Way Back Wednesday: Week 6

Today’s artefact from the archives was set aside for one of the project’s very dear friends to take a look at, and his conclusion was a possible bombshell. Zooarchaeology is one of the strengths of our staff this season, but there’s always more to learn, so we invited David Constantine, zooarchaeologist and specialist in bone-working, to look over some of our more curious cases. There was a small unassuming bit of cow rib with linear incisions on it, but it didn’t quite look like butchering or de-fleshing, and it came out of a high medieval (11th-13th centuries…ish) layer. We played around with the lighting, as changing the angle of the light source can help both etching and carvings in relief stand out a bit better. And suddenly, these lines started to look a little bit more purposeful. Are they tally marks? Or something else?

After much back and forth, we may…just maybe…have some runes on this little bit of bone! Runes used in Germanic languages tend to be very linear, making them more easily carved on stone, bone, and wood. The question then becomes, whose runes? The likely answer is the runic system used for Anglo-Saxon writing known as the “futhorc” or “fuþorc.” (Click here and scroll down to the fifth paragraph for a reminder on how to pronounce that weird-looking letter!) This rune system is intrinsically tied the runic system of the Viking Age as both are descended from an earlier corpus known as the Elder Futhark (roughly beginning in the 2nd century). The futhorc is used in Frisia, one of the Anglo-Saxon homelands, and makes its way to Britain during the 5th-7th centuries; its displacement begins due to the rise of the Roman alphabet employed by the arriving Christian missionaries. Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions, however, are still used into the 12th century! There are only about 200 surviving futhorc inscriptions, so if these are proper runes we’ve got something pretty cool in our archive.

Did you notice how “futhorc” and “futhark” sound similar? Both words are literally just an elision of the first few sounds of the rune alphabet. By the way, the word “alphabet” is just the smushing of “alpha” and “beta” from the first two letters of the Greek writing system (itself descended from the Phoenicians) that heavily influenced the Roman alphabet allowing you to read this very blog post.

Carved bits and bobs have been found in northern European contexts of both the futhorc and Viking Age Younger Futhark (9th-12th centuries) on small portable items like bits of wood and bone known as runesticks, but also on large carved runestones. The well-known (and beloved here at the project) Franks Casket contains numerous runic inscriptions carved into whale bone panels and likely originated here in Northumbria in the 8th century.

Whale ivory box with low-relief carvings of various well-known tales and Anglo-Saxon runes.

The 8th-century Franks Casket depicts a variety of scenes from the biblical to the folkloric. Photo courtesy of the British Museum.

Runes were clearly a major part of early Germanic writing culture, and they feature prominently in several of the Exeter Book riddles, as well as a poem known as the “Old English Rune Poem” whose original has since been lost but describes 29 Anglo-Saxon runes. The runic alphabets employed from the 2nd century get revamped over the years and become associated with magic and mystery. Authors like Tolkein and the creators of other intricate fantasy universes have seized on this popular image of runes, and it doesn’t seem they are disappearing any time soon from our collective consciousness.

Chart of Anglo-Saxon runes, transliteration, and phonetic value.

Rune chart from user aldomann on Deviantart.

The chart above shows the rune, transliteration (meaning the letter image for the sound we would write it as in modern English), and International Phonetic Alphabet phonetic sound. The IPA uses symbols to represent the different sounds humans have the ability to articulate, so you can match the symbol in the right columns to this interactive chart here so you can hear the sounds they each represent.

St. Aidan’s Miracles at Bamburgh

We have written before about bishop-turned-saint Aidan’s famous interaction with king-turned-saint Oswald previously, but we’d like to share a little bit more about Aidan because he features so prominently in the history of Northumbria, and especially our little corner of it.

Aidan was an Irish monk educated on Iona in the traditions of Celtic Christianity that had taken root in Ireland. He was actually the second missionary sent to Northumbria at King Oswald’s request, as the first was deemed too strict toward his congregation. Oswald tasked him with returning the Northumbrians to Christianity, after a period where many had turned back to paganism. He founded the monastery on Lindisfarne, but frequently walked the kingdom preaching to regular folk and engaging in acts of charity. We have a nice account of his life as bishop from the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History, who lavishes him with praise and yet can’t seem to let go that Aidan calculated Easter the Celtic—and therefore “wrong”—way. Truly Bede brings it up multiple times as this embarrassing con of an otherwise perfectly Christian life. Many miracles are associated with him, but there are two especially dramatic ones that took place right here in Bamburgh.

st aidans

The first miracle involved the pagan Mercian king, Penda, who marched on Bamburgh in the mid-7th century. On the road to the city, he dismantled villages and appropriated their timber as kindling. His troops piled the wood around the walls of the city and castle, lighting them and stoking them until the smoke rose high into the sky. From one of the Farne Islands where he lived as a hermit late in life, Aidan saw the unfurling smoke and feverishly prayed. The winds suddenly changed, blowing the embers back onto Penda’s army. They fled, fearing what seemed to be the power of the Christian god that stopped their attempt to subdue Northumbria.

