Human skull dating back 5,000 years found in Worcestershire

3:55pm Thursday 29th August 2013 in News By Ian Craig


AN UNUSUAL discovery during a routine dog walk has been found to be one of the oldest remains ever found in Worcestershire.


Martin Evans from Drakes Broughton was walking his dogs near the River Avon in Eckington in March when he uncovered a human skull.


He called police who referred the find to Worcestershire Archaeology, who began an investigation.


After a single bone sample was extracted from the right parietal bone by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre’s radiocarbon dating laboratory, the skull – which appears to be from a female due to its shape – was traced back to between 3338 and 3025 BC, the Middle Neolithic period.


Mr Evans said finding the skull was “quite a shock”.


“At first it looked like a ball buried in the sand but when I washed the sand off, it was quite clear it was a human skull," he said.


"It's very well preserved and there's quite a large amount of detail for something so old."


Neolithic human remains have only been found in Worcestershire once before, during excavations at Wormington Farm near Aston Somerville, but this is not the first skull to have been found on the banks of the River Avon – another was found near Nafford Weir after a flood.


Worcestershire County Council’s senior environmental archaeologist for palynology Nock Daffern described the find as “fantastic”.


“To find some of the oldest human remains ever discovered in Worcestershire by chance is incredible, he said.


“It just goes to show that archaeology can be found absolutely everywhere.


"I would like to thank Martin for having such sharp eyes and to West Mercia Police, particularly Detective Sergeant Jim Bayliss, for involving me in what has turned out to be a fascinating case."


Once investigations have finished the skull will be handed over to Worcestershire Museums Service to go on display at either Hartlebury Museum or the Almonry Museum in Evesham.




Article created on Thursday, August 29, 2013


When a prehistoric burial was accidentally discovered in September 2011 during the construction of a septic tank at Spinningdale in Sutherland, GUARD Archaeology were called out to investigate and made an extraordinary find.

Through Historic Scotland’s Human Remain Call-Off Contract, the GUARD Archaeology team, led by Iraia Arabaolaza, were commissioned to excavate a stone cist, built within a substantial pit, containing the remains of a crouched inhumation of a middle-aged adult female (35-50 years) with signs of spinal joint disease.


A radiocarbon date of 2051-1911 BC and 2151-2018 BC was obtained from a bone and charcoal fragments respectively, placing the cist in the early Bronze Age period. A tripartite food vessel urn, of Early Bronze Age date, was placed to the west of her skull, but what made this burial a particularly extraordinary site was the discovery of sheepskin and wool recovered from under the skeletal remains.

The sheepskin discovered within the left arm of the body is the first sample of this kind in Scotland and is the first known example discovered from a Bronze Age burial in Britain. There have been two other samples of Bronze Age wool found in the British Isles, but no other examples of potential sheepskin are known. Findings of hide or fur are few and far between in Britain but are often associated with ‘rich burials’ of adult inhumations.

Several other characteristics of this burial cist and its associated grave goods made this a significant site. The substantial burial pit in which the cist was constructed can be compared to other burials in Scotland but where the large pits may be related to later rituals. In contrast, the Spinningdale cist had been sealed and therefore represents an exclusive event of an ‘individual’ grave, which appears to be a rare type of burial.

Belief in the afterlife

The dating of the cist corresponds with the chronology obtained by the National Museums of Scotland dating programme for Scottish Food Vessels. The form and development of this type of vessel is complex, due to their limited number and the overlapping and interchange of stylistic elements with Beakers and urns. The vessel found here seems to lie further along the Scottish east coast than those previously found to date. It contained carbonised material of nonbotanical origin, unidentified cremated bone and a fragment of a small ring. All these elements indicate belief in the afterlife and were placed there to assist the individual’s journey into the next world.

There seem to be a tentative geographical relationship of the cist and its contents with the Scottish east coast; represented by similar burial constructions and the eastern variation on the decoration of the vessel. The fact that the individual was facing towards the east, to the Dornoch Firth, which was perhaps used for communication and trade, emphasizes this perception.



First Scottish Iron Age 'loch village' found in Wigtownshire

30 August 2013 Last updated at 13:08


The dig has found remains of a "loch village", thought to be the first of its kind discovered in Scotland


Archaeologists have discovered the remains of an Iron Age "loch village" in Wigtownshire, the first of its kind to be found in Scotland.


Experts believe it could be "Scotland's Glastonbury", a reference to the lake village in Somerset.


The excavation was part-financed with £15,000 from Historic Scotland.


Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop described the village discovery at Black Loch of Myrton as "an exciting and unexpected find".


