Polo donkey bones found in Tang Dynasty noblewoman’s tomb

March 27th, 2020

Archaeologists have identified the bones of probable polo donkeys in the tomb of a Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) noblewoman. Tang-era texts do describe the sport of lvju, or donkey polo, played by royalty and nobility, but this is the first archaeological evidence of it.

The tomb was discovered in 2012 in Xi’an, ancient Chang’an, onetime capital of the Tang Dynasty. The brick structure has a vertical entrance, a corridor and a burial chamber with brick-lined floors. The contents had been looted in antiquity, but there were some artifacts found, including a lead stirrup and a stone epitaph. The tomb and murals of servants and musicians at a funerary feast  indicate she was a member of the societal elite. The epitaph confirmed her status, identifying the tomb as that of the Lady Cui Shi, wife of Bao Gao, governor of two administrative regions in the late Tang Dynasty. The inscription notes she died October 6th, 878, when she was 59 years old, and was buried August 15th, 879.

Chang’an was located at the beginning of the Silk Road and donkeys were highly valued as pack animals to transport goods along the trade routes. Tang Dynasty texts refer to them being used in households and pack animals and in military and governmental transports. An edict of the period prohibited donkeys being killed or eaten. Commoners were known to ride them for transportation, but not the upper classes.

Polo is believed to have developed in Persia and spread east through the influence of the Parthian Empire (ca. 247 B.C. – 224 A.D.). Polo played on horseback was established as a prestigious sport in central China. At the Tang court it was valued as a proving ground for cavalry skills, but it was dangerous, even fatal to play. Lvju used sturdier, shorter, easier to handle donkeys and therefore appealed to women and older players.

Only two pottery figurines of donkeys wearing saddles have been unearthed in Tang tombs in Xi’an. The discovery of skeletal remains of three donkeys among piles of animal bones in the corridor and on the coffin of Cui Shi’s tomb gave researchers the unique opportunity to analyze their bones and determine what they were used for in life and why they were buried in a noble woman’s tomb.

Dental analysis identified the different equid species in the mix. Their ages were determined by tooth eruption on the jaws and wear patterns. Measurements of metatarsals from three individuals determined their sizes. Stable isotope analysis was done on the metatarsals of two specimens.  Micro-CT scans were done of three humeri from two donkeys to determine the biomechanical stress they were subjected to, a marker of whether these donkeys were pack animals in life. Radiocarbon dating found the donkeys’ date range coincides with the one in the epitaph, 856-898 A.D.

One hint to why they were in Cui’s tomb, [Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist Fiona Marshall] says, may lie in the identity of her husband, Bao Gao. Ancient texts reveal that the polo-obsessed Emperor Xizong promoted Bao to the rank of general because of his skills on the polo fields. Polo was wildly popular during the Tang dynasty—for both women and men—but it was also dangerous; riders thrown from their horses were frequently injured or killed. If a woman like Cui wanted to join a game, then riding a donkey—slower, steadier, and lower to the ground—might have been a safer alternative.

When the researchers, led by archaeologist Songmei Hu of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, analyzed the size of the donkey bones in Cui’s tomb, they found that they were too small to have been good pack animals. Computerized tomography scans of the leg bones revealed patterns of stress similar to an animal that ran and turned frequently, rather than one that slowly trudged in a single direction. Taken together, the evidence suggests Cui played polo astride a donkey, the researchers report today in Antiquity. The noblewoman’s donkeys may have been ritually sacrificed when she died to allow Cui to continue to play in the afterlife.

“There’s no smoking gun … [but] there’s really no other explanation that makes sense,” Marshall says, adding that the finding suggests Tang dynasty donkeys were held in higher regard than believed.

Read the full study published in Antiquity here.

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Neanderthal surf and turf

March 26th, 2020

A new study has found that contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals loved them some sea meats. Remains of marine foods are lacking at Neanderthal sites in Europe, whereas the anatomically modern humans living in Africa at the same time left behind extensive evidence of regular consumption of aquatic foods. Because marine foods are very high in Omega-3 fatty acids that aid in the brain development, this dietary disparity was thought to have played a role in how advanced cognitive skills grew among humans of modern anatomy and not in other archaic human species.

