Archive for the ‘Medieval’ Category

Rare Viking ring found in Dutch cornfield acquired by museum

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

A rare silver Viking ring was acquired by the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (RMO) in Leiden just before it had to close its doors last month. A metal detectorist found it in a cornfield near Hoogwoud in the province of Noord Holland on Christmas Day 2019. It was bought quickly from the finder for an undisclosed sum and is now part of the national collection.

With a diameter of 25mm, a tiny hair under an inch, and weighing eight grams, the ring is quite large. It was made by twisting two silver wires, one thicker, one fine filigree thread made with tiny balls, together. The braided style was in use by Viking goldsmiths from the 9th through the 11th century A.D. This ring dates to the 10th century.

Danish Viking began raiding The Netherlands in the 9th century, occupying the Dutch coast briefly but they didn’t settle permanently as they did in Ireland or York. They established temporary quarters where they camped out in the winter between raids and sea journeys in what is today the province of Noord Holland. A Viking silver hoard from the 9th century discovered in Westerklief, less than 20 miles north of Hoogwoud, is now in the collection RMO. There’s a braided silver bracelet in the hoard made using the same technique as the newly acquired ring.

The size of ring could mean it was made for a sausage-fingered Viking, but RMO curator Annemarieke Willemsen believes it was actually worn as a pendant. The twisted strands flatten and thin out at the top where it dangled from a chain or tie. The wasn’t happenstance; the ring appears to have been deliberately designed to be a pendant and the wear pattern confirms that it was hung from the thin part.

It looks like a miniature version of the neck torcs that were worn by Viking elite of the time. They too were often made with twisted wires that are thin on one side and then gradually thicken as the braid is woven. Pendants of miniature objects — chairs, axes, swords — were popular in the Viking era.

Objects from the 10th and 11th centuries are rare in the Netherlands. The acquisition of this piece will add significantly to the national collection. The museum is planning to display the ring in a future exhibition.

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It’s 10 o’clock in Lausanne and all is not well

Monday, March 30th, 2020

For 615 years, Lausanne’s designated night watchman has called out the hour from the bell tower of Lausanne’s cathedral and assured the townspeople that all is well. From his watchtower atop the 153 stone steps of the cathedral belfry, he emerges every hour from 10PM to 2AM, cups his hands around his mouth and cries the hour to each cardinal direction: “This is the watchman! The bell has rung [whatever the hour is]!”

The tradition was established after a fire devastated the city in 1405. During the fire itself, the bells were rung continuously as calls to action. People rallied to put out the fire under their peals of encouragement. The night watchman was appointed to look over the city from the height of the bell tower and keep an eye out for any signs of smoke or fire, shouting the hour to check in and connect with a network of watchmen on the ground who could rapidly rouse the city in case of need.

The job continued unchanged until 1960 when  the city trimmed the hours of the watchman to the current four from the original full night coverage of 9PM to dawn. The hourly ringing of the bells had been automated a decade earlier, fire alarms and sirens had been installed on buildings in 1907 fire emergencies were handled by professionals, and everyone had clocks and watches of their own to figure out the time.

The local press expressed concern that this change sounded the death knell, as it were, of the longstanding tradition and residents rallied to defend their beloved watch, showering the city government with letters demanding the night watchman remain on duty in perpetuity. Today the tradition continues undeterred, a proud holdover of the Middle Ages, a landmark symbol of the city’s history and community spirit. Lausanne is now one of only seven cities in Europe that have a night watchman on duty 365 days a year.

Since 2002, the watchman has been Renato Häusler. For nigh on two decades he has embraced his role for its connection to the city’s past, its significance as intangible cultural heritage and for the unique opportunity it affords him to experience the city at night from on high. Now that another peril is abroad in the land, the night watchman’s vigil has taken on new meaning. He shouts the hour and then he peals Clémence, the bell designated to sound in an emergency, swinging the clapper by hand. Three strikes followed by six strikes and again warn the people of danger.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne was built in the 13th century, but the oldest of the bells, Lombarde, dates to 1493. Clémence is the next in seniority, cast in 1518. With a diameter of 174 cm (5’8.5″) and weighing four tons, she is the second largest of the cathedral’s bells after the bourdon Marie-Madeleine. She rings a C note.