The second miracle involves the small church now known as St. Aidan’s down in the village. The structure now is Norman, but it stands where the Anglo-Saxon church would have stood. Aidan was staying in a tent beside an outside wall beam of the church, and when he fell ill and died, his body was found leaning against it. The church since that time in 651AD has been razed by multiple fires, but each time the flames do not affect the beam. The church that stands today has what might be the miraculous beam, as well as a small, unobtrusive shrine dedicated to the Irish monk.

These miracles both involve fire, a fairly common fear in any society with many timber-built structures, but makes for an interesting coincidence for a man whose name means “little fire” in Irish.

Riddled with Riddles

Another off-day, and that means another foray into Old English. We have written before about how much Anglo-Saxon writers and speakers loved to employ riddles, but we only focused on the kennings, or mini-riddles you need to quickly solve to understand much of their prose and poetry. Today, we have our favorite riddle for you to solve. Better yet, this riddle has a very close tie to Northumbria, where we are based. We’ll post the scholarly-accepted answer at the end of our Sunday post, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Give us your best guesses in the comments below, or on our Facebook or Twitter link to this post.

exeter book

The Exeter Book, 10th C home to over 90 riddles in Old English, MS 3501, Exeter Cathedral Library.

The following riddle has an interesting history, as it appears to be an Old English translation of an Old English translation of one of Aldhelm’s “enigmata.” The “enigmata” are Latin riddles the Wessex-born scholar, abbot, bishop, and poet produced in the late 7th-early 8th centuries. This riddle is known simply as the Lorica in its Latin form, which is also the solution. (Resist the urge to google translate, or, if you translated that in your head, whoops, we spoiled it.) The initial translation into Old English is known as the Leiden Riddle; it is paired with its Latin version in a manuscript presently held in Leiden, Netherlands. The Leiden manuscript uses the older Northumbrian dialect of Old English, as opposed to the later-period West Saxon that is often taught as the standard of Old English. The riddle appears again in the Exeter Book, a late 10th-century compendium of Anglo-Saxon poetry written by one scribe, this time in something close to the West Saxon you’d learn in your regular Old English survey course. In the Exeter compilation, the riddle is number 35 of just under 100 riddles; some of the riddles are about daily life, some about precious objects, and some are just QUITE cheeky.

The Latin and Northumbrian verses are mostly preserved in the West Saxon-ish version, save for the very last hint to the riddle’s answer: both Aldhelm and the Northumbrian translator conclude with a declaration that the object in question fears no arrows sent from their quivers.

Let’s take a look at the Northumbrian version, the Leiden Riddle. Rule number 1, DON’T PANIC. It looks weird if you’ve only seen West Saxon, that is okay; it looks extra bad if you’ve never seen any Old English, and that is also okay. Just scroll away and scream into the void for a minute, and hopefully it will pass.

1              Mec se uēta uong, uundrum frēorig,

ob his innaðae aerest cændæ.

Ni uaat ic mec biuorthæ uullan fliusum,

hērum ðerh hēhcraeft, hygiðonc….

5              Uundnae mē ni bīað ueflæ, ni ic uarp hafæ,

ni ðerih ðreatun giðraec ðrēt mē hlimmith,

ne mē hrūtendu hrīsil scelfath,

ni mec ōuana aam sceal cnyssa.

Uyrmas mec ni āuēfun uyrdi craeftum,

10           ðā ði geolu gōdueb geatum fraetuath.

Uil mec huethrae suae ðēh uīdæ ofaer eorðu

hātan mith hæliðum hyhtlic giuǣde;

ni anoegun ic mē aerigfaerae egsan brōgum,

ðēh ði n… …n sīæ nīudlicae ob cocrum.

MS Leiden, Vossius Lat. 4° 106, 25v, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit

Transcription from M. B. Parkes, ‘The Manuscript of the Leiden Riddle’, Anglo-Saxon England, 1 (1972), p. 208.