However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the aphorism goes, and a great deal of coastal Europe was churned up in the last Ice Age by the growth and movement of icecaps and the rise of sea levels after their thaw.  Gruta da Figueira Brava, a seaside cave 20 miles south of Lisbon, Portugal, on the other hand, was uniquely protected from erosion and submersion because of its position on a steep shelf off the Arrábida mountain range.

Today the cave has three entrances in a cliff overlooking the water, but during the Last Interglacial period when Neanderthals lived there about 86,000 to 106,000 years ago, it was just over a mile from the sea. A team of international researchers led by João Zilhão from the University of Barcelona excavated the cave shelter and found clear evidence that the Neanderthal population regularly and thoroughly exploited marine animal resources.

They ate crabs — brown and spider — an assortment of mollusks — limpets, mussels, clams — fish — sharks, eels, sea bream — seabirds — cormorants, egrets, gannets, auk — waterfowl — loons, mallards, geese — and marine mammals — dolphins and seals. The density of the remains is comparable to that found at African Middle Stone Age and Last Interglacial sites in Africa. It even exceeds the latter in terms of crab and fish.

Their gastronomic enjoyment of aquatic species was not exclusive. They also hunted hoofed game — deer, goats, horses, aurochs — and other small land animals like tortoises. Plants — olives, figs — were on the menu as well. They foraged extensively, storing mature pinecones to eat the nuts during the winter.

Figueira Brava provides the first record of significant marine resource consumption among Europe’s Neandertals. Taphonomic and site-preservation biases explain why this kind of record has not been previously found in Europe on the scale seen among coeval African populations. Consistent with rapidly accumulating evidence that Neandertals possessed a fully symbolic material culture, the subsistence evidence reported here further questions the behavioral gap once thought to separate them from modern humans.

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Care for a little ginger beer with your lead?

March 25th, 2020

This February, 600 Victorian stoneware beer bottles were found under an old cellar staircase in Leeds. They had been carefully stacked under the steps of what was once the Scarborough Castle Inn in the late 19th century. In 1931, the site of the former inn was acquired by the Tetley company and became part of Tetley’s Brewery, an Art Deco factory that is now being excavated in advance of for redevelopment.

The excavation is being undertaken to examine an area spanning the former line of Hunslet Lane on the southern approach to during the medieval and later periods.

Along with the road, there are the remains of the Scarborough Castle Inn, properties along the former South Terrace and workers housing have been targeted for excavation.

This excavation is providing archaeologists with a rare chance to explore the social development of this part of Leeds from the late medieval period through to modern day.

David Williams, at Archaeological Services WYAS, said: “This excavation is giving us a great opportunity to uncover a part of Georgian and Victorian Leeds. The results so far are giving a real insight to the daily lives of the former residents of Leeds during this period.”

Rather perilous daily lives, as it turns out. The bottles appeared to be were mostly ginger beer. Labels indicated most of the bottles were produced by J. E. Richardson of Leeds, although several different local breweries were represented.

NB: The original ginger beer made in England in the mid-18th century, it was not the sweet carbonated soft drink it is today. It was a fermented beverage with the punch of beer but the taste of ginger. Water, ginger, sugar and a combination yeast and bacteria starter culture known as the ginger beer plant (GBP), were fermented to create a bubbly, spicy alcoholic drink. Ginger beer could pack a goodly wallop getting up to 11% alcohol.

Stoneware bottles like the ones in the Leeds find were key to the success of ginger beer as a popular and commercially viable export product. England produced stoneware bottles of such high quality that they could be shipped without catastrophic breakage. Ginger beer got even more popular after 1835 when an improved stoneware glazing process was invented. The bottles, corked and wired like champagne today, lasted indefinitely, the beer inside preserved by the alcohol and natural carbonation.

Some of the Leeds bottles had their corks intact and liquid still sloshing around inside. Two of the bottles that contained liquid were sent to West Yorkshire Joint Services for testing.  The results were surprising.  The alcohol content was a modest 3%. The lead content was an impressive .13 mg/l, making this weak beer but strong poison. According to the World Health Organization, the safeish lead concentration in water is .01 mg/l (it’s zero for children), but really there is no safety to be found in lead ingestion because it accumulates in the body over time and irreversibly damages the nervous system.