(The article erroneously states Clémence is made of steel. Like most of her kind, she’s made of bell metal, a high-tin bronze alloy that is more rigid and sonorous than regular bronze. The clapper is soft steel.)

The canton of Vaud of which Lausanne is the capital has the highest coronavirus rates in Switzerland. There is no stay at home order in place yet, but public gatherings of more than five people have been banned and the thriving night life that the watchman once watched over has gone silent, lending him fresh insight into what his predecessors experienced.

“Since these restrictive measures urging people to stay at home, it has completely changed,” said Hausler.

“It is quiet all week, even from 8:00pm, and when I get here, there is hardly any activity around the cathedral or even in the city so it brings a tranquility that I have never experienced before.

“There is a real calm which resembles what it would have been like in the past, before there was all this traffic noise.

“There is perhaps just one last thing that would bring us right back to how things were in the Middle Ages: turning out the lights.”

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This 12th c. Norwegian church tapestry is unique

Saturday, 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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New info revealed about Dublin’s first Viking settlement

Wednesday, 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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#UffiziDecameron

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

More than once over the past few weeks I have thought about the Decameron, the early Italian-language masterpiece written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the mid-14th century as the Black Death ravaged Tuscany, the peninsula, the continent. In it, 10 youths, seven women and three men, flee plague-ridden Florence and hole up in a villa in the countryside for two weeks. To alleviate the boredom of their self-quarantine, they tell each other stories for 10 nights of the 14 (with exceptions for the two Sundays, and one day per week dedicated to chores which is rather impressive roommating considering the circumstances, actually). By the end of their stay, they’ve told 100 stories.

With all of Italy on lockdown, museums and heritage sites closed, people stuck in their abodes for days at a time, the Uffizi Gallery has launched a digital Decameron to entertain and console the shut-in with photographs, videos and stories shared on all its social media platforms — Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram — under #UffiziDecameron.

The Uffizi picks from the immense wealth of artworks in its Gallery of Statues and Paintings, in the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens, posts a photo or clip, and their social media curators explain the background and meaning of each piece. The first video posted was a wordless tour of the Boboli gardens with aerial and terrestrial footage that is just breathtakingly beautiful. The second is a tour by museum assistant Cristina De Caro of the Uffizi’s Contini Bonacossi collection, something I knew not a single thing about before today.

The portrait by Bronzino of Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de Medici, wearing an exquisitely brocaded gown, her arm draped around the shoulders of their son and heir, is world-famous. Less well-known is the ring Cosimo gave her for their wedding: a Roman intaglio stone with matrimonial motifs (cornucopias, intertwined hands) he had set by Florentine goldsmiths. It is one of very few surviving examples of secular gold work from the early Medici dukes in Florence today because the family treasure was so widely dispersed. The reason it’s in the Uffizi today is that Eleonora was buried with it. It was found when the remains of the 50 Medici family members buried in tombs in the walls of San Lorenzo were moved to the crypt under the church in 1857.

Over on Instagram the quarantine festivities kicked off with a 19th century painting by Vincenzo Cabianca of a scene from the Decameron. More recently they posted a riveting explanation of the complex imagery in a section of the Siena Duomo’s unbelievable inlaid marble mosaic floor designed by Pinturicchio in 1504. 

As a companion to the Uffizi Decameron initiative, the museum will also publish images, video and content dedicated to Raphael. It’s the 500th anniversary of his death this year, and the Scuderie del Quirinale museum in Rome was hosting an unprecedented exhibition dedicated to the Renaissance master. My plans to write about the show were derailed by horror, so it warms the cockles of my broken heart that the Uffizi, which loaned 50 of its works out of the 200 or so on display, will be sharing online what cannot be shared in person right now.

“Even if museums have had to close their doors, art doesn’t stop,” explained Uffizi director Eike Schmidt. “This is why from now on we will address our public also through Facebook. The treasures of the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitta and the Boboli Gardens will keep you company in these weeks of the common commitment against the spread of the virus. Today we begin Uffizi Decameron: as in the masterpiece by Boccaccio, every day we will tell stories, the works, the personages of our most beautiful museums, uniting us in the name of culture, of art, and — why not — of amusement. The Uffizi will be with you, in your homes, to overcome all together the current moment of difficulty. We avoid all contagion, except that of beauty.”

So much lump in throat right now. Hai tutto il mio amore, Italia.

