Coldingham

When King Oswald founded the famous Anglo-Saxon monastery on Lindisfarne, his sister Princess Aebbe founded another just over the Scottish border. Let's head to Scotland to find it.

103.9% Funded
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£7,792.00 Pledged
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£7,500 Goal
103.9%

In AD 640, Princess Aebbe founded an influential monastery in the Scottish Borders. This historic site is fundamental to our understanding of the Anglo-Saxons in Scotland, and yet it has never been properly located. With your help, we think we can find it.

Picture this: it’s the mid 7th century AD and the Northumbrian monastery at Lindisfarne founded by Anglo-Saxon King Oswald is on the rise to fame. But just across the Scottish border something else is happening. Oswald has a sister, named Aebbe, and she too has gone and founded a monastery.

Aebbe’s story is a compelling one, but historical records are few and far between. Those that do survive tell us that she was an influential figure who introduced Christianity to Scotland’s east coast.

They also tell us that her monastery was located just a few days north of Lindisfarne, near St Abb’s Head at Coldingham. They say it was surrounded by a deep trench and high palisade, and was home to both monks and nuns – many of whom were the younger offspring of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy.

Over the years, a few small glimpses – of burials, and of sculpture – have shown up, but firm evidence of the monastery has never been found at the suggested location.

But then, in 2014, new hope of finding it emerged through a geophysical survey, which revealed the footprints of a number of possible Anglo-Saxon structures at a slightly different location, close to the ruins of Coldingham’s much later medieval priory.

In 2017, DigVentures and a hardy crew of supporters opened some small ‘test pits’ to see if anything was really there. The results confirm that there are traces of walls, ditches, animal bones and pottery, and that preservation conditions are excellent. All we need to do now is open up and excavate a larger area to gather more evidence and understand what it is we’ve really found.

Historical sources tell us that the monastery burnt down soon after Aebbe died. Abandoned for a short while, it is also said that it was soon rebuilt and continued to thrive until AD 870 when it was destroyed once and for all by a devastating Viking attack – just like Oswald’s Lindisfarne. But there is still so much to learn – and to prove with archaeological evidence – about this story.

This historic site is a vital piece of Scotland’s heritage, and we still have many questions about the events that took place here. When exactly did it burn down? Is it true that it was rebuilt? And was in the same location as the original? What kinds of things did the monks and nuns produce to keep themselves alive? And most of all, where exactly was the monastery and did it look anything like the one at Lindisfarne?

Finding it will be a monumental addition to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history in the Scottish Borders. We’re ready to throw ourselves into this investigation and raise new evidence of Aebbe’s monastery for everyone to enjoy.

The story of Northumbria, of the Anglo-Saxons, of the Scottish borders, and of early medieval Christianity is only roughly told. By supporting this dig, you can play a role in finding one of its most important sites, in exploring Aebbe’s side of the story and in establishing her monastery as an important landmark of Anglo-Saxon history – just like Lindisfarne.

Aebbe’s monastery is a historic site, and a vital piece of heritage. Her story is also fundamental to our understanding of the Anglo-Saxons in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

Born a princess, Aebbe’s father Aethelfrith, Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria, was deposed and killed when she was just a child. Along with her mother Acha and her brother Oswald, Aebbe fled to distant relatives in Scotland.

For now, the siblings were still ‘heathens’, but here the kings were thoroughly Irish in their Christianity, and they soon sent them off to be educated by Irish Christian monks at Iona. Their conversion was sincere. When Oswald returned to Northumbria to reclaim the throne, he founded a monastery at Lindisfarne. Aebbe followed suite, and founded another monastery only a few days short of Lindisfarne.

Lindisfarne rapidly grew in fame. Its influence reached into the heart of continental Europe, until it was finally raided by the Vikings. But what of Aebbe’s monastery at Coldingham? Though Aebbe’s story is far less well-known, the few glimpses we do have show that it is just as compelling.

The stories that do survive tell us that she founded her monastery in part to escape a marriage she did not want, that she helped Queen Aetheldreda escape her marriage to King Ecgfrith, and that she negotiated the release of the bishop who supported them in their endeavours. Having received Aebbe’s tuition, Aetheldreda went on to found the religious site that eventually became Ely Cathedral.

Aebbe’s influential role in establishing Christianity is clear, and when St Cuthbert (Bishop of Lindisfarne and one of the most famous monks of his time) came to visit Princess Aebbe, a rather unusual miracle took place – otters kept him warm while he prayed in the ice cold sea.

But there are also stories about her struggle to keep her monks and nuns in check. While she was personally praised, her monastery was forecast to crumble.

Finding Aebbe’s monastery will be a monumental addition to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history in the Scottish Borders, one that allows us to bring Aebbe’s story to wider attention, and establish Coldingham as the site of Lindisfarne’s sister monastery.

Most importantly, we’ll be helping to create a new and valuable heritage asset, one whose stories visitors will be able to explore for years to come.

In 2017, a hardy crew of supporters helped us open up a series of test pits to ‘ground truth’ the geophysics results and see if anything was there. The results show that preservation conditions are very good, and that further excavation is very likely to turn up evidence of St Aeebe’s lost monastery. As a crowdfunder, you’ll have a role in helping us to:

  • Find out if any organic materials survive.  We’d love to end up with textiles, wood and other evidence that doesn’t usually survive.
  • Look for clues that can help us date the remains. We’ve already found ditches and walls. Now we need dateable evidence to prove whether the might really be Aebbe’s monastery.
  • Find out what kind of building it was. Historical sources only describe its existence. We want to reveal its size, and layout to how it compares to Lindisfarne.
  • Reconstruct life at Aebbe’s monastery. We’ve already found lots of animal skulls, which might be evidence of a tannery. Now we to find out what else the monks and nuns did on a daily basis.
  • Find traces of a fire, or possibly two. Historical sources don’t tell us exactly when it burned down, or whether it really burned down for second time following a Viking attack. Finding evidence of a fire would be a massive boon.
  • Look for evidence of life after the Viking attack. Did anyone continue to live here after the raids? How else was the site of Aebbe’s monastery used before it was rebuilt for a third time in 1100 AD?