The likely source of the contaminated ginger beer was lead water pipes. The water was contaminated before it even made contact with the other ingredients that would make it ginger beer, so the high lead level was present in the drink from day one.

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New date for dugout canoe

March 24th, 2020

A dugout canoe pulled from Squam Lake in central New Hampshire in 1939 is significantly older than previously believed, dating to the mid-16th century.

It was discovered by James King and Harold Smith of Tilton when they were fishing on Squam Lake in 1936. It was under 14 feet of water, so they didn’t recover it right away. They did keep an eye on it, and in August 1939, their friend Horace Wheaton was able to raise it to the surface. It took him 15 dives to remove the stones pinning the canoe to the lakebed and raise it to the surface. The canoe was 14 feet long, three feet wide and 15 inches deep, and there was a paddle inside too, but it had disintegrated when Wheaton touched it. The three men put the canoe on display in a garage in Tilton and it got a lot of visitors for a couple of weeks.

When it first raised from the lake, the assumption was that it was an old Indian canoe, but by early September a new origin story had taken hold. Locals claimed it has been carved in the second half of the 19th century by one Bartlett Smith of Holderness. He felled a large tree and dug it out to use on the lake as a personal watercraft. Alas, he had overestimated his canoe-making skills and on Smith’s first attempt to cross the lake from Holderness, the vessel sank. He abandoned it on the lake floor and there it remained until 1939.

There was some desultory talk about preserving the canoe as a sort of quaint artifact of the quaint olden times, but ultimately nobody in New Hampshire cared to take on the boat, so eventually it wound up in the Shelburne Museum in Vermont whose experts correctly identified it as a Native American artifact.

In 2019, the canoe returned to New Hampshire, now in the care of the Holderness Historical Society. Again it was subject of local interest, increasing visits to the historical society tenfold. They decided to undergo a new analysis to date the canoe and help determine its real history.

The highly complex process for dating the canoe began with the taking of a small sample of the wood and exposing it to a series of stress tests: freeze-drying it to minus-107 degrees Celsius to remove all moisture, then heating it to more than 110 degrees Celsius to remove any trace of iron and calcium carbonates.

Using sterilized instruments, the sample was placed inside a quartz tube with cupric oxide and silver added before it was “hydrogen flame-sealed” under vacuum and combusted at 820 degrees.

The sample was then radiocarbon dated to the mid-17th century, a good hundred years before English settlers discovered Squam Lake.  When Samuel Lane surveyed its shores in 1751, he saw evidence of settlement and agriculture by the Penacook-Abenaki People of the Algonquin Federation. Artifacts connected to the Cowasuck Band have been unearthed around the lake and river.

Experts theorize that, with no saw or metal tool marks evident, and an upturned stern with bow and sides of varying thickness, that the Holderness canoe is undoubtedly made by Native Americans during the “Early Contact Period.”

By the mid-1600s the more maneuverable birch bark canoe had replaced the cumbersome dugout, so this Squam Lake artifact most likely had been abandoned.

The canoe is scheduled to go on display June to September at the Holderness Historical Society Museum. Fingers crossed.

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Tour the Winchester Mystery House

March 23rd, 2020

The famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, is closed until at least April 7th, but the museum has compiled a comprehensive 41-minute video tour for our remote enjoyment.

The manchester was built by Sarah Winchester, widow of rifle tycoon William Wirt Winchester. When he died in 1881, his wife inherited a huge fortune in cash and stock, making her worth a half billion dollars in today’s money and one of the richest women in the world. Legend has it — and it is very much legendary as Sarah left no correspondence or journals on the subject, nor did any family, friends or loyal employees ever volunteer an explanation — that, devastated by the loss of her husband and daughter, she sought the advice of a Boston medium named Adam Coons. After a séance, he told her that she was haunted by the thousands of Civil War soldiers and Indians who had been killed by Winchester firearms, and that the only way to appease the vengeful spirits was to use the Winchester money she’d inherited to build them a house. Another origin story claims that a medium told her she would die as soon as the house was finished, so she saw to it that construction continued until her last breath. There is zero evidence that any of this ever happened.

