New ‘pop-up’ exhibition showcases rare Anglo-Saxon sculpture from North East England

A collection of rare Anglo-Saxon stone sculptures, which are unique to the North East of England, are going on display for the very first time.

Etched in Stone: Anglo-Saxons in the North East is a brand new, interactive exhibition being hosted online, and in real life, at the same time. The exhibition is all about the Anglo-Saxons who lived in North East England during the height of the Viking raids, as seen through a rare collection of commemorative carvings known as ‘namestones’.

Only 31 have ever been discovered, but their style, shape and design is unique to the region. Each one is emblazoned with the name of an individual, usually written in runes or Latin characters, but sometimes in both. Most of them are decorated with a cross, and some have a small central cavity that may once have held a relic or a jewel.

The namestones that have been discovered so far have all come from one of a small handful of early Christian monasteries, which were all part of the once great kingdom of Northumbria. Although namestones are unique to the region, the people who engraved them were clearly familiar with motifs drawn from the Irish, Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean worlds. Over time, they fused to produce a new style known as ‘insular art’, which went on to influence early Medieval art throughout Europe.

“It can be surprising to think that these early Christians would have used runes to commemorate their dead, let alone have been familiar with so many different artistic traditions. But even then, the North East was part of a network extending west into Ireland, and east towards Rome. It was a melting pot of different cultural influences, which fused together to produce undeniably new and beautiful, as we can see in some of the objects in this collection” said Lisa Westcott Wilkins from DigVentures.

“Today, the namestones are scattered in museums across the country, but by creating digital 3D models made from photographs, we’ve been able to re-unite them online, and give people all around the world the chance to examine them up close in 3D” she added.

Despite their strong geographical focus, this is the very first time they have all been displayed together as a single, complete collection.

Stars of the pop-up exhibition, which include three namestones dating to AD 750-950, will be displayed alongside other artefacts that have recently been discovered during a crowdfunded archaeological investigations on Lindisfarne – the small tidal island that was once home to the first community in Britain to be attacked by the Vikings in AD 793.

The exhibition is being curated by DigVentures and Durham University, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and is free to visit both online, and in person.

Exhibition details

The Pop-up Museum is at St Hilda’s Church, Hartlepool, until 10th March 2019.

The Pop-up Museum includes a micro collection, with additional Virtual Displays, and opportunities to view some of the artefacts with AR – great for technology-loving kids.

Plus, for those who want to get more hands-on, there’s a FREE workshop where you can make your very own digital 3D model of one of the artefacts. More details at

The full collection of namestones will eventually be available to view online in a ‘Virtual Museum’ at

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Written by 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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