Friday, February 24, 2017

Face of a Pictish Male Who was Violently Murdered 1,400-Years-Ago is Reconstructed in Incredible Detail

Ancient Origins


A team of Archaeologists excavating a cave in the Highlands of Scotland, were amazed to discover a superbly preserved skeleton of a Pictish man at the entrance. With the help of technology, scientists managed to successfully reconstruct the face of the man, who was violently murdered in around 600 AD.

 Skeleton was in Remarkable State of Preservation
A group of archaeologists excavating a cave in the Black Isle, Ross-shire in Scotland, couldn’t believe their eyes when they discovered the ancient skeleton buried in a recess of the cave. A bone sample sent for radiocarbon dating showed that the man died between 430 and 630 AD during the Pictish period. His body had been positioned in an uncommon cross-legged position, with large stones holding down his legs and arms. Archaeologists from the Rosemarkie Caves Project found the skeleton while researching whether the cave might have been occupied.

The skeleton was discovered during a cave excavation in the Black Isle. Credit: Rosemarkie Caves Project

 Excavation leader Steven Birch told BBC News: "Here we have a man who has been brutally killed, but who has been laid to rest in the cave with some consideration - placed on his back, within a dark alcove, and weighed down by beach stones. While we don't know why the man was killed, the placement of his remains gives us insight into the culture of those who buried him. Perhaps his murder was the result of interpersonal conflict, or was there a sacrificial element relating to his death?"
Victim Suffered a Brutal End
The bones were sent to one of the most decorated forensic anthropologists in the world, Professor Dame Sue Black of Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID), where Dr. Black verified that the "fascinating" skeleton was in a remarkable state of preservation. Dr. Black and her team – including Dr. Christopher Rynn and PhD students Micol Zuppello, Viviane Lira and Samantha Goodchild – were able to describe in detail the horrific injuries the man had suffered and concluded that he sustained at least five blows that resulted in fractures to his face and skull, allowing them to understand how the man's short life was brought to a violent and brutal end.

Dr. Black told BBC News, "From studying his remains, we learned a little about his short life but much more about his violent death. As you can see from the facial reconstruction, he was a striking young man, but he met a very brutal end, suffering a minimum of five severe injuries to his head." Dr. Black went on giving more hair-raising details about the death of the unlucky man, “The first three impacts broke the man's teeth, and fractured his left jaw and the back of his head. The fourth impact was intended to end his life as probably the same weapon was driven through his skull from one side and out the other as he lay on the ground. The fifth blow was to the top of the man's skull,” she said.



The skeleton of the Pictish man was found in the recess of a cave. Credit: Rosemarkie Caves Project

Reconstruction of the Victim’s Face Shows a Pictish Male
The Picts were a tribal confederation of peoples who resisted some of Rome's toughest legions before disappearing from history. The group of tribes lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and early Medieval periods from around 270-900 AD.

After the scientists of Dundee University carefully analyzed the well-preserve bones of the man, they were able to reconstruct his face with the help of modern technology. More specifically, a computer program manipulated the scanned images of the skeleton in order to produce a model of what the muscles around may have looked like.

From there, layers were added to provide the idea of the face shape and features. Researchers described the young man as “strikingly handsome” as Daily Mail reports. The researchers also concluded that that the young man had had long, wavy hair with a thick beard and mild blotches around his face. Further analysis on the skeleton is programmed for the following days, in order for the scientists to learn as many details as possible about the ancient man, such as his place of origin.

Top image: The facial reconstruction of the Pictish man. Credit: University of Dundee

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sam’s historical recipe corner: Beef olives

History Extra


Beef olives. © Sam Nott

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates beef olives – a deliciously traditional dish enjoyed across Europe.

 I’ve often heard about beef olives but in never sounded that appetising. I didn’t realise though that I’ve been eating if for years. My German grandmother would often cook rouladen, which is the same as beef olives, and it’s delicious!

 I have early memories of my mum pounding meat with a rolling pin, which I’m sure was for roulade. Most parts of Europe have their equivalent recipes and one of the earliest I found was in Hannah Glasse’s 1747 book, The Art of Cookery. I based my dish on a modern version from bbcgoodfood.com.

 Ingredients
400g of beef thinly sliced (any cut)
1 tbsp of dijon mustard 1 medium onion
220g celery
150g carrot
250ml red wine
600ml beef stock
 2 tbsp of passata

 For the stuffing:
 1 small onion
3 rashers of smoked bacon
 4 mushrooms
1 tsp of thyme leaves
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp of olive oil

 Method

Preheat the oven to 175˚C. Fry the onions, garlic and mushrooms until soft. Add to the raw bacon and set aside: this is your stuffing.

 Place the beef on a flat surface and beat with a rolling pin or food hammer until very thin – this part is very satisfying!

 Spread each beef slice with the mustard, add the stuffing and then roll the beef slice (with the stuffing inside). Secure with a cocktail stick or string.

Fry on all sides until brown and place in an oven-proof dish. Fry the remaining onion, carrot and celery in a pan for five minutes. Add passata, red wine and beef stock and stir. Pour over the beef olives and cook in the oven, with a lid on, for three hours.

 Remove the beef olives from the dish and keep warm. Blend the remaining sauce until no lumps remain.

 My verdict

This was really delicious, despite the fact I let it cook too long so the gravy vanished (as you can see from the photo). But with mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s a very hearty dinner.

