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.
Lindisfarne, AD 750-950
Wrapped in shroudsView
White quartz pebbles
Lindisfarne, AD 650-850
Gifts for the deadView
King Aethelred's coin
Lindisfarne, AD 700-800
Small copper coinView
Lindisfarne, AD 900-1100
Life after the Viking raidsView
Lindisfarne, AD 750-900 (?)
Evidence of lifeView
Saint Cuthbert's bead
Lindisfarne, 300 million years ago
Fossil used as a rosary beadView
AD 650-700 (?)
Early Anglo-Saxon sculptureProfile
Lindisfarne, AD 850-1200
Your guess is as good as oursView
Lindisfarne, AD 1200-1300
Fishermen, not Vikings!View
Anglo-Saxon burials Lindisfarne, AD 750-950
Wrapped in shrouds
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
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
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!