In February, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to search for remains of the religious and political heart of the great Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria.
Founded by King Oswald in AD635, this little monastery on the North Sea island of Lindisfarne rapidly became a centre of power whose influence stretched across the continent. But all that changed in AD793, when the Vikings made landfall at Lindisfarne, raided the monastery and began a reign of terror that ultimately forced the island’s inhabitants to flee.
Despite the monastery’s importance, archaeologists had never managed to definitely locate it, but following a huge geophysical survey, David Petts at Durham University realised he’d got some significant clues.
In less than a week, crowdfunders from all over the world had contributed £25,000. Many of them also picked up a trowel, got into the trenches, helped us dig and uncover evidence that confirms we’re hot on the trail of Oswald’s monastery!
Gravemarkers, or ‘namestones’ are probably one of the most diagnostically Anglo-Saxon artefacts it’s possible to find, but they’re incredibly rare. Although a handful of squareheaded namestones have been found, only 13 of these roundheaded ones have previously been found, and they all date to the mid-7th to 8th century AD. placing it firmly in the period of Lindisfarne’s first monastery.
Experts are still deciphering the text, but it’s clear that the name of the person commemorated on the stone ended with the letters ‘frith’, which is a common element of Anglo-Saxon names. Also visible are sun motif, and an indent where a metal boss or jewel may have been placed.
Fragments of human bone were found nearby suggesting that there may be cemetery in the area.
It’s a stunning find, of the exact period we’re looking for and could even have been carved while the Lindisfarne Gospels were being written.
But it wasn’t the only discovery that suggests we’re looking in the right place. We also found a fragment of bone comb, a small piece of worked bone, part of a sculpture with two crosses on it and a rare, early Anglo-Saxon silver coin known as a ‘sceat’, which features a four-legged animal on one side, and the name Eadberht (King of Northumbria AD 737-758) on the other.
These discoveries would not have been possible without crowdfunding, or without the help of our crowdfunders in the trenches.
It’s amazing to see the early monastery basically rising through the ground, and to get the sense of where the most important structures were located. We couldn’t have hoped for a better result.
But this is just the beginning! There’s so much more work to be done on Lindisfarne, and to discover about life at the early monastery, before, during and after the Viking attacks.
Now that we’ve confirmed the geophysics results have put us in the right place, we can press on with more detailed excavations next year.
If you’d like to join the team, watch out for the launch of our next crowdfunding campaign!
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