We need to raise £10,000 to carry out our excavation, analyse everything we find, and make the results available online. By supporting the dig, you will be helping us to:

  • Plan the dig. There are some (fairly complicated) logistics involved!
  • Run the excavation. We need enough archaeologists on site to make sure that everyone who comes digging with us has plenty of expert support
  • Pay for all the ‘aftercare’. We’ll need specialists to analyse, conserve and take care of all the artefacts we find
  • Share lots of updates before, during and after the dig. It doesn’t start and end with excavation. We’ll be publishing videos, live streams, virtual artefacts and blogs so that you can follow the whole process from start to finish
  • Make sure that all of our data, discoveries and interpretation are freely available online. We think that the results of publicly funded research should be free and easy to access. We’ll be putting all of ours online as soon as they’re made.

Support this dig and you can have a role in making this happen.

What happens if we don't reach our crowdfunding goal?

We’ve set our crowdfunding goal to match the level of excavation and analysis we think this site deserves. Obviously, the closer we get the better, and the more people who join in the more we can discover, but we won’t abandon our plans if we fall shy of the target – this archaeology is too important to miss!

If we don’t reach our goal, we’ll stick to our guns and do the dig anyway – we’ll just scale down the size of the excavation to suite.

For example, we’d excavate a smaller area and send fewer artefacts off for scientific analysis, but the dig would still happen and you’d still be part of our team.

That being said, we’re confident we’ll reach our goal because we know there’s incredible archaeology waiting to be found and people like YOU are willing to help us prove it!

What happens once I make my contribution?

PLEASE NOTE: We will be communicating with you on the email address you use for your purchase. If you haven’t heard from us, please check your junk or spam folder.

As soon as you make a contribution to the campaign, you’ll get a payment confirmation.

We’ll then follow up with a welcome email thanking you for your contribution, and (where relevant) to request a little bit more information about things like preferred dig dates, or details for your chosen reward, like t-shirt sizes etc.

You’ll need to reply to this welcome email as soon as you can to make sure we have all the details we need to get you booked in.

If you’re digging with us, we will send you an Info Pack with more information about the site, what to bring and joining instructions closer to the time.

If you need to book travel and accommodation, we’ve provided some hints and tips in the following FAQs.

If you have any other questions in the meantime, get in touch! You can reach us on hello@digventures.com, or 0333 011 3990

What's included in the dig experience?

Our dig experiences include all the tools, training and one-to-one instruction you will need in order to learn and have a great time whilst you are on site with our team. You will also receive an Info Pack and suggested bibliography for the site, post-excavation updates and a copy of the Final Report when it is published.

Travel and accommodation are not included, however there is a list of links and helpful information provided below. We’ve got tea breaks covered, however you will need to bring your own lunch and plenty of water.

When will I get my goodies?

We will be sending everything in May at the start of the 2018 field season.

You’ll then start getting all your digital goodies (like videos updates and virtual artefacts) as soon as the dig begins!

 

 

Which days can I dig with you?

The dig runs from Tuesday 19th June – Sunday 1st July 2018.

We will have a day off on Monday 25th June.

You can start your dig experience on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.

 

Which days can I join you in the lab?

If you don’t want to dig, but do want to help out in the Finds Lab, you can join us in the second week of the dig:

  • Tuesday 26th June – Sunday 1st July 2018

You can start your lab experience on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.

Where is it?

Coldingham, Berwickshire. We’ll send you more information once you’ve signed up!

Do you have any advice on accommodation in the area?

Accommodation isn’t included, so you can choose to stay wherever suits you best in terms of location and budget.

A quick search online will reveal that there’s plenty to choose from, from holiday parks and self-catering cottages, to B&Bs and hotels – something to suit every budget!

What about food and transport?

You’ll need to make sure that you can get to Coldingham for a morning start.

And remember – you’ll need to bring your own lunches. There are lenty of shops and cafes in the village of Coldingham – we can defintely recommend the hearty soup at the pub!

Can I come and visit even if I'm not digging?

Anyone can come and visit! If you’ve supported the dig and give us a heads up, we might even be able to squeeze you onto one of our VIP tours.

What if I have done archaeology before, or am an archaeology student?

We are the only field school officially accredited by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists in the UK.

We also offer a special discount rate for students – just look for the ‘Student’ benefit level.

Is there anything else I should know?

If you’re digging with us, we’ll send you more specific joining instructions closer to the time.

If you have any other questions in the meantime, get in touch! You can reach us on hello@digventures.com, or 0333 011 3990

What if I've booked to come, but can't make it in the end?

We can either transfer your dig days to another excavation, or you can bequeath them to someone else… go on, pass on the archaeology love!

What if the weather is terrible?

Archaeology isn’t only outdoors! If the weather’s truly terrible, we can head to the archaeology lab to work on the finds… cleaning, examining and identifying the things we’ve found so far.

Who else is supporting you?

This dig has also received plenty of support from the Friends of Coldingham Priory, and from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

How else can I help?

Crowdfunding isn’t the only way you can help. Even just sharing our campaign on social media could introduce us to someone else who wants to support the dig!

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