 Difficulty: 5/10 Time: 210 mins

 This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Vikings at home

History Extra


A 13th-century saga manuscript from the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavík, Iceland. (Corbis)

One of the defining moments of British history provides a vivid image: a small flotilla of boats appears over the horizon, heading towards the Northumbrian shore and the monastery of Lindisfarne. The date is 8 June AD 793, and no one has told the locals that the visitors have changed the rules. Instead of offering furs from the far north or golden amber from the shores of the Baltic Sea to trade, the Norwegian sailors take a more direct route to getting what they want: plunder, slaughter and enslavement.

 The Age of the Vikings has begun – and in just a couple of centuries it changed Britain and its people.

 After decades of sporadic raids, in 865 an entire Danish army entered the Humber and sailed up the river Trent, taking the strategic town of Repton in the heart of England. From here, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms began to fall – Northumbria, East Anglia, the fearsomely powerful Mercia. Only Alfred the Great’s Wessex halted the Viking tide. A divided England was established, with Danes ruling the north and east under the truce of the Danelaw from Jorvik, capital of the ‘Kingdom of York’.

 This is the story we are told of the Vikings – and all of it is true. The Vikings were brutal, pagan raiders who shaped the entire future of Britain in just a couple of centuries before the Norman invasion of 1066.

 University of Cambridge linguist Dr Richard Dance can reel off dozens of examples of our unseen Viking heritage. Northern words such as ‘tyke’ and ‘muck’ come from Old Norse; place names of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire are full of clues. The ending ‘-by’ (Whitby, Derby) and ‘-thorpe’ (Scunthorpe, Cleethorpes) are Viking. ‘Eggs’, ‘skirt’, ‘sky’, ‘skin’… all Viking. And next time you see a builder’s skip, reflect that it is the Viking word for ship. The Vikings are in our history, in our language and, as scientists have revealed, in our DNA. But just who were they? 

Working on the BBC Two series Vikings (presented by Neil Oliver in 2012), I wanted to get beyond the legend of axe-wielding men to get to grips with some really big questions. Aware that so much of what we know of the Vikings comes from our own British experience, I wanted to explore Scandinavia and discover who the Vikings really were – the Vikings at home. How did these incredible people emerge? Why did the Viking Age erupt so suddenly? And how did the Vikings see themselves? What I found was certainly not a new, cuter Viking. The deeper we went, the more dark, bloodthirsty rites seemed to come out of the woodwork. The Viking Age will always be brutal, but it was also far more complex and fascinating than the standard image of sea-faring warriors fighting for booty and glory. These were people shaped by thousands of years of Scandinavian land and sea. This was a very different prehistoric world to our own, with a culture that developed along its own unique trajectory outside the bounds of the Roman empire.


The image of the boat was central to Viking culture: this c10th-century Viking stele from Gotland reveals a ship full of warriors. (Getty)

 Archaeological insights
 The archaeological sites and conserved Viking treasures from across Scandinavia are simply jaw-dropping. They offer remarkable insights into the lives of the Vikings, the extent of their influence and trade, their strange beliefs, the burials of their kings and, of course, their peerless maritime technology – the original meaning of the word ‘Viking’ was something you did rather than what you were. “To go viking” was to explore, to adventure.

 To understand how the Vikings came to be, I explored the vast and varied lands of Scandinavia. Norway’s habitable land is squeezed between its ragged Atlantic coast to the west and its frozen mountains to the east. Today, as a result of climate change, ancient artefacts are melting out of retreating glacial ice, giving archaeologists the opportunity to examine the remains of hunters and reindeer pastoralists from thousands of years ago.

 To the south, Denmark is very different. Jutland forms the gateway to the Baltic; it’s rich in agricultural land, but also has low-lying peat bogs in which many Iron Age sacrifices have been discovered. To the east is Sweden, facing the main body of the Baltic and the eastern lands of Russia and Asia beyond. These lands all had one thing in common, though – the sea.

 Where in Britain we have hundreds of stone circles, on the Baltic island of Gotland there are ancient stone ships. Gotland University researcher Joakim Wehlin has studied more than 400 of them on this one island; the largest, the Stone Ship of Ansarve, is 45 metres long, created using granite boulders 3,000 years ago. There are also intricate rock carvings depicting ships with curved bows, populated by men with weapons and ceremonial bronze horns called lurs – today you can see their curved form adorning every pack of Lurpak butter. To look at some of these carvings is to look upon the ancient ancestors of the Vikings.

 As well as carvings, the remains of actual boats from Iron Age conflicts have also been discovered, complete with helmets, armour and weapons. One such vessel, the Hjortspring Boat (pictured above), is among the treasures of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and testifies to a long tradition of maritime fighting. It seems that the warrior tribes of the Baltic had been raiding one another for many hundreds of years before they took to the open seas to launch the raids for which they became infamous.

 The exact reasons why are not known, but a number of factors are clear. First, the Roman empire never extended into Scandinavia, so the Iron Age chiefdoms remained intact without Roman law, towns or Christianity. In the south there was trade with Rome, bringing a taste for luxury goods, increasing centralisation of power, and an emerging north–south divide.


The Baltic island of Gotland is home to hundreds of stone ships such as the one pictured here. (AKG)  
Soft targets
 It is no surprise that, several hundred years later, the first recorded raids on England reportedly came from the Atlantic coast of Norway near today’s regional capital of Bergen. There was no land here to accommodate population expansion; centralising mini-kingdoms were competing for wealth and glory; and the region also boasted uninterrupted pagan culture. These were people who hailed the power of the great Norse gods of Odin and Thor, and showed no fear of a single Christian god. To them, the eighth-century wealth of riskily undefended Anglo-Saxon monasteries, perched conveniently right on the highway of the sea, must have seemed like an open invitation.