The dig was carried out this summer by AOC Archaeology Group, which hopes to use the pilot excavation as the starting point for a broader programme of archaeological activity.


There are some excellent examples of 'lake villages' in England but this is the first time archaeologists have found a 'loch village' in Scotland”

Fiona Hyslop

Culture secretary


It is one of 55 archaeology projects to receive more than £1m in funding from Historic Scotland for 2013/14.


The Wigtownshire dig was a small-scale pilot excavation of what was initially thought to be a crannog in the now-infilled Black Loch of Myrton, which was under threat of destruction as a result of drainage operations.


However during the excavation, AOC - which worked on the dig in conjunction with local volunteers - discovered evidence of multiple structures making up a small village.


What initially appeared to be one of a small group of mounds before excavation was revealed to be a massive stone hearth complex at the centre of a roundhouse.


The timber structure of the house has been preserved, with beams radiating out from the hearth forming the foundation, while the outer wall consists of a double-circuit of stakes.


The most surprising discovery was that the house was not built on top of an artificial foundation, but directly over the fen peat which had gradually filled in the loch.


Rather than being a single crannog, as first thought, it appears to be a settlement of at least seven houses built in the wetlands around the small loch.


This type of site is currently unique in Scotland and there are few other comparable sites elsewhere in the British Isles.


Improve knowledge

Similar lake villages - including Glastonbury and Meare, which is also in Somerset - have been found in England, but this is the first "loch village" to be uncovered in Scotland.


Experts hope that its discovery will help to improve knowledge and understanding of Iron Age Scotland.


Ms Hyslop welcomed the discovery.


"There are some excellent examples of 'lake villages' in England but this is the first time archaeologists have found a 'loch village' in Scotland," she said.


"I am pleased too that experts joined forces with local volunteers on this project and I look forward to discovering what more this important find can teach us about Iron Age Scotland."



Melting Snow Reveals Iron Age Sweater



A boat neck sweater made of warm wool and woven in diamond twill was a dominating fashion trend among reindeer hunters 1,700 years ago, according to researchers who have investigated an extremely well preserved Iron Age tunic found two years ago under melting snow in Norway.


Announced last March, the finding has been detailed in the current issue of the journal Antiquity.


“Due to global warming, rapid melting of snow patches and glaciers is taking place in the mountains of Norway as in other parts of the world, and hundreds of archaeological finds emerge from the ice each year,” Marianne Vedeler, from the University of Oslo, Norway, and Lise Bender Jørgensen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, wrote.


Found in an hunting area on the Norwegian Lendbreen glacier at 6,560 feet above the sea level, the well-preserved tunic was made between 230 and 390 A.D., according to radiocarbon dating.


“It is a very rare item. Complete garments from early first millennium A.D. Europe can be counted on the fingers of one hand,” Bender Jørgensen told Discovery News.


Examinations with a scanning electron microscope and light microscopy revealed that two different fabrics, made of lamb’s wool or wool from adult sheep, are present in the tunic.


“There is no doubt that the wool was carefully chosen for both fabrics, and that both quality and natural pigmentation were taken into consideration,” the researchers said.


Indeed, the fabric was deliberately and evenly mottled, the effect obtained using two light and two dark brown alternating wool threads.


Relatively short and constructed from a simple cut, the greenish-brown tunic would have fitted a slender man about 5 feet, 9 inches tall. It featured a boat neck, had no buttons or fastenings, but was simply drawn over the head like a sweater.


The cut and size of the tunic closely resembles that of a garment excavated more than 150 years ago in a bog at Thorsbjerg, Schleswig-Holsten. Now in the Archaeological Museum in Schleswig, Germany, it was found in an early first millennium weapon deposit offering, and presumably had belonged to an officer.


“The similarity between the two tunics is very interesting as it suggests that a specific style was intended, and that this ‘fashion’ was known over a wide area. Both are woven in a weave called diamond twill that was popular over large parts of northern Europe in the period,” Bender Jørgensen said.


The sweater-like tunic showed hard wear and tear and had been mended with two patches.


“This suggest that the hunter looked after his clothing. He may, however, not have been its first owner,” Bender Jørgensen said.


According to the researchers, it is quite possible that the tunic was originally sleeveless, and that the sleeves were added at the time of the second repair.


“For the first repair the mender used a patch of the same fabric as used in the body section, while the second patch derived from the fabric used for the sleeves. The seams on this second patch are made with the same yarn as used for sewing on the sleeves,” Vedeler and Bender Jørgensen wrote.