In 1884, she moved to California and bought a 161-acre farm in Santa Clara Valley from Dr. Robert Caldwell. There was a modest eight room farmhouse already on the property, but Sarah’s vision was far vaster. For 38 years, she had her crew of carpenters and masons work in shifts so construction continued 24-7, 365 days a year. (Again, this is the legend; somebody probably took some time off now and again.) built and built, creating a mansion with hundreds of rooms, rooms-within-rooms, unfinished rooms, mazes of corridors, dead ends, staircases that are short cuts from one part of the house to the other, staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open up to walls, doors that open to the outside two stories up, small doors, big doors, cupolas, turrets, windows of every shape and size, skylights in floors, prime numbers, especially 13, everywhere. There was even a seven story tower at one point, but it was destroyed in the 1906 Frisco quake.

When she died on September 5th, 1922, work immediately stopped. There are still nails half-hammered in to the walls. The rich reclusive widow and her labyrinthine mansion were already famous by then. The villa was known as the Spirit House and rumors abounded of nightly séances, copious hauntings and “evil spirits” confounded by Sarah Winchester’s architectural follies.

She left her estate to the charities she supported, dedicated employees and family. The furnishings of the house were sold and the mansion itself opened to tours in 1923. Millions of visitors have trod its eccentric floors in the century since then. You can now join them virtually from the comfort of your home, maybe chasing the tour with a viewing of the horror thriller Winchester starring Helen Mirren now showing on Showtime and streaming on Hulu.

You can also buy discounted ticket vouchers for a visit to the mansion that will be valid through May 2021. The vouchers cost $26, $13 off the regular ticket price. The income from the voucher sales will help keep the lights on and food on the table for the museum’s employees while the Winchester House is closed.

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Coin hoard found under Slovakian church floor

March 22nd, 2020

A hoard of 500 coins from the early 18th century has been discovered under the floor of a church in the town Obišovce, near Košice, eastern Slovakia. The trove of coins had been stashed in a ceramic mug covered with a slab or stone.

It was found in the foundations of the Renaissance church which was demolished in the 19th century and the current church built over it. The foundations were discovered when the floor of the church was removed. Archaeologists explored the structural remains and came across the hoard that had been stashed under the original stone floor near the western entrance.

Most of the coins are salary plates issued by the many mines in what was then Upper Hungary. Copper, iron, silver and gems had been mined in the east Slovakian fields since the 9th century arrival of the Hungarian tribes. In the 15th century, the five main mining towns including Košice, had united to promote their interests. They had mints that produced coinage and salary plates with which the miners were paid. The hoard also includes silver coins, believed to have been wrapped separately in a linen textile, and a few Polish coins. From the dates on the coins, the earliest the hoard could have been buried was 1702.

When the coins were cached, Slovakia was part of the Kingdom of Hungary ruled by the Catholic Habsburgs and under regular attack by the Ottoman Empire. In the 17th century, Protestant Magyar nobles fleeing Turkish incursions moved to Upper Hungary, modern-day Slovakia, temporarily tipping the demographics of the region to majority Protestant. They allied with Transylvanian prince István Thököly in the failed Magnate conspiracy to overthrow Leopold I in 1670, and again with his son Imre Thököly in his anti-Habsburg rebellion in 1678.

Imre, allied with the Ottoman sultan, took control of territories in eastern and central Hungary, creating the short-lived Principality of Upper Hungary which largely conforms to the boundaries of Slovakia. By 1685 he had managed to be defeated in battle by the Habsburgs and to piss off the Turks so the putative principality was no more. The Great Turkish War between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League ended in 1699 with the Habsburgs in control of Hungary.

Thököly’s peasant army kept fighting against the Habsburgs, however, and in 1703, Hungarian prince Francis II Rákóczi led them in an uprising against the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire, then engaged in the War of Spanish Succession. The Rákóczi rebellion lasted until their surrender in 1711.

With the region mired in so much religious and political turmoil in the late 17th and early 18th century, hoarding and hiding coins doubtless seemed prudent.

Preservationists say it is probable that the priest from the local church and parish collected the money and hid it under the floor in times of unrest. It is probable that when he left, he omitted to say anything about the money under the floor and it was forgotten about.

The historic sources state that after the Thӧkӧly uprising was over, sometime between 1685 and 1687, a Catholic priest returned to Kysak parish. Obišovce at that time belonged to this parish. The priest was a Pole, he was blind in one eye and sometime in the 1690’s he went blind completely. The church was under the administration of the Catholic church until 1705 when rebels plundered it and it was left as a ruin for three years. The Polish priest was expelled and he returned to Poland.

