Lindisfarne 3D bone comb grabbie

We’ve just finished our crowdfunded excavation on Lindisfarne, where (with the help of our crowdfunders) we’ve been looking for the earliest Anglo-Saxon monastery on Lindisfarne.

Founded in AD 635 by Kind Oswald, this is where some of the most beautiful and important illuminated manuscripts of the early Medieval were produced. It was also the heart of the kingdom of Northumbria and one of the first places to be sacked by the Vikings in AD 793.

We know it exists from the historical record, but even though it’s one of the most iconic sites in English history, no one’s ever really properly looked for it.

In 2014, David Petts at Durham University carried out a geophysical survey, which gave us some clues. In February, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund a two week excavation in June. Did we find it? We think we’ve found the rough location. Here is some of our best evidence:

1. This namestone

Gravemarkers or ‘namestones’ like this are incredibly rare; only 13 have been found so far. They typically bear the name of the person being commemorated, and date to the 8th century. It’s still being translated by experts, but we can already see the letters ‘-frith’ – a common name element in Anglo-Saxon Britain… like King Aethelfrith for example! It was found in close proximity to some human remains, so we think there might be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery still to be found nearby…

 2. This fragment of bone comb

This carved bone comb was found by 12 year-old Sidney, who spotted the delicate pattern. Steve Ashby is the world’s bone comb expert, and has every Anglo-Saxon one in Europe. He identified as an Ashby Type 8b, which places it between 900-1000 AD. That’s just after the monks supposedly fled from the Viking attacks on Lindisfarne… which suggests that some were left behind to brave it out on the island. We wonder what that must have been like…

 3. This piece of cut whale bone

This piece of bone is so large and flat that we can only have come from an animal so big as a whale bone. Many famous early Anglo-Saxon artefacts were made of whale bone, like Frank’s Casket, but this piece was undecorated and probably came from a whale that had been beached, rather than hunter. We found it in an area where we’d found rubbish pits full of mollusks that had been used for bait. Pottery tells us these pits were in use during the same phase as the 12th century priory, rather than the original monastery. Nevertheless, this is where we can find evidence for life once the monks had finally returned after the threat of Viking attacks had subsided…

4. This mystery object

Well here’s a mystery for you to help us solve… We have no idea what this one is! Suggestions have included part of a gaming board, a medieval guitar fret or some sort of ritual item(!). What we can say for now is that it is a piece of flattened horn that has been cut, used and is open for interpretation! Leave your suggestions in the comments…

5. This entire trench

This trench is where we found the namestone, and the human bones. You can clearly see the remains of some walls, which match up really closely with the geophysics results. Seeing as we are able to accurately date the namestone, we can be pretty sure that these structures are roughly contemporary with the monastery we’ve been looking for.

You can see everything else we have found and recorded so far right here. Anyone can help us in the trenches when we return to carry out more detailed excavations next year, and everyone can follow the dig online. Make sure you’ve got us on Facebook and Twitter, or have signed up for our weekly email if you want to be part of the team!

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Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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