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V&A acquires rare Medieval cluster brooch

Friday, March 13th, 2020

The Victoria & Albert Museum has acquired a medieval brooch that is the only one of its kind ever discovered in the UK. Only seven of them are known to exist in the world. It was discovered by metal detectorist Justin Owens at a 2017 rally on a farm that was once a royal hunting grounds near Brigstock, Northamptonshire. It was only four inches under the surface and so caked with mud that Owens at first thought it was a bottle cap or some other piece of trash. Cleaning revealed it was an extremely rare late medieval brooch of gold and jewels.

The front face of the brooch is a triangular setting outlined by three gold bars with a central rectangular gemstone, almost certainly a spinel, in a four-prong mount. Around the stone are alternating flower and bow shapes with twisted gold wires filling gaps. At the three corners of the triangle are are box bezels topped with a pointed gemstone giving them a pyramidical shape. One of the three is missing its gem point. The surviving two are diamonds. White enamel balls accent the piece and there would originally have been pearls, now lost.

The front face is mounted to a roughly circular gold back plate divided into six pie slices. At the center of the outer edge of each wedge is a rivet keeping the setting elements in place, mounted to the back plate. There’s another rivet in the middle where the six divides meet. It holds the central gem in place. The pin is intact, hinged to the back plate. The style of design dates it to between 1420 and 1600.

James Robinson, Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass at the V&A, said: “This intriguing and exquisite late medieval cluster brooch is a rare survivor with a tantalising story to tell.

“It’s sculptural design, exceptionally fine gold and enamel work, stunning diamonds, central cabochon spinel and pearls (now lost), all express burgeoning opulence and extreme wealth.

“It would have been made for someone from the highest echelons of society. The loss of some diamonds and the brooch’s severely bent pin belie the visible trauma it would have suffered when it was likely ripped off its wearer during the thrill of a hunt.

“It makes a truly captivating and unique addition to our world-class jewellery collection, which traces the story of jewellery in Europe from ancient times to the present day.”

After a painstaking conservation using the most delicate of tools including pheasant and ostrich feathers, the brooch will go on display in the V&A’s Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery alongside the silver, sapphire and diamond coronet Prince Albert had made as wedding gift for Queen Victoria.

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Easter Island moai damaged by truck

Sunday, March 8th, 2020

One of Easter Island’s iconic monoliths was severely damaged when a pick-up truck crashed into it. The ahu (the platform the moai stood on) and the moai overlooking the Pu A Pau Bay were damaged by a truck belonging to a Chilean resident on the island. The ahu is broken up into pieces and the head, which like many of the moai was already toppled, was fractured. The driver was arrested and charged with damaging a national monument. He was released pending investigation, but is banned from getting anywhere near the archaeological and sacred areas of the island.

When the disaster first occurred last Sunday, the suspicion was that this was a deliberate act of vandalism. The driver claimed in his defense that it was an accident and the more recent reports state that he wasn’t driving the truck at all, let alone aiming to destroy the ahu. A relative of the driver says he had parked on top of the hill to go fishing, braking it by wedging rocks under the tires because its emergency brake was broken. When he returned, he removed the rocks and the truck slid down the wet hill, crashing into the monument. He alerted the park rangers to the crash and was given a breathalyzer test which found he had not been drinking. The possible penalties for this crime include a fine of approximately $3,000-$12,000, plus unspecified other consequences depending on what the 90-day investigation reveals.

The moai and ahu are not adjacent to the roads, so that truck must have hurtled downhill quite a ways to reach the statue. The ugly image of the sacred cultural patrimony of Rapa Nui crushed under the rimless tires of a busted Chevy might finally spur the authorities to regulate the movement of vehicles in sacred spaces.

The island’s mayor, Pedro Pablo Petero Edmunds Paoa, is calling for stricter regulations that will prohibit vehicles from driving near the 1,000-odd moai on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed island.

Edmunds Paoa tried to pass an anti-driving measure eight years ago, he told Chilean newspaper El Mercurio de Valparaíso, with no effect. He believes that this week’s accident could be the motivating factor to consider re-introducing the proposal.

“The Moai are sacred structures of religious value for the Rapa Nui people,” Rapu said. “Furthermore, [the damage of the moai] is an offense to a culture that has lived many years struggling to recover its heritage and archaeology.”