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This 12th c. Norwegian church tapestry is unique

March 21st, 2020

On topic news is a little thin at the moment, so I shall fill the lull with the Høylandet tapestry, a Norwegian embroidered church tapestry from the late 1100s that is the only known surviving tapestry of its kind.

We know from contemporary sources that medieval churches in Norway were draped with textiles and tapestries. This was not only a decorative and devotional statement; swathing the interior of a church in textiles helped insulate the frigid building in the long winters. The church tapestries were made of wool and plant and mineral dyes were susceptible to damage, fading and decay. Even though they were extremely popular in the Middle Ages, the ones that did manage to survive the elements were systematically destroyed and recycled after the Reformation. Other than the Høylandet tapestry, only small fragments of embroidery have been found in archaeological explorations of medieval churches.

It was stitched by a group of women in the village of Høylandet in central Norway’s Trøndelag County for their parish church. This was an agricultural area, and embroidery was a high-status activity performed by women who could afford to spend untold hours putting decorative stitching on cloth instead of working with their families to bring in a harvest. First they wove a red background, then sketched Biblical scenes on it. Finally they embroidered fully realized characters onto the textile. They used yarns in a variety of bright colors — blue, green, ochre, yellow, red — to stitch the Biblical scenes. White linen thread was used for the outlines. Today the vivid colors have faded to brown shades, and coupled with the white outline, it almost has a black-figure pottery vibe.

The tapestry is no longer complete. It is 44 cm (17.3 inches) high, but however long it was originally, only 210 cm (6’11”) of that length is extant. What does remain is embroidered with three scenes: Mary sitting on a throne as Queen of Heaven with the Christ child; the Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh; the kings being warned in a dream not to return to Herod and report on the birth of Jesus.

It’s unknown how the tapestry made it through the Reformation. At some point it was stashed in the loft of the Høylandet Church where it was rediscovered in the 1800s. By happy accident, the church attic proved to be a fine conservation climate, keeping the large section of tapestry in excellent condition.

It is now under the care of experts at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) University Museum. The iconography and technique of the tapestry lends unique insight to the iconography and craft of sacred art in medieval Norway, which is why art history PhD candidate Ingrid Lunnan Nødseth is writing her dissertation on the tapestry.

“In the Høylandet tapestry we find great pattern and technique variations. For example, the horse is filled with nine different embroidery patterns. It’s embroidered with a so-called fill stitch, a technique only found in Scandinavia. It’s a sign that the work belongs to a Nordic context,” says Nødseth.

The Wise Men are also depicted differently on this tapestry than we typically see the Wise Men depicted in Western art.

In the Middle Ages, the men were portrayed as three holy kings. In the Høylandet tapestry, they are wearing short pants and robes draped over their shoulders; two of them have small crowns and one has a Phrygian hat. Their clothing shows that they have come from the East.

The textures and patterns embroidered on their clothing (and the horse’s skin!) are spectacular. 

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Iron Age bucket part of record year for PAS

March 20th, 2020

The remains of an Iron Age bucket discovered in Lenham, Kent, are a highlight of a record-setting 1,311 treasure finds (pdf) logged by the UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2019. Discovered by metal detectorist Rick Jones, the elaborate copper-alloy bucket fittings dates to around 50 B.C.; the bucket is part of a hoard with a copper alloy bowl and a clay pot, likely a grave assemblage for a high-status cremation burial.

The bucket was made of wood which has rotted away, leaving the fittings behind. They are unusually decorated. The remains of the copper bands feature pairs of hippocampi (mythical creatures with the forelimbs and heads of horses and fish tails) facing each other. Between them is a four-legged animal on its back. Damage to the body and head make it difficult to identify the animal, but archaeologists think it may be a horse or a deer. Behind the left-facing hippocamp is a bird-like creature with a long hooked beak and sharp curved talons.

The bucket handles are even more ornate. The two fittings feature humanoid heads with large, wide-set eyes, eyebrow ridges that come together and go south to form the bridge of a nose, a wide mouth and combed back hair. Under the chin of one is a straight rectangle, a sort of elongated neck, with a rivet in the middle connecting it to the copper mount. Under the chin of the other is a pyramid of three balls.