 

Now here’s the West Saxon version:

1              Mec se wǣta wong, wundrum frēorig,

of his innaþe ǣrist cende.

Ne wāt ic mec beworhtne wulle flȳsum,

hǣrum þurh hēahcræft, hygeþoncum mīn.

5              Wundene mē ne bēoð wefle, ne ic wearp hafu,

ne þurh þreata geþræcu þrǣd mē ne hlimmeð,

ne æt mē hrūtende hrīsil scrīþeð,

ne mec ōhwonan sceal ām cnyssan.

Wyrmas mec ne āwǣfan wyrda cræftum,

10           þā þe geolo gōdwebb geatwum frætwað.

Wile mec mon hwæþre seþēah wīde ofer eorþan

hātan for hæleþum hyhtlic gewǣde.

Saga sōðcwidum, searoþoncum glēaw,

wordum wīsfæst, hwæt þis gewǣde sȳ

MS 3501 (“Exeter Dean and Chapter Manuscript 3501”), Exeter Cathedral Library

Transcription from C. Williamson (ed.), The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill, 1977), pp. 88-89.

 

Many differences are immediately obvious in the texts. For example, “u” in Leiden is “w” in the Exeter Book, “ð” (a voiced version of “th” like in the word “then”) is “þ” (the voiceless th-sound in the word “thorn”) respectively, and many of the vowels are shifted; these represent temporal and dialectal changes from the Northumbrian used in the Leiden manuscript versus the West Saxon Exeter Book version. But you don’t even need to know what the words mean to notice things like repetition and alliteration.

Repetition is exactly was it sounds like: a word or phrase is repeated for emphasis or clarification, and in this case it’s anaphora, where a word is repeated at the beginning of a clause: “ni” in the Leiden manuscript, “ne” in the Exeter Book.

Alliteration is the repetition of a sound at the beginning of words throughout a clause. See line 6 in both versions. Both lines repeat the “thr” consonant cluster, but Leiden uses the voiced version, ð, while Exeter uses the voiceless version, þ. Voicing has to do with how you articulate a sound, so say “then” and “thorn” again aloud, with your fingers on your voice-box. You can do this with other related sounds like “b” and “p.” Alliteration is a type of consonance, which itself is when a consonant sound is repeated throughout a clause.

Finally let’s look at the riddle in modern English:

1              The dank earth, wondrously cold,

first delivered me from her womb.

I know in my mind I wasn’t made

from wool, skillfully fashioned with skeins.

5              Neither warp nor weft wing about me,

no thread thrums for me in the thrashing loom,

nor does a shuttle rattle for me,

nor does the weaver’s rod bang and beat me.

Silkworms didn’t spin with their strange craft for me,

10           those creatures that embroider cloth of gold.

Yet men will affirm all over this earth

that I’m an excellent garment.

O wise man, weigh your words

well, and say what this object is.

K. Crossley-Holland (trans.), The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology. (Oxford, 1999), pp.242-243

 

This riddle in translation has so many lovely poetic touches, so we do want to acknowledge the incredible skill of the translator of here, Crossley-Holland. The first thing we encounter is how some of the lines run into the next line, which is enjambment. There is repetition of the negatives, giving us this heartbeat of a rhythm of the common thing the solution is definitely not (a textile), just like the two Old English versions. The alliteration in lines 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 13 leaps off your lips when you read aloud, and oops we just did it right there. Line 6 contains onomatopoeia: the word “thrums” exists because it is a sound the author is trying to describe. The consonance turns line 7 into its own bit of onomatopoeia as well, like rickety taps of the loom’s movable parts criss-crossing an unfinished cloth.

If it wasn’t already clear, we adore this riddle in every form! One hint we have for you is that this garment would have been worn at Bamburgh. Do you think you’ve solved it? Comment below or on our Facebook or Twitter link to this post.

Fresh from the Trench: Week 1

Our first few finds have turned up, via some diligent and patient excavation to work through the tamped-down surface our trench. Even though we cover the site, the surface of the soil still forms a crust that we remove with our trowels, and we call this “cleaning.” We only take the thinnest of layers off the surface just to help us find those subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, color, texture, and moisture-retention differences that allow us to see different areas we call “contexts.” Each context has a number and has been recorded carefully, but after some time away, archaeologists like to look at a fresh cleaned surfaced to re-calibrate their mental picture of the site.

Sitting pretty next to some flagstones in the southern area of the trench was this lovely little styca:

Small, pale green (copper alloy) coin on drying light brown soil.