The moai are already under grave threat from erosion, organic growth, livestock grazing and overtourism. The island’s population has increased by 50% (from 8,000 to 12,000) since 2012 and as travel to the island has gotten easier and less expensive, more than 10,000 tourists visit each month. It is clearly time to revisit the traffic management of the heritage sites.

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Relics of St. Eanswythe confirmed

Saturday, March 7th, 2020

Bones found in a lead reliquary in a church in Folkestone, Kent, have been identified as almost certainly belonging to 7th century Anglo-Saxon princess Saint Eanswythe. The surviving remains, about half of a skeleton, were studied by a team of scientists for five days. A temporary laboratory was set up in the church which was closed to the public for the duration.

The study found that the bones all belonged to one individual, probably a woman, between 17 and 20 years old at the time of her death. The bones were healthy, showing no signs of childhood malnutrition. Radiocarbon analysis of a tooth and foot bone found the person had likely died in the middle of the 7th century.

The reliquary was rediscovered in June 1885 in the north wall of the high chancel during a renovation. Masons were removing the plaster cladding on the wall in order to install new alabaster panels when they discovered a large arched opening with a stone slab four feet long and two feet wide at the base of the arch.

Underneath the slab, workers found a cavity containing a lead coffer about 14 inches long, nine inches wide and eight inches high. The coffer was decorated with dots arranged in lozenge patterns, a motif also seen in the lead cists of Norman nobleman William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, and his wife Gundred who died in 1088 and 1085 respectively and were buried at Lewes Priory, the Cluniac monastery they had founded.

Inside the leaden coffer were skeletal remains. The location where they were laid to rest would have been the spot of highest honor in the church, the kind of place reserved for the church’s founder or its greatest patron. The chancel walls date to the 12th or 13th century. When it was first constructed, this arched space was open to the chancel. At some point it was filled with stone and walled up.

Eanswythe was born around 630, daughter of King Eadbald of Kent and his Frankish wife Emma or Ymme. They were both Christian — Eadbald was a fresh convert when they married — and their daughter was said to have founded the first women’s monastery in England, the Benedictine Folkestone Priory. Refusing offers of marriage, she lived in the community until her premature death around 650.

The Folkstone Priory was abandoned in the 10th century when the cliff upon which it was perched became so eroded by the sea that the building fell to ruin. After the Norman Conquest, a new priory was built further inland in 1137 along with the church of St. Mary and St. Eanswythe. The remains of one of its namesakes were translated to the new church on Saint Eanswythe’s day, September 12, 1138. That’s when the lead coffer was decorated with the lozenge pattern used on the de Warenne cists 40 years earlier.

The priory was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The church survived as the Folkestone Parish Church. It’s possible the chancel arch was filled with rubble at this time and the reliquary deliberately obscured for its own protection. After the rediscovery of the reliquary, Rev. M. Woodward, Vicar of Folkestone, returned it to the niche in the wall, only now it was lined with alabaster and covered with a brass grill. The grill was then covered with a door which when open would allow people to look through the grill at the lead coffer.

[Andrew Richardson, of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust] said the result of the analysis was of national significance. “It now looks probable that we have the only surviving remains of a member of the Kentish royal family, and one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon saints.

“There is more work to be done to realise the full potential of this discovery. But certainly the project represents a wonderful conjunction not only of archaeology and history, but also of a continuous living faith tradition at Folkestone from the mid-seventh century to the present day.”

Lesley Hardy, the director of the Finding Eanswythe Project at Canterbury Christ Church University, said: “Folkestone is an extremely ancient place but much of its heritage has been erased through development in the 19th and 20th centuries. Eanswythe was at the centre of the community – people would have seen her as a local hero. To bring her back into the light is something quite special.”

The bones have been returned to their niche yet again, but funds will be raised for additional scientific analyses, including DNA testing.

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Walls of human bones found under Saint Bavo

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Walls made of human bones have been discovered in an excavation around Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent. Nine walls were found, all belonging to the same structure, consisting primarily of thigh and shin bones from adults. The gaps between the walls were filled with skulls, most of them in fragments.

Constructions made from human bones are well-known at such sites as the Paris catacombs, the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic and the Capuchin Crypt under Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome. This is the first organized bone structure ever discovered in Flanders. Exhumed bones have been found from medieval cemeteries, kept in small ossuaries often built against church walls, but they were simply stored there, not carefully selected bones stacked and arranged as sound building material.

