PRESS RELEASE

 

England’s first Viking inhumation burial ground found in Cumbria

 

The burial site of six Viking men and women, complete with swords and spears, jewellery, firemaking materials and riding equipment, has been discovered near Cumwhitton, Cumbria. 

 

The site, which is believed to date from the early tenth century, was unearthed following the discovery by a local metal detectorist of two Viking Age copper brooches. The grave of a Viking woman was found beneath the brooches. She had been buried with a wooden chest at her feet, which x-rays may determine holds weaving equipment.  Further excavation led to the discovery of the graves of another woman and four men 10 metres away from the first grave, all buried with their grave goods.  The four men were buried with weaponry, two had firemaking materials, and one was buried with spurs, a possible bridle and what is thought to be the remains of a drinking horn. The female Viking was buried wearing a magnificent jet bracelet on her left wrist and with a copper alloy belt fitting, amongst other goods.

 

The sandy soil of the area means that while the bodies have decomposed, their equipment had remained exactly where it was buried over a thousand years ago, providing a unique opportunity to excavate a Viking Age cemetery under twenty first century conditions.

 

Local metal detectorist Peter Adams reported his find via the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the UK’s largest community archaeology project, which identifies, records and advises on archaeological objects found by the public. The site was subsequently excavated by Oxford Archaeology North with English Heritage, which is now working on the conservation of the finds to ensure that information about the objects recovered is preserved for further study. 

 

Describing the site, local PAS representative Faye Simpson said: “This was a haunting find. When I first saw the excavated graves, complete with artefacts but the bodies of those buried long decomposed, it seemed as though the people buried there had indeed followed in the footsteps of their ancestors and gone to Valhalla – the Viking afterlife.”

 

Arts Minister Estelle Morris said: "We should all be grateful to Mr Adams who recorded his find so promptly.  As a result, the experts have been able to learn more about this fascinating site, and uncover the secrets of a time capsule more than a thousand years old.

 

"Community projects like the Portable Antiquities Scheme help people throughout the country get involved in archaeology and local history.  And museums benefit too, through this direct engagement with local experts.”

 

Mark Wood, Chair of the Museums, Libraries and Archive Council which manages the Portable Antiquities Scheme said: “This is tremendous news: a unique discovery which will improve people’s understanding of the area and its history. The museum community relies on members of the public to report archaeological treasures to our network of Finds Liaison Officers, and you can imagine how pleased we are when important finds of this nature are unearthed.”

 

Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage, said: “This incredible find provides rare archaeological evidence of the Vikings as settlers who integrated themselves into English life. This exciting find reveals the presence of the Vikings as a community group including woman and challenges the war-lords stereotype as depicted by Hollywood.

“English Heritage is delighted to have been able to support this momentous discovery by funding the archaeological dig. Treasure hunting for its own sake can be damaging and can lead to the loss of valuable objects. We have been able to discover the secrets of this important site thanks to the responsible detective work of Peter Adams who reported the find to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It is vital that the many other amateur archaeologists across the country continue to help us uncover new evidence of our archaeological past by following Peter’s admirable lead.”

 

Rachel Newman of Oxford Archaeology North said, ‘We could not have expected more from the excavation of the site. We knew the brooches found by Mr Adams came from a burial of a Viking Age woman, which was exciting and of great importance in itself, but we did not expect to find five other graves complete with such a splendid array of artefacts. It truly has been an amazing few months excavating this extremely important Viking Age site’.

 

Finder Peter Adams said, “Finding the brooches was just the beginning.  By detecting alongside the archaeologists I was also able to locate a sword hilt which led to the second, and main, excavation and the discovery of all six graves.  Faye Simpson, our Finds Liaison Officer, did a fantastic job pulling all the resources together to make this excavation possible.  Her dedication, together with the archaeologists on site, enabled