‘Lindisfarne: Miracles to Medicine’ is an interactive project exploring the social and cultural history of medicine and health from medieval times to the modern day, through examining archaeological evidence from the medieval monastery in Lindisfarne.
Since 2016, DigVentures has been conducting archaeological excavations on Lindisfarne, a small island on the Northumbrian coast. Once known by its old Brittonic name ‘Medcaut‘, meaning ‘place of healing’, the island’s restorative reputation grew throughout the Anglo-Saxon and medieval period when it became the site of one of the most famous monasteries in England. The team has located the monastic infirmary, which, given the island’s reputation, would have been one of the most important buildings within the complex.
Thanks to a very generous grant from the Wellcome Trust, we are now running Miracles to Medicine – an interactive project based on archaeological evidence from our excavations. The project brings together a team of arts, technology, archaeological science and public engagement specialists to investigate the social and cultural history of medicine and health on Holy Island, to start conversations about contemporary issues of health, social care, medical ethics, pseudo- science and faith healing.
Drawing on new, tech-enabled models of participation, Miracles to Medicine offers schools, families, and learners of all ages opportunities to explore trauma, disease and healing through using their powers of deduction, logic and creative reasoning to solve medieval medical mysteries.
And, by giving families the opportunity to actually take part in the excavation on Lindisfarne focusing on the monastery’s infirmary, Miracles to Medicine has also created a public touch point for academic research, encouraging more people to participate, interact with health-related research, and to consider how bioarchaeology and health science research are embedded in our lives.
Inspired by real archaeology
Medieval medicine is often characterised as having little to do with the treatments we receive today – just a bunch of strange potions, weird remedies, religious miracles, and an unhealthy dependency on leeches, variously administered by witches, quacks, and saints.
But it wasn’t just hocus-pocus. There is plenty of archaeological evidence proving medieval medicines could be surprisingly effective, especially those based on extensive knowledge of herbal remedies.
So far, DigVentures has teamed up with over 2,500 young learners, inspiring lively conversations about medieval medical practices such as herbalism and faith healing, and looking at how those practices have evolved into the scientific, evidence-based practice of medicine today.
The project will continue through 2019, with plenty of exciting opportunities to take part. Are you a school, museum, youth organisation, or other group interested in a Miracles to Medicine session? Get in touch!