 The first raids might have come from Norway, but it was mainly the Danes who took to occupying large parts of England. From the 870s the city of York became the important Viking trading centre of Jorvik, with families as well as warriors forging new urban lives and mixing in with Anglo-Saxon society.

 In contrast with our image of fierce warriors, York reveals the lives of the Vikings at home. Jorvik expert Dr Søren Sindbæk of the University of York points to the importance of women, weaving at home as part of a boom in the textile industry, as well as metalworkers and other craftsmen.

 Incredibly, Jorvik was far larger than any settlement in Denmark itself. The riches that Denmark drew from England and the slaves it took from Ireland as well as its strategic position made the Danes the powerbrokers of the emerging Viking kingdoms. But the early Danish settlements in England and Ireland were not the first. That honour went to Sweden’s outposts in the east.

 With our domestic focus on the Vikings in Britain, the experience of the east-facing Vikings of Sweden is easy to overlook. As early as 753 they had established a settlement called Staraya Ladoga, east of today’s St Petersburg – the very first town in Russia and a gateway to the east.

 Having sailed across the glassy Baltic, the Swedish Vikings used lighter inland boats to navigate a whole new continent, carrying them between lakes and river routes. The purpose was largely trade rather than war, and it brought the Swedish Vikings (known as the Rus, from which the name of Russia is derived) into contact with new and spectacular sights, people and treasures.

 By 839 the Swedish Vikings had reached Constantinople, a global metropolis of some half a million people. This was perhaps the richest, most civilised and among the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet.

 The aristocrats of Sweden had access to goods of unprecedented luxury. Fragments of silk, likely to have been spun in China and woven in the Middle East, have been found in Swedish Viking excavations.

 In a single site on the tiny Swedish island of Helgo, archaeologists have recovered an Irish bishop’s crozier, an Ethiopian Coptic ladle, and a statuette of a Buddha that somehow travelled west all the way from India. Some of the most telling finds of all are vast quantities of coins. These are Arab silver, exchanged along with precious silks and spices for Scandinavian furs, amber and slaves.


This plank-built vessel dating from the early Iron Age was found in the Hjortspring Bog on the Island of Als. (Museum Syndicate/Getty Images)

 Observations from the east
 Much of what we know of Viking appearance and belief comes from Muslim writers. A 10th‑century Kurdish chronicler called Ahmad ibn Fadlan kept a journal in which he detailed his encounters with the tall, blond Rus. It is through Ibn Fadlan that we have a first-hand account of the burial of a Viking chieftain and the grim realities of Viking belief. The chieftain, it seems, was not only sent to the afterlife alongside sacrificed dogs and horses, but also with a sacrificed slave girl who, according to the writer, had been raped by the chieftain’s close followers, supposedly to honour their dead leader. Behind the silks and other luxury goods that came from the east, the Swedish Vikings, it seems, never lost their dark, inner-Viking brutality.

 The other great source of knowledge about Viking beliefs comes from the Sagas, written later, towards the very end of the Viking Age, and largely the creation of an isolated island in the north Atlantic – Iceland. While the Viking Swedes were trading with the great civilisations of the east and the Viking Danes were securing territories in England and Ireland, the Norwegian Vikings, always pressed for land, were launching some of the greatest voyages ever undertaken to the north and west. 

Mainly written in the 13th century, the Sagas are tales of a bygone age (‘saga’ means literally ‘what is said’), of the histories and semi-mythical voyages of Viking heroes from around 930 to 1030. It is from these that we learn of the belief that Valhalla, the home of the Norse gods, was open only to mortals who had displayed deeds of valour. To go viking – to explore and prove yourself as a man – was everything. In an age of oral history, the most important thing for a Viking was to be remembered.

 Iceland was settled in the late ninth century and became a base from which Norse sailors reached Greenland and North America. The challenging conditions of Greenland and the far north eventually proved too much even for them, but Iceland thrived.

 From infighting between Baltic tribes, in just a couple of hundred years the Vikings had travelled to Newfoundland in the west and Baghdad in the east. But the adventure that had given rise to an age was about to end – not with defeat but with assimilation.

 Denmark was becoming a single kingdom under a new dynasty, and one of its first kings, Harald Bluetooth, had become a Christian. With the acceptance of this new religion, after a few bloody teething troubles the Vikings were transformed from pagan outsiders to European statesmen.

 We know Harald’s grandson as an English king: Cnut. Our own history remembers him teaching his sycophantic courtiers a lesson by showing that he did not, as they had suggested, have the power to halt the tide. It was a very maritime thing, a Viking thing to do. Cnut, however, was something new. He was a Eurocrat, king of England but also of Denmark and large pieces of Norway and Sweden. He was present at a papal coronation in 1027 and attempted to align coinage and silver standards across his empire.

 Cnut was a Viking in blood, but it can hardly be imagined that the young men who had raided Lindisfarne less than 250 years before would have quite thought of him as ‘one of them’. Britain itself stood on the brink of 1066 and a new Norman age – but remember: the Normans were themselves once Norse-men.

 The Viking effect

 During the Viking Age, intrepid Scandinavian explorers travelled far and wide and their influence was felt in towns from York to Staraya Ladoga...

 York
Viking metropolis

 York was a unique creation – a Viking city. Founded by Rome, York had already been revitalised as an urban centre by the time the Vikings attacked and took control. But with a population of perhaps 10,000 the new Jorvik was quite an alien place for Vikings to settle naturally. According to University of York archaeologist Dr Søren Sindbæk, the Vikings who came to York were a special breed. “If you end up in towns, something’s almost always gone wrong,” he says. “The common path was to farm the land.”