A 9th-century copper alloy coin called a styca.

A “styca” is a copper alloy coin from the 9th century, and its name comes from the Old English “stycce” for “piece.” These coins were minted at York for Northumbrian kings and archbishops. They were roughly the same size as the earlier Anglo-Saxon silver pennies found further south, and initially did contain silver like the pennies known as “sceattas.” The coinage became debased, eventually having little to no silver at all. The copper alloys were particularly common beginning around 830AD, and the low value of the coin actually made it more regularly employed for daily exchanges. These coins fell out of use, however, before 880AD, partly due to the presence of Vikings in York, but there seems to have been a gradual decline in the coins and the rise of anonymous and badly struck ones. We have found many stycas onsite but that doesn’t make their discovery any less fun!

Launch of our 2019 Archaeology Field School

IMG_0055

We are delighted to announce that booking details are now available for our 2019 field school season, which runs from June 16th – July 27th. The field school will operate out of Bamburgh Castle and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation or Post-Excavation only

You can book anywhere from one to six weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 16th- June 22nd
  • Week 2: June 23rd- June 29th
  • Week 3: June 30th- July 6th
  • Week 4: July 7th- July 13th
  • Week 5: July 14th- July 21st
  • Week 6: July 22nd- July 27th

Student spaces are limited, so we encourage you to book your place as soon as possible.

Tuition is £280 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

DSC_0715

Excavation of Trench 3 at 8th century levels

Accommodation must be booked separately. The staff are staying at Budle Bay Campsite and we very much encourage you to join us there for a more communal experience. Most who join the dig find making new friends and the social side of the excavation just as much fun as the dig itself.  Budle bay offers a variety of options from basic camping to booking your own Eco Hut. Options for space in the Bunkhouse that we are booking for staff are also available but do contact us to ensure that places are still available in it before booking with the campsite.

Note: There were a number of changes to the field school last year, such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Archaeomagnetic Studies at the Bradford Kaims

Archmag

Sam Harris, Doctoral Research Student – University of Bradford

Firstly, it is purely coincidental that I study in Bradford (West Yorkshire) and am coming to take samples at the Bradford Kaims. As an archaeomagnetist, and we are pretty few and far between, it is always amazing the variety of sites that you get to see and work on. Having parachuted into the Bradford Kaims trenches for the second time, this site is no exception in its wonder. Placed at the edge of a fen, the variety of soil and sediment types on site is impressive! This offers the perfect opportunity for archaeomagnetic studies.

For those that aren’t quite sure what this odd science (magic) is, you are welcome to peruse my website, which is listed at the end of this blog post, for some answers. Simply put, the Earth has a magnetic field which varies over space and time. A record of the past geomagnetic field can be found in the in situ remains of hearths, furnaces, or other anthropogenically fired features that we as archaeologist excavate on a regular basis. Archaeomagnetic studies seek to improve our knowledge of past geomagnetic field changes through the analysis of this material. Why though, I hear you ask…

This is because we can use the knowledge of geomagnetic fluctuations over time to conduct archaeomagnetic dating and gain an idea of the last time that some fired archaeological features were heated. Having a dating method which directly relates to an anthropogenic activity, rather than to the end of an organism’s carbon absorption for example, is a powerful tool for the archaeologist.

Archaeomagnetic dating was first attempted at the Bradford Kaims in 2011. While the study was successful and the date recovered for a fired hearth feature in Trench 6 (c.4350 cal.BC) was considered accurate given other artefactual dating evidence for the site, newly acquired radiocarbon dating evidence suggests that the calibration methods used for the archaeomagnetic dates produced erroneous results. This was due to the use of an experimental and alternative calibration model from outside the UK, as the current UK calibration model does not stretch back into the Bronze Age or before. This previous study, and others since, have identified the need for further work to be undertaken. This is where me and my PhD come in! My main aim is to improve our understanding of geomagnetic field change during prehistoric periods, but particularly the Neolithic.

At the Bradford Kaims this season, I sampled two features associated with the Bronze Age burnt mounds, both of them interpreted as fire pits containing fired stones, burnt sediments, ash, and charcoal. These features will provide good radiocarbon dating records, alongside the archaeomagnetic signatures for the fired subsoils within and below them.

