Carden, a Research Associate with the National Museum of Ireland.

Read the whole story on IT Sligo News

Full article with evidence is published on Quaternary Science ReviewsVolume 139, 1 May 2016, Pages 158–163.