 So here were immigrant families, living cheek by jowl, trying to adapt to a completely new way of urban life in a foreign country. On the one hand they would have had access to exotic wonders including rare spices and perfumes. On the other hand, they lived in packed timber houses, surrounded by fetid waste.

 Jelling and Ribe
The site of a new religion

 Today Jelling is a tiny Danish village, but it is a place central to the history of Denmark, Britain and the end of the Viking Age. This is the site of the Jelling Stones that combine Viking runes and imagery showing the Christianisation of Denmark. It was here that Harald I of Denmark, son of the founder of the Jelling dynasty, King Gorm, converted to Christianity and built a church in 965. However, excavations in Ribe, Denmark’s earliest existing town, uncovered skeletons of what could turn out to be an entire Christian community that pre-dates Harald’s conversion.

 Harald’s grandson was King Cnut, who we think of as an English king. In fact, Cnut presided over an empire that included England and Denmark as well as pieces of Sweden and Norway. He was a European emperor.

 Dublin
The centre of the slave trade

 Dublin was founded by the Vikings as a maritime staging post in which to harbour and repair ships. They invented something called a ship fortress, a defence half on land, half on the water. Dublin and the river Liffey allowed the Vikings to foray into the Irish interior in search of monastic gold and silver, but also an even more important booty – slaves.

 Iron manacles reveal that Viking Dublin was a key slave market and holding centre. Irish monks writing at the time record that in 871, some 200 ships arrived packed with Angles, Britons and Picts. Apparently the going rate for a male slave was 12oz of silver, while a female fetched 8oz. Archaeologist Linzi Simpson has studied skeletons of some of the earliest of Viking settlers. The bones reveal the toll of both rowing and agricultural work. These people went ‘viking’ before deciding to make Ireland home.

 Kaupang
A new way of life

 Kaupang, a hundred miles or so south of present day Oslo, is considered to be the first significant urban settlement in Norway. Founded around AD 800, it grew to house a population of perhaps 1,000 people. Like most Viking towns it was a coastal centre, trading in iron, soapstone and fish. Excavations since 2000 have unearthed an incredible 100,000 finds including Arab silver coins, glass beads, gold and bronze jewellery as well as countless weapons and tools.

 The deep divisions of the Norwegian fjords favoured smaller petty kingdoms for much longer than its southern rival Denmark, which experienced centralised power much earlier.

 Birka
A melting pot of ideas

 Established by the middle of the eighth century, Birka was one of the earliest urban settlements in Scandinavia. Li Kolker, of Sweden’s National Historical Museum in Stockholm, describes it as the Viking version of New York or London, bringing in “a melting pot of ideas from abroad”.

 Birka was connected in a direct line of trading posts all the way to Constantinople. Everything from eastern silks to silver Arabian dirhams have been found here. In the design of colourful jewellery and the remains of clothing, Middle Eastern influences can be seen. Birka expert Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson says that small fragments of kaftans have even been found made of a combination of wool with silk and fur trimmings.

 Hedeby
The ‘debauched’ town

 The Vikings did not write their histories, so descriptions of contemporary life are rare, but one 10th‑century Spanish merchant recorded his rather scathing impressions of the important Danish Viking town of Hedeby.

 Abraham ben Jacob wrote that both men and women wore eye make-up, that their singing was a rumbling emanating from their throats like that of a dog, but even more bestial, and that women had the right to divorce. He was not impressed by the place.

 Archaeological evidence from Hedeby suggests that the small, tightly clustered houses built around Hedeby’s harbour did not have many older occupants. In Hedeby tuberculosis was rife and people rarely lived beyond the age of 40.

 Staraya Ladoga
The oldest trading centre

 The Viking settlement of Staraya Ladoga (today 75 miles east of St Petersburg) was a gateway into Russia and the east. It has been estimated that between 90 and 95 per cent of all Arabic silver coins found in Sweden, a quarter of a million silver dirhams, came through this single trading town, and Vikings would have also met with Finnish fur traders here.

 Wooden houses were in place by 753, well before the earliest recorded raids on Britain, and it might be that Staraya Ladoga is even older than this. The discovery of Scandinavian objects, mainly from the Baltic island of Gotland, suggests that an international market was already established by the early seventh century, making it one of the oldest of all Baltic trading centres.

 Cameron Balbirnie is a film maker and journalist who worked on the major BBC series A History of Ancient Britain (2011) and Vikings (2012).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Marrying for love: Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

History Extra


Elizabeth’s first clear contact with Edward’s court came on 13 April 1464, only a few months before the suggested date of their marriage. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Henry VIII tends to be the monarch who gets frequently cited for breaking the royal marital mould by choosing his own wives from among his subjects. In particular, the narrative arcs of his relations with cousins Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard continue to fascinate, five centuries after his passion turned to hatred and he sent both of them to their deaths. However, Henry was only following the example set by Edward IV, the Yorkist grandfather whom he resembled in both looks and appetite. Edward may not have had as many wives as Henry, but his liaisons with women were just as complex and, perhaps, equally destructive on a national scale. Instead of following the traditional kingly route and negotiating for an influential foreign bride, Edward followed his heart and chose his wife for her personal qualities. Despite the scandal this created, the marriage proved successful and lasted until his death.


 “An unlikely queen”
Five years older than her royal husband, Elizabeth Woodville was an unlikely queen. Her legendary blonde beauty entranced the young king to the extent that he married her in spite of tradition, in spite of advice, perhaps even in spite of himself. While none could fault her personal charms, Elizabeth was considered an unacceptable choice for an English queen by most of Edward’s advisors. She was a widow, a mother already, born and married into Lancastrian families, the daughter of a mere knight, a man whom Edward had formerly held in contempt. She brought no dowry or international connections, no territories or promise of diplomatic support. What she did bring was her fertility, bearing the king 10 children in addition to the two sons from her first husband, Sir John Grey. Elizabeth also brought in a model of queenship that differed vastly from that of the woman she replaced, the Lancastrian Margaret of Anjou. Elizabeth may have begun her reign as unsuitable and unpopular but in fact, she was the perfect embodiment of the beautiful, submissive, fertile queen – an archetype of medieval literature.

Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward IV. The young king was entranced by her legendary blonde beauty. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 Exactly when Elizabeth and Edward first met is unclear. They may well have been thrown together in the small, elite world of the English aristocracy, at court or some important event in the 1450s. The pair may even have known each other as children, as Elizabeth’s parents appear to have served in Rouen while Edward’s father was resident there as Lieutenant of Normandy. However, for much of Edward’s youth, Elizabeth was married and unavailable, a situation which only changed shortly before he became king. It is possible that he admired her before this point but, even if they had never previously seen one another, their attraction was quickly and decisively established. Edward’s victory at Towton in 1461 put the Woodvilles in a difficult position – the family had fought on the ‘wrong’ side and survived. Yet in June 1461, Edward stayed at their home at Groby, Leicestershire, and granted a pardon to Elizabeth’s father, heralding a new relationship between the family and the Yorkists. The newly-widowed Elizabeth is almost certain to have sought shelter under her parents’ roof, so this may well have been a critical moment in their relationship.

 Elizabeth’s first clear contact with Edward’s court came on 13 April 1464, only a few months before the suggested date of their marriage. She appealed to William, Lord Hastings, probably in his role as overseer of the Yorkist Midlands, for his assistance in a dispute arising with her mother-in-law. Legend has Elizabeth waiting for Edward under an oak in Whittlebury Forest, a helpless widow, hoping to plead for the inheritances of her sons. Perhaps he did come riding by, hear her problems and fall in love. When she became aware of his intentions and agreed to become his wife, knowing his position, she cannot have known what lay ahead, but she must have agreed to collude in his veil of secrecy. Her decision to marry the king cannot have been one she would have taken lightly. 

Elizabeth married Edward in secret, some time before September 1464. The exact date and circumstances of this event are still hotly debated among historians, especially because the choices Edward made were later used to undermine his dynastic line. The ceremony appears to have taken place in the chapel at Groby, with the collusion of Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta, Countess Rivers, although it was kept secret from her father at that point. This choice was hardly surprising, given the reaction Edward could anticipate to the match, but there is also the possibility that the ritual was intended as a means of seduction rather than a lasting commitment.

 Some historians have suggested that the king was, in fact, already married at this point. Almost 20 years later, after Edward’s death, the question of his children’s legitimacy turned upon a statement made by Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, who asserted that a prior arrangement between Edward and Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, invalidated his marriage to Elizabeth. This argument was used to depose Edward’s eldest son Edward V and replace him with Edward’s brother, Richard III. Eleanor was already conveniently long-dead by this time, as were any other witnesses, so the plausibility of the claim rested upon what was known of Edward’s character. His contemporary reputation as a womaniser did little to allay this possibility, and the secret marriage to Elizabeth only added to the doubts. At the time, there was no way that Edward could have predicted his early death, or his brother’s actions, although by rejecting the usual practice of conducting a royal marriage in public, he called his motives into question.


King Edward IV by an unknown artist, late 16th century. There is no question that Edward was a great catch for a knight’s widow. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

 A desire to be together
Edward and Elizabeth were married for 19 years. Their relationship spanned a turbulent period, during which Edward lost and regained the throne, faced rebellion and was forced into exile. This meant that there were periods when the couple were separated, unsure whether or not they would see each other again. Edward also had mistresses, especially towards the end of his life, when he famously loved the company of Jane Shore. However, this was by no means unusual at the time, so would not necessarily have been a cause for conflict in the way that modern, post-Romantic sensibilities might anticipate. It was almost expected, for reasons of health and safety, that men would abstain from sleeping with their pregnant wives, but required sexual outlets elsewhere. While Edward might share another woman’s bed, he had made Elizabeth his queen and, unlike his grandson Henry VIII, he never intended to dislodge her from that position. Sex with other women would have been a diversion and a physical outlet, rather than an attempt to replace Elizabeth; it was advised by physicians as essential to health and might even have been welcomed by the queen later in life, or while she was indisposed. In spite of these issues, the marriage never appears to have foundered or weakened. Despite these difficulties and the opposition to their union, both were united in their desire to be together.

 Today, it is difficult to recover the intimate details of a private life that was not committed to letters or a diary. Yet, it is possible to look at the indications that suggest the marriage did work, on a personal level, and Edward’s ability to maintain the union in the wake of the contemporary dislike of Elizabeth’s family. In defying expectations that he had a duty to use marriage as a diplomatic tool, Edward prioritised love, perhaps lust, in a way that exposed his own feelings. There was no question that he desired Elizabeth and was prepared to take considerable risks to make her his queen.

 Yet amid all the controversy, Elizabeth’s own feelings are less transparent. A few of the chroniclers mention her initial resistance to Edward’s advances on moral grounds, refusing to become his mistress in a way that made him determined to make her his wife. However, this does not appear to have been as conscious a policy as that which Anne Boleyn would use six decades later. There is no question that Edward was a great catch for a knight’s widow. Apart from his considerable personal charms, to bag a king was the ultimate achievement as a career marriage, and brought unprecedented advantages to the Woodville family, something which Elizabeth must have been acutely aware of. But this may have been a realistic move, not a cynical one. It was the happy union of attraction and advantage that would have made the match so unique.