A question remains why the tunic was left in the mountains.


“The hunter may, perhaps, have been surprised by sudden fog or snow, and not been able to retrieve his garment. This can easily happen in these surroundings,” Bender Jørgensen said.


The tunic is not the only textile item recovered from the Norwegian ice patches.


“Currently, approximately 50 fragments await dating and analysis and, as global warming progresses, more can be expected. They promise to shed further light on dress, textile design and textile production in the first millennium AD — and earlier,” the researchers said.



Vikings' claim to the Faroe Islands in doubt

There’s evidence the Vikings didn’t discover the Faroe Islands, but science has yet to answer who beat them there

Jeremy Cothran

September 1, 2013 - 09:14


A new claim by a team of researchers suggests colonisation of the Faroe Islands – a Danish self-governing territory about 400 kilometres north of Scotland – occurred 300 to 500 years before the Vikings arrived in the ninth century. This discovery puts in doubt what many had accepted to be common knowledge.


Mike Church, an environmental archaeologist at Durham University, said there’s definitive proof in his research, published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews. The proof comes in the form of carbon dating of a mixture including peat ash, burnt bone, and carbonised barley, which is not native to the Faroe Islands. The tests, which took place on the Faroese island of Sandoy, concluded that the mixture predates the arrival of the Vikings.


“This is the first archaeological evidence that proves there were humans there at the Faroes prior to the big Viking colonisation,” Church told Discovery.com.


But there’s one thing Church and his team are still trying to figure out – where did these mystery settlers come from?


Intentional travellers


While most assumed the Vikings first staked claim to the Faroes, there have been earlier suggestions otherwise. Around 825, the Irish monk Dicuil wrote of Irish hermits settling a chain of islands that may have been the Faroes. His book, ‘Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae’, also includes description of the Faroese landscape and creatures native to the islands.


When the Vikings arrived, according to Church, they constructed communities that wiped out nearly all of the evidence of the previous settlers.


Whoever the settlers were, they arrived intending to colonise the Faroes. Navigating the North Atlantic at the time required advanced sea-faring skills and properly outfitted ships, meaning the discovery didn’t occur by happenstance.


Still there?


Simun Arge, a researcher with the National Museum of the Faroe Islands and a co-author of the report, agreed the first settlers were not just guests.


“Although we don't know who the people were that settled here and where they came from, it is clear that they did prepare peat for use, by cutting, drying and burning it, which indicates they must have stayed here for some time,” Arge said.


However, Church claims there’s no evidence that the original settlers of the Faroes went further afield.


“That’s not to say there isn’t any,” Church said to the Postmedia News in Canada. “We just haven’t found it.”



Declassified spy photographs reveal lost Roman frontier

Declassified spy photography has uncovered a lost Roman Eastern frontier, dating from the second century AD.

Research by archaeologists at the Universities of Glasgow and Exeter has identified a long wall that ran 60 kilometres from the Danube to the Black Sea over what is modern Romania. It is considered the most easterly example of a man-made frontier barrier system in the Roman Empire.

Built in the mid-second century AD, ‘Trajan’s Rampart’ as it  is known locally, once stood 8.5m wide and over 3.5m high and included at least 32 forts and 31 smaller fort lets along its course. It is thought to have served a similar purpose to other Roman frontier walls, such as Hadrian’s Wall, built to defend the Empire from threats to the borders.

Trajan’s Rampart actually consists of three separate walls of different dates; the ‘Small Earthen Wall’, the ‘Large Earthen Wall’ and the ‘Stone Wall’. The constructions were previously known about, although wrongly thought to date to the Byzantine or Early medieval period.

Although it is estimated that over 50% of all archaeological sites in the UK have been discovered from the air, other countries are less well studied. Archaeologists believe that studying declassified photographs taken during covert surveillance may herald a new era for archaeological discovery, and may help to uncover and identify thousands of new archaeological sites around the world.

Tens of millions of images of Europe and the Middle East were taken by Allied and German air forces during the First and Second World Wars and are now held in vast public archives. Alongside this, a considerable historical aerial resource is also now available from the recently declassified covert US CORONA satellite intelligence programme of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, which includes around 900,000 photographs from around the world.

These images are particularly valuable to modern archaeologists as they effectively turn back the clock to a time before later Twentieth Century development changed the face of the landscape through industrialisation, intensive farming practices and urban development.

Bill Hanson, Professor of Roman Archaeology from the University of Glasgow, said:“We believe we have enough evidence here to demonstrate the existence of a chronologically complex Roman frontier system, and the most easterly example of a man-made barrier in the Roman Empire, serving to block an important and strategically valuable routeway. It is an incredibly important discovery for the study of Roman history.”

