Most Anglo-Saxon namestones were made between AD 650 – 850, with a few as late as AD 1050. Each one can tell us something unique, but there is plenty more we can learn about the people they commemorate by examining material from where they came from.

Over the last few years, DigVentures and Durham University have been excavating the site of the original Anglo-Saxon monastery founded by King Oswald and Aidan Lindisfarne. As well as several namestones, the excavations have yielded some remarkable discoveries which help to put them in context, and give us a more detailed glimpse at what life was life for the Anglo-Saxons who lived before, during and after the Viking raids.

 

  • Anglo-Saxon burials

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-950

    Wrapped in shrouds

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  • White quartz pebbles

    Lindisfarne, AD 650-850

    Gifts for the dead

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  • King Aethelred's coin

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

    Small copper coin

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  • Bone comb

    Lindisfarne, AD 900-1100

    Life after the Viking raids

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  • Anglo-Saxon Ovens

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-900 (?)

    Evidence of life

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  • Saint Cuthbert's bead

    Lindisfarne, 300 million years ago

    Fossil used as a rosary bead

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  • Cross stone

    AD 650-700 (?)

    Early Anglo-Saxon sculpture

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  • Mystery Object!

    Lindisfarne, AD 850-1200

    Your guess is as good as ours

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  • Fishing gear

    Lindisfarne, AD 1200-1300

    Fishermen, not Vikings!

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Anglo-Saxon burials Lindisfarne, AD 750-950

Wrapped in shrouds

Several early Christian burials have been found during the excavations at Lindisfarne. The skeletons are all buried facing east, with their hands placed over their pelvis. Their shoulders and ankles are tight to the body, which suggests they were buried in a shroud, rather than a coffin. They contain no artefacts, other than little clusters of white quartz pebbles which may have been placed in or around the grave by mourners – just as we place flowers today.

White quartz pebbles Lindisfarne, AD 650-850

Gifts for the dead

During excavations on Lindisfarne, these small white quartz pebbles have been found in abundance. Particularly in the areas near to burials. In the Anglo-Saxon period, the stones were placed on top of graves possible as a decorative sign of remembrance, just as we would place flowers on a grave today. There is some evidence to suggest that these quartz pebbles may have also been placed inside the grave.

King Aethelred's coin Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

Small copper coin

This tiny Anglo-Saxon coin is called a ‘styca’. Measuring less than 10mm, it’s made of a copper alloy and shows the name of King Aethelred II. Most of these coins were minted in York, which is most likely where this one was made. If you spin the coin around, you can the name of the person who minted it stamped on the back: Fordred.

Bone comb Lindisfarne, AD 900-1100

Life after the Viking raids

Combs were highly sought after objects in Anglo-Saxon times, and were made by highly skilled craftspeople. This one is decorated with a ring and dot pattern between parallel lines. You can see saw marks have created notches where the teeth of the comb would have been. It’s the most northerly example of this type found in England, although others have been found in western and northern Scotland.

Most importantly, the dates suggest that there were people who remained on the island, after AD 953 when it was supposedly abandoned following the Viking raids.

Anglo-Saxon Ovens Lindisfarne, AD 750-900 (?)

Evidence of life

Excavations at Lindisfarne have revealed the corner of an Anglo-Saxon building, distinctive through a particular type of building fill, or ‘concrete’ as well as post-pads. Within the outline of the building, you can also see the remains of two circular kilns or ovens which have been partially excavated. It’s not yet clear what they were used for, but further analysis might be able to reveal whether they were for something domestic (like baking), or part of a cottage industry (firing pottery or smelting metal), tell us something about what sort of things the Anglo-Saxons were doing here.

Saint Cuthbert's bead Lindisfarne, 300 million years ago

Fossil used as a rosary bead

This intricate-looking object is the natural fossil of a Carboniferous crinoid, and originally formed around 300 million years ago. They are abundant on Lindisfarne’s beaches, but it’s possible that this one was picked up from one of the beaches and brought inland to the monastic site for religious purposes. Locally, these fossils are known as ‘Saint Cuthbert’s beads’, and some historical records indicate that they were used to make rosaries associated with the cult of Saint Cuthbert in the 12th century.

Cross stone AD 650-700 (?)

Early Anglo-Saxon sculpture

At first glance, this might look like another namestone, but the layout doesn’t suggest that room was ever left for a name. Of the two pieces, the lower half was found in 2016, and the upper half in 2018, when they The lower half of this cross stone was discovered during excavations in 2016. The style of cross can be see on other sculpture and artworks from Ireland. While this stone doesn’t have any obvious signs of a name, it does shows how much of a direct influence the Irish Christianity in the North-East during the Anglo-Saxon period. Amazingly, in 2018 the upper piece was found, clearly showing the other half of the cross.

Mystery Object! Lindisfarne, AD 850-1200

Your guess is as good as ours

This piece of cut and scored animal horn is a bit of a mystery. It was found in the same area as the bone comb, where there was also plenty of evidence that people had been fishing. Suggestions include part of a musical instrument, a gaming piece.We’d love to hear your suggestions at #EtchedinStone or @thedigventurers

Fishing gear Lindisfarne, AD 1200-1300

Fishermen, not Vikings!

This is a piece of cut whale bone – possibly the result of very large catch! It may have been intended for ivory carving, as there are several famous Anglo-Saxon artefacts carved from whalebone. A number of items of fishing gear have been found during excavations, including tiny fishing hooks, bulky clench bolts from boats, and pits full of shells – the remains of preparing bait, most of which probably date from the 13th century. Together, these artefacts can tell us more about life on the island before the Viking raids, and when people returned a few hundred years after the Vikings raids were over. Peace at last!