 Elizabeth bore Edward 10 children, with their youngest arriving just three years before the king’s death. Of their seven girls and three boys, only five daughters reached adulthood, the others falling victim to illness, or disappearing inside the Tower of London, as was the case with the two elder boys, Edward V and his brother Richard. The provision for the young Prince Edward’s education and establishment at Ludlow Castle in the 1470s show that his parents cared deeply about the way his learning was imparted, his leisure hours and the influences upon him. He was to be allowed time to play, to enjoy his dogs and horses, and to be well fed, well slept and preserved from the influence of those who might be uncouth, ill, or of evil intent. The royal family appears to have been a close, warm unit, which retained a sense of loyalty and mutual support throughout Edward’s reign and afterwards. Their household accounts and the glimpses offered by eyewitnesses capture their mutual investment in the life they had created together and fought to protect. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, continued to help her sisters and their offspring after she had married Henry VII and become queen.


'The Young Princes in the Tower', 1831. Of the 10 children of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, only five reached adulthood, the others falling victim to illness, or disappearing inside the Tower of London, as was the case with the two elder boys, Edward V and his brother Richard. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

 A productive partnership
As 1483 dawned, Edward and Elizabeth might still have anticipated many years together. They had been married almost 19 years, the country was at peace and Edward himself was approaching his 41st birthday. He was middle-aged by contemporary standards, and although not as active and fit as his earlier years, had contemplated personally leading an army against the Scots just one year previously. The marriage had been placed under considerable pressure by Edward’s conflicts with his nobility, as rivalry was created by jealousy at the new-found wealth of the Woodvilles. Yet there are no surviving anecdotes that relate to conflict between the couple, or any lessening of affection. None of the gossipy stories that relate to the wives of Henry VIII, or those of Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VII, emerge about Edward and Elizabeth. Their partnership appeared complementary, harmonious and enduring, with Edward adopting a martial style of leadership, ruling by merit of his larger-than-life personality and Elizabeth taking the typically feminine role of the supportive and fertile but essentially apolitical queen.

 Edward’s premature death in April 1483 ended a productive partnership before it had fully come to fruition, before their eldest son was of age. Having been the ‘glue’ that bound the disparate elements of his court together, Edward’s absence proved to be the catalyst that precipitated civil chaos. Losing control of power, and of her sons, Elizabeth witnessed the deaths of her friends and relatives before peace was restored under her son-in-law, Henry VII. She retired to Bermondsey Abbey, spending her final days in seclusion before being laid to rest in a humble grave, at her own request, alongside Edward in St George’s Chapel at Windsor. They lie there today, permanently united in death, their marriage standing as a symbol of the strong rule they embodied in life.

 Amy Licence is the author of Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance (Amberley Publishing 2016)

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Pig in a Coffin, A Pregnant Goat, and a Dog That Died in Childbirth: What Were Bizarre Animal Remains Doing in an Anglo-Saxon Church?

Ancient Origins


A group of archaeologists carrying out a routine excavation at a Greek Orthodox church in Shropshire, England, made an extraordinary discovery on the final day of their dig – bizarre animal burials, a pit of human skulls, and the remains of an Anglo-Saxon church. So why were animals ritualistically buried on consecrated ground?

Discovery Takes Place on the Final Day of the Dig
The site was being investigated after Shropshire Council gave consent for housing adjacent to the church. The archaeologists were on a mission to find the remains of a wooden beam, post or other object that would help them to accurately date the site, before it was due to be sealed to make way for a road and car park. Luckily, on the final day of part of the dig, they found the determining piece of evidence that they were looking for: a 15-inch section of an upright wooden post, thought to be a door post. Project manager Janey Green, of Baskerville Archaeological Services, told Shropshire Live, “I had a hunch there was an Anglo-Saxon church here, the site was rumored to be Anglo-Saxon and the vital piece of evidence that we need to be able to prove that it is Anglo-Saxon came at the last hour literally!”

Janey Green and her team of excavators with the wooden door post found at Sutton Farm. Credit: Baskerville Archaeological Services

Animal Burials Pre-date the Christian Period
 Archaeologists also said the finds, which include a calf, a pig and a dog that died while giving birth, were "unprecedented". In total, two dogs, a calf, some birds and a pig were discovered on the site at the Greek Orthodox Church, on Oteley Road, along with the remains of an early medieval woman and a pit full of human skulls. Miss Green speculates the animal burials pre-date the Christian period, “It was a huge surprise to find these burials in a church graveyard. To find animals buried in consecrated ground is incredibly unusual because it would have been a big no no. The bones don’t show any signs of butchery and the animals appear to have been deliberately and carefully laid in the ground. The site is a few hundred meters from known prehistoric human burial mounds so they may be connected,” she told Shropshire Live.

She also suggests that it would be impossible for the remains dating back to the Victorian period, even though she thinks that the use of technology will help them to accurately define the dates of the finds, “Initially I thought I may have come across a whimsical Victorian burial of a beloved pet. But the Victorians usually left objects in the graves such as a collar, a letter or a posie of flowers and we haven’t found a shred of evidence of anything like that here. Neither is there evidence that the animals were fallen farm stock that were disposed of in modern times. The next step is to have the bones carbon dated and we’re hoping funds would be available for that,” she told Shropshire Live.


More than Six Months of Work
For the end, Ms. Green mentioned that the company had been working on the site for more than six months even though they managed to unearth the animal burials just recently. "We didn't in our wildest dreams imagine we would find what we have," she said. The company was called in as a condition of the planning consent given by Shropshire Council for homes to be built opposite. Ms. Green also stated that she did not know why the animals were buried together and speculates a number of theories, including a possible link to a nearby Bronze Age site. The remains will now be tested to determine their age before being re-buried on the site.