Thanks to the Bamburgh Research Project’s excellent radiocarbon dating programme at the Bradford Kaims, the fired archaeological features that I can archaeomagnetically study will have independent dates associated with them. By building up a number of well-dated features in this way, a new calibration curve for the UK can be created, with the Bradford Kaims being a central case study in this process. Through the combined use of radiocarbon dating and archaeomagnetic dating on prehistoric sites like the Bradford Kaims, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of their chronologies.

Sam’s website can be viewed at; www.neolithicarchaeomagnetism.weebly.com

Sam’s Twitter can be viewed at; @Archaeomagnetic

Visit to the Heugh Excavation on Lindisfarne

We recently visited the ongoing excavation on Lindisfarne that is being undertaken by the Archaeological Practice as part of the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Project. It’s a fascinating site and should be familiar to some, as it has been the subject of a number of news reports. The team have opened up a series of trenches on the Heugh, which is the long, narrow, dolerite rock promontory above and to the south of the medieval priory site in Lindisfarne Village. The Heugh has long been speculated to have been part of the early medieval monastery founded around 634 during the reign of King Oswald, as a daughter house of Iona. It quickly rose to be a site of great importance and remains famous for its association with Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert as well as being the place where the wonderful Lindisfarne Gospels were made.

FullSizeRender(2)

The foundations of the potential new church on the Heugh

Here the excavation team have found the almost complete foundation of a stone building, that all current evidence suggests is early medieval in date. Direct dating evidence is scant, but the near complete absence of later medieval and modern pottery from the structure, despite a considerable volume of material being excavated, suggests a time of construction when pottery was not in use. This, together with the absence of mortar bonding and the rather crude-tooled finish to the stones, adds up to a quite compelling argument that they have discovered a building from the early monastery. In addition, the ground plan, with what appear to be a chancel and nave, is very suggestive of a church which greatly adds to the excitement.

FullSizeRender(1)

The finish of the stones is mostly quite crude and no mortar bonds them together. It was a substantial structure though with wide foundations made of large blocks.

We know from textual evidence, particularly the writings of Bede, that Aidan’s successor Finan built a timber church that was later covered in lead. We also know from a later text that this church was removed to Norham as a relic when the monastery was partly abandoned in the 9th century. We can be certain then that this structure is not that church, but the site would have likely held several churches during its lifetime. The crude working of the stones, particularly of some sculpted stones that appear to form a trough or bowl, and part of a possible window, are very interesting as they may suggest builders that are beginning to come to terms with a new construction medium- stone instead of wood. As a consequence it is tempting to imagine this building as particularly early, but it is perhaps also possible that it could be later. In the Viking age many monasteries were abandoned, but the continued use of stone in the construction of monuments at Lindisfarne suggests that the site remained important, though the sculpted fragments of the 10th century and later often appear to be cruder and derivative. It is therefore possible that this structure could date from this later time, when the working of stone was not done with the same confidence or competence as the 8th and 9th centuries.

FullSizeRender(3)

Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne’s near neighbour, just 8.5km over the water!

It is tempting also to see the location on the height of the Heugh as meaning that the building was meant to be seen from a distance. It has a clear sight line to Bamburgh, the great secular palace site, and this may be no coincidence. We have evidence of pre-conquest stone architecture at Bamburgh and it is likely that the use of this medium was intended in both instances to reference Rome. In the case of a monastery, this would be the Catholic Church as the successor of Rome, and at the palace as legitimising rule through being the heirs of the Romans. This is a good lesson in why it’s important to study how a site fits into its wider world in order to properly understand it.

Bamburgh Castle, Trench 3 – Hope Taylor nearly in reach!

As the level of Brian Hope Taylor’s 1974 excavations gets tantalisingly close, Trench 3 staff continue the process of gradually joining our excavations to his.

 

 

This is achieved through the removal of features and contexts which are stratigraphically higher in sequence including a stone wall (possibly 9th Century) last week, underneath which a number of finds were discovered. Our progress is described in the video below.

 

 

New article on our excavations at Bamburgh Castle

Slide 8

The windmill office in the West Ward, between our two excavation trenches

Archaeology, the magazine of the Archaeological Institute of American has published an article on our excavation work at Bamburgh Castle. It is available online here:

Stronghold of the Kings of the North

 

The King in the North – a talk

The Friends of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh have organised a talk by Max Adams on his biography of St Oswald. It is at St Aidan’s at 4:00 pm Sunday 24th April. Entrance if £5.00 and includes afternoon tea.

Max Adams lecture poster

Writing a biography of an early medieval king is a challenge, so succeeding in writing an acclaimed one, as Max has, suggests we will be in for a treat. Do make it along if you get the chance.