Bones were regularly cleared from city cemeteries because space was at a premium. Due to beliefs of the resurrection of the flesh, the bones could not be discarded. At least not all of them. The long bones of the limbs and skulls were preserved while the small bones — adult vertebrae, ribs, phalanges, children’s remains etc — were frequently left behind by the clearing crew.

The Saint Bavo walls were built after one such clearing of the cathedral’s associated cemetery, either as a result of a renovation of the church or because the cemetery was full and space needed to be made. Written records of cemetery clearance are practically non-existent. Only two partial clearances are known, one in the first half of the 16th century, the other after 1784. Radiocarbon testing revealed that the bones date to the second half of the 15th century, and pottery found with the walls date to the 17th century or the first half of the 18th. Research is ongoing to attempt to confirm a cemetery clearing from that period.

Why the bones were made into walls remains a mystery, as is the overall purpose of the structure. Another oddity is there are no arm bones, only leg bones and the skull fill.

Saint Bavo will not become Flanders’ first osteoarchitectural tourist destination. The bones will be removed to make way for the construction of a new visitor’s center dedicated to the cathedral’s great masterpiece and international attraction, the Ghent Altarpiece, aka the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan Van Eyck.

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1,200-year-old glass gameboard piece found on Lindisfarne

Friday, February 7th, 2020

An extremely rare blue glass gaming piece from the Viking era has been discovered on Lindisfarne, the Northumbrian island where the first Viking raid struck Britain in 793 A.D. It is gumdrop shaped, made of translucent azure glass decorated around the outside with delicate rings of opaque white glass swirls and topped with five white glass globules that look like an abstract crown.

The piece was unearthed last September during a community excavation of the priory site. The stone priory was built in the 12th century hundreds of years after the original wooden monastery was in ruin. The exact location of the monastery is unknown, but the excavation has unearthed a workshop building of the monastery and part of an associated cemetery dating to around 700-1000 A.D. Other artifacts discovered in the 2019 dig include two copper rings, a bronze buckle, a copper pin, several Anglo-Saxon coins and rare “namestones,” carved stones made to commemorate individuals who were buried on the Holy Isle.

The game piece’s finder was Heather Casswell, mother of the Head of Fieldwork who was chipping in on the dig to celebrate her birthday with her son. (Best. Present. Ever.) Archaeologists have identified it as a gaming piece, probably the King, used to play the Viking board game hnefatafl  (“king’s table”) which had numerous versions including ones local to Britain that are all believed to have descended from the Roman wargame Ludus Latrunculorum. The aim of the game was to protect the king, so even though nothing else from the game set was found, it looks like the goal was achieved for a thousand years or so. While tafl pieces made of wood and bone have been found before in wealthy Anglo-Saxon burials, only one other glass piece has been discovered in the British Isles: at the Pictish site of Dundurn in Scotland.

“Many people will be familiar with Viking versions of the game, and I’m sure plenty of people will wonder whether this gaming piece was dropped by a Viking during the attack on Lindisfarne, but we believe it actually belonged to a version of the game that was played by the elites of Northern Britain before the Vikings ever set foot here,” said Lisa Westcott Wilkins, Managing Director of DigVentures.

“The Romans were very fond of giving gaming pieces as gifts to ‘barbarian’ princes, and as the game spread out of the Roman empire, different societies developed their own variations on the rules, including Northern Britain.

“In fact, we believe the piece had probably originally been buried with a member of the Northumbrian elite, whose grave was later disturbed.”

“It’s amazing to think that when the Vikings did land here they could, in theory, have sat down with the monks of Lindisfarne to play a game that would have been familiar to both cultures, although they would almost certainly have argued over whose rules to play by!” continued Westcott Wilkins.

The Lindisfarne excavation, which will return for its fifth season next September, is run by DigVentures, a company that crowdfunds archaeological digs that are open to public participation, in partnership with Durham University. Contributors to the fundraising campaign garner awards ranging from access to a video stream of the dig to a DigCamp for kids, to a week of cleaning artifacts to a full two weeks of digging in the dirt. DigVentures train all the volunteers who work alongside professional archaeologists. Judging from the pictures full of happy people on their knees in the dirt with trowels in their hands grinning ear to ear, looks like they have no trouble getting contributions even at the highest support levels.

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