Top image: Janey Green of Baskerville Archaeology Services digging up bones in Oteley Road. Credit: Baskerville Archaeological Services

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Who Was St Dwynwen and How is She Associated with St Valentine?

Ancient Origins


February 14 is the day marked for lovers in many countries around the world, but in Wales there is another date traditionally associated with romance: St Dwynwen’s Day, January 25.

Dwynwen – pronounced [dʊɨnwɛn] – was the daughter of an early medieval king who became the Welsh patron saint of lovers. As you might expect, she has her own love story – although it’s not quite what we today would consider a romantic one.

As the earliest version of her tale goes, Dwynwen was deeply in love with a young man called Maelon Dafodrill, but when she rebuffed his premarital sexual advances, he became enraged and left her. Saddened and fearful, Dwynwen prayed to God, and soon enough her former suitor’s ardour was decisively cooled – he was turned into a block of ice. And for rejecting Maelon’s untimely advances, God allowed Dwynwen three wishes.

St. Dwynwen meets an angel. (FREE to use Clipart)

Her first wish was that Maelon should be defrosted at once. The second was that her prayers on behalf of “all true-hearted lovers” should be heard, so that “they should either obtain the objects of their affection, or be cured of their passion”. Her final wish was that she should never have to marry; she is said to have ended her life as a nun at the isolated church named after her, Llanddwyn, on the island of Anglesey.


Crosses on Llanddwyn Island. (CC BY 2.0)

Creating a Legend
Although it echoes other medieval saints’ lives, Dwynwen’s story only appeared for the first time in the writings of the self-taught polymath Edward Williams (1747-1826), better known by his bardic name Iolo Morganwg. Now Morganwg, depending on your point of view, was either a creative literary genius or a shameless forger. Either way, it seems certain that Dwynwen’s story is not medieval at all, but rather a product of Morganwg’s vivid imagination.

However, Dwynwen may well have been a real woman: she is mentioned in early genealogies as one of the numerous saintly daughters of the semi-legendary fifth-century king, Brychan Brycheiniog. Part of a Latin mass from the early 16th century states that she walked on water from Ireland to escape the clutches of the Welsh king Maelgwn Gwynedd – although fleeing to Ireland might have been a better plan.


The church of Llanddwynwen or Llanddwyn in the 18th Century. (National Library of Wales)

Our knowledge of the cult of Dwynwen is mainly based on two Welsh-language poems. The most famous was composed by medieval Wales’s greatest poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym, around the middle of the 14th century, and was certainly known to Morganwg. In it, the amorous poet calls for Dwynwen’s assistance as a “llatai”, or love-messenger, for him and his married lover Morfudd. Aware that his actions are, to say the least, morally dubious, Dafydd promises the saint that she won’t lose her place in heaven by helping the lovers. Indeed, ensuring that his back is at least metaphorically covered, he also calls on God himself to keep Morfudd’s interfering husband from interrupting the lovers in their woodland trysts.

The other poem, by the priest-poet Dafydd Trefor, dates from around 1500 and describes the pilgrims that thronged to her church to see her image and to seek restoration from her holy wells. Their offerings ensured that the church grew wealthy although Dwynwen’s fame – inevitably – receded after the Reformation. But she never slipped into complete obscurity.


An imaginary portrait of medieval Welsh-language poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. (Public Domain)

Modern Reworkings
Dwynwen’s re-emergence began in earnest when extracts from Morganwg’s manuscripts were published with English translations in 1848. As a result, her story slowly but surely gained a foothold in the Welsh imagination. In 1886, for instance, composer Joseph Parry wrote the music for “Dwynwen”, a rousing chorus for male voice choirs. And in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Welsh newspapers in both languages would occasionally relate the story of the “Celtic Venus”.

 In the 1960s, as the commercialisation of St Valentine’s Day continued apace, the first St Dwynwen’s Day cards were produced in Wales. Yet unlike her ice-melting prototype, the modern Dwynwen proved to be a slow burner. Indeed, by 1993 a commentator stated that attempts to create a Dwynwen tradition were withering away.


St. Dwynwen Church ruins on Llanddwyn Island. It was originally built in the 16th Century. (CC BY 2.0)

But in the current century St Dwynwen’s Day is once more flourishing, bolstered by the media and the same kind of special offers that you see around St Valentine’s Day. And although St Dwynwen’s Day is more familiar to those who speak Welsh than to those who don’t, even this is slowly changing.

Does it say something about the passion of the Welsh that they have two days for lovers, Valentine – “Ffolant” as he is known in Welsh – and Dwynwen? Probably not. But the relationship between the two is revealingly ambivalent.

St Dwynwen’s day is in part a protest against the globalising commercialisation of St Valentine’s Day. But it’s also an attempt to find a place in the same marketplace for a distinctively Welsh product. It certainly shouldn’t be seen as a repackaging of St Valentine’s Day for a Welsh audience – that would be like marketing St David as the “St George of Wales”.

A colorful depiction of a modern Saint Dwynwen icon. (Everyday Nature Trails)

If you find yourself in Wales on January 25, do make the most of the opportunity to follow your heart’s desires. The only advice I’d give you is this: don’t call Dwynwen the “Welsh Valentine”.