The two faces are slightly different: one has dotted decoration along the mouth, brows, hairline and around the back of the neck, whilst the other is plainer with a slimmer jawline.

Close examination of the fittings helps us to understand how the bucket would have been used. The plainer mount appears more worn, and the attachment mechanism has also been repaired, with new holes pierced for reattachment. This was clearly a cherished and much-used object. Buckets like this are usually found in high-status cremation graves, several of which are known in Kent and on the near continent. They probably formed part of a drinking set, used for serving mead, wine or beer at feasts. Perhaps the people buried with these objects hosted such feasts in life, or maybe this was a way for the living to share the funeral feast with them.

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Conserving the Wolsey Closet ceiling at Hampton Court Palace

March 19th, 2020

Hampton Court was built by Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, the immensely wealthy and influential statesman who served as Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII. He spent hundreds of thousands of crowns and ten years building a lavish palace worthy to host visiting royalty domestic and foreign. Henry stayed in the state rooms in 1525 and was favorably impressed, so much so that Wolsey gave him the palace in 1528 in the attempt to stave off his fall from grace.

It didn’t work. In 1529, Wolsey’s failure to secure an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon saw him stripped of his offices and properties. He would have probably lost his head too, but he died on his way to London to answer to treason charges in 1530.

Henry promptly set to work expanding the palace. The famous kitchens, the Great Hall with its amazing hammer-beam roof, the gatehouse, its astronomical clock, and enough rooms to accommodate a court of one thousand date to Henry’s reign. Subsequent monarchs, most notably William and Mary with their two Baroque wings, made major additions and alterations to the palace.

Most of the original spaces from Cardinal Wolsey’s time are gone. The Wolsey Closet, today part of the 18th century Georgian Rooms, is now the only surviving room from what were once the cardinal’s personal apartments. It too has gone through changes. The linenfold oak panelling is Tudor but not original to the room. The panel paintings on the walls — scenes from the Passion of the Christ — were commissioned by Henry VIII but also later installations in the room. The frieze at the top of the walls repeats Wolsey’s motto taken from Psalm 117 “Dominus michi adjutor” (The Lord is my help) and surely dates to his time, but it isn’t original to the room either. It was in a larger space, trimmed and reset in the Closet as it is today.

The Tudor roses and Prince of Wales feathers on the elaborate ceiling were long believed to be made of leather maché in the Tudor era, but when Historic Royal Palaces conservators began to study the ceiling to learn how best to repair it, they discovered how much they still have to learn about the complicated history of this room. This video gives an all-too-brief summary of what they’ve found so far.

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New info revealed about Dublin’s first Viking settlement

March 18th, 2020

An excavation in advance of construction behind Dublin Castle has revealed new information about the 9th century Viking settlement of Dublin. The remains of a ditch, palisade and embankment from the first Viking settlement in the city have been unearthed. These would have overlooked the harbour where the Vikings moored their ships.

Vikings had been raiding Gaelic settlements on the coast of Ireland since 795, but they didn’t build a permanent home base there for another 50 years. Around 841, the Viking warlord Turgesius conquered the pre-existing Gaelic ecclesiastical settlement and established a longfort on the edge of a tidal pool known as the dubh linn, an easily defendable natural harbour whence ships could be quickly deployed to Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. In early Classical Irish, dubh means black or dark and linn means pool, and the pool at the confluence of the River Liffey and one of its tributaries, the River Poddle was tidal, hence the darkness.

The city is named after the pool, now long-since dried.  The site of the former dubh linn has been pinpointed as a garden behind Dublin Castle today, but the excavation has discovered that when the Vikings settled it, the pool extended much further than originally believed. It was almost 400 meters (a quarter mile) wider, reaching the site of St Michael le Pol church, aka St Michael of the Pool, originally founded in the 6th century and one of Ireland’s oldest churches.

[University College Dublin archaeologist Alan] Hayden says this solves two questions that has puzzled historians – why St Michael’s Church referred to ‘le pole’ or the pool and how reports that the Vikings had up to 200 ships on the Dubh Linn.

The team also unearthed layers of later archaeological remains, including a 12th century quarry which supplied the stone used to build Dublin Castle, walls and agricultural furrows from a medieval farm, and prison cells from the police station built there in 1830.

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