Dr Ioana Oltean, Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology Department, University of Exeter, said:“Photographs from military surveillance are revealing more than those who took them could have imagined because now, half a century or more later, they are proving to be of enormous benefit in showing us our lost archaeological heritage. Thanks to such images, the landscape of this frontier zone is now known to have been as busy in the past as it is today. We hope that this discovery will provide stimulus for further examination of many more neglected frontiers.”

Date: 2 September 2013



1,300-year-old monastic site hailed the new Clonmacnoise by archaeologists



ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered an ancient monastic settlement of "huge national importance" during work for a church car park.


The treasure trove is set to put a boggy field beside an old rural parish church on the archaeological map of Ireland.


Archaeologist Mick Drumm compared the find in Co Donegal this week to the settlement at Clonmacnoise.


The field beside the Drumholm Church of Ireland graveyard, near the village of Ballintra, is set to be classified a national monument as a result of just two days' excavation work.


Mr Drumm moved on to the site on Monday after being commissioned by the parishioners to survey the one-acre plot as part of a planning application for a car park and cemetery extension.


"When we cut five exploratory trenches to take a closer look it became clear very quickly that we were standing on the remains of an early Christian settlement, probably from around the seventh century," said the expert from Wolfhound Archaeology. "I can't overstate the national importance of this. It is very very exciting.


"This site beside the old church and graveyard dates back 1,300 years and we know from previous discoveries in the area that there has been human activity going back to at least 5800 BC," he said.


And yesterday he made another discovery. He found two pieces of pottery in one excavated trench – one from the Gaelic tradition and one from the Anglo-Norman tradition.


"I will be reporting the discoveries here to the National Museum of Ireland and to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht so that it can be declared a national monument and protected."


A spokesman for the Church of Ireland said the parishioners had met to discuss the find and would now withdraw the car park planning application.


"We will work with the authorities to have the site protected," he said.



Charles Brandon: Norfolk hawk death reveals 'royal' hunt

25 August 2013 Last updated at 08:46

By Martin Barber

BBC News, Norfolk


A "rare" 16th Century "royal" silver vervel found in a Norfolk field has revealed the hunting habits of Charles Brandon, the first duke of Suffolk.


The 23mm (0.9in) ring, found in December, was worn by a bird of prey around its foot to identify its owner.


Adrian Marsden, finds officer based at Norwich Castle Museum, said: "It's rare we find them linked to royalty.


"Brandon married Henry VIII's sister and because it carries the duke's arms we can date it in his lifetime."


Charles Brandon, born circa 1483, became life-long friends with King Henry VIII and married his sister, Mary Tudor, in about 1514.


The vervel carries the royal arms on one face with the arms of Brandon on the other.


Etching of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon

Charles Brandon was the son of William Brandon, standard bearer for Henry VII

His father was slain at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 by Richard III

He became Master of the Horse in 1513 and married Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, in 1514 or 1515

He died in 1545


Mr Marsden said the duke must have been in the Colney area, on the outskirts of Norwich, where the gilt vervel was found by a metal detector enthusiast.


"We already know Norwich was a very important place at the time, although its glory days were beginning to come to a close in the 16th Century," he said.


"Brandon probably went hawking here on a number of occasions so this could have been dropped on any of those visits, we just know it was sometime around 1520 to the 1540s.


"He's probably hawking on his own estate, there's no reason to suspect he was simply visiting friends and he could well have been out hunting with the king - we just don't know - it's lost in the mists of time."


The Norwich Castle Museum already has a larger collection of hawking vervels than the British Museum and will be looking to acquire the Brandon piece, which weighs 2.02g (0.07oz), if it is declared treasure.


"We identify thousands of pieces of metal work in Norfolk every year but they are mainly anonymous - with this we're in a different area," said Mr Marsden.


Charles Brandon, first duke of Suffolk

Charles Brandon's friendship with Henry VIII featured in the BBC Two drama The Tudors

"We know who owned it, who lost it, it's a very personal thing."


Vervel finds are uncommon as normally the bird of prey would be recovered if it died during a hunt.


"We have to assume the poor old hawk met its end mid-air while flying near Colney and fell to earth," said Mr Marsden.


"You'd presume it would have been found but perhaps it fell into a bush or a well wooded area, so the hawk rotted away and the vervel found its way into the soil of a ploughed field."


The vervel is now at the British Museum in readiness for a report to be prepared for a treasure inquest by the Norfolk coroner.