Top Image: A representation of St. Dwynwen by Jonathan Earl Bowser. Source: Wild Eyed Southern Celt

The article, originally titled ‘How St Dwynwen wrongly became known as the Welsh Valentine’ by Dylan Foster Evans was originally published on The Conversation and has republished under a Creative Commons license.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Researchers Wonder if Rich Viking Boat Burial Found in Scotland was Made for a Warrior Woman

Ancient Origins

A team of researchers who have been examining the horde of grave goods left in an amazing Viking boat burial have decided that the deceased individual was definitely an important person in their society. While shedding light on the origins, diet, and social standing, the interesting mixture of artifacts has also raised new questions about who the person was. For example, archaeologists are uncertain if the grave held a man or woman.

Found near a Neolithic cairn in the Ardnamurchan peninsula in western Scotland in 2011, the Viking boat burial dates to the late 9th or early 10th century. Live Science reports that it was the first to be found undisturbed on the British mainland and has provided some vital information on burial practices from the time. The researchers must have been delighted to unearth such a rich grave.


Some of the finds recovered from the grave (clockwise from the top left): broad-bladed axe, shield boss, ringed pin and the hammer and tongs. (Photographs: Pieta Greaves/AOC Archaeology)

Several of the goods were objects of daily life, items for cooking, working, farming and food production were all included in the grave. It also held a shield boss (domed part of a shield protecting a warrior's hand); a whetstone from Norway, and a ringed pin used to close a burial cloak or shroud, possibly from Ireland. As the researchers wrote in their article published in the journal Antiquity:

"The burial evokes the mundane and the exotic, past and present, as well as local, national and international identities […] when considering a burial like this, it is essential to remember that each of these objects, and each of these actions, was never isolated, but rather they emerge out of, and help to form, an assemblage that knits together multiple places, people and moments in time.”


The sword (top); the sword in situ (below); the mineralized textile remains (right); detail of the decoration after conservation (left). (Lower photographs: Pieta Greaves/AOC Archaeology)

The burial also contained a sword, an axe, a drinking horn vessel, a broken spearhead (probably fragmented in a funeral ritual), a hammer, and some tongs – the researchers say that all these have suggest a warrior burial, likely male.

However, Oliver Harris, co-director of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project (ATP) at the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, told Seeker “There is nothing female per se in the grave, though of course there are lots of objects — sickle, the ladle, the knife, the ringed pin — that are not male either.”



The ladle, sickle, spearhead, and knife. (Harris et al)

And with just two teeth remaining for the person’s body, the researchers cannot confirm the individual’s sex. As Harris said “The burial is probably that of a man — but as we only have the two teeth surviving, it is impossible to be definitive. So it is possible, but not likely, that this was the burial of a woman.”

It would not be unheard of for a Viking woman to have an elaborate burial however, as Dwhty has written previously for Ancient Origins about the Oseberg Viking ship burial:

“The Oseberg ship burial contained two human skeletons, both female. One of the skeletons belonged to a woman who was about 70 or 80 years old when she died. Investigations suggest that the woman probably died of cancer. It is unclear who this woman actually was, and some have speculated that she may have been Queen Åsa, the grandmother of the first Norwegian king. The second skeleton belonged to a woman in her 50s, though it is not known how she died.




Oseberg ship, Kulturhistorisk museum (Viking Ship Museum), Oslo, Norway. (Public Domain)

It has been suggested that the middle-aged woman may have been a slave who was sacrificed to accompany the older woman. This burial also contained the remains of 13 horses, four dogs, and two oxen, probably sacrificed as well to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. Although the damp conditions within the mound allowed for the ship and its contents to be well-preserved, the mound had been broken into by robbers and any precious metal items were taken.

Returning to the present study, the researchers completed an isotopic analysis of the teeth found in the Ardnamurchan Viking boat burial and discovered that the deceased probably grew up in Scandinavia and had to change his/her diet for about a year during childhood. Harris explained, “The switch in diet probably shows there was some shortage in food for a period of time leading people to eat more fish.”


The Viking’s teeth. (Harris et al.)

As for the boat itself, well, all that remained was 213 of its metal rivets; the wood decayed, though an impression left in the soil suggests that it had measured 16 feet (4.88 meters) in length. This would be consistent with the size of a small rowing boat.

 Perhaps the most elaborate (and disturbing) example of Viking ship burial practices was the 10th century chronicle of the violent, orgiastic funeral of a Viking chieftain. Holy man and jurist Ahmad Ibn Fadlan described the death rites of mourning Vikings in Bulgaria who had lost their chieftain. As Mark Miller wrote:

“In the Viking tradition, if it was a chief who died, he was placed in the ground while his burial clothes were prepared for 10 days, during which his followers drank and had sex with doomed slave girls “purely out of love.” On the day of cremation, the Viking’s body was exhumed, then his companions burned him, along with volunteer slave girls or boys who were slain, slaughtered dogs, horses, cows and chickens, food offerings, his weapons and his ship.”



‘The Funeral of a Viking’ (1893) by Frank Dicksee. (Public Domain)

After these extreme burial practices, the Vikings built an earthen mound over the burned vessel. Miller writes that archaeologists are still searching for the location of this grave.

He also reminds us that,

“this death rite or orgy that Ibn Fadlan described was for a chief, and it happened among the warriors and leaders of the Viking society who were in the Volga viking. Presumably the farmers, hunters, bakers, craftsmen and other plain folk—the great majority of Viking society—did not practice this lurid death celebration. Also, this was one Viking group at one point in the 260-year history of the Viking raids and settlements, and we have no way of knowing how many Viking groups practiced these wild funeral celebrations over their vast territories.”

Top Image: Funeral of a Rus' nobleman’ (1883) by Henryk Siemiradzki. (Public Domain) Detail: Post-excavation photograph of the cut at the Ardnamurchan Viking boat burial. (Harris et al.)

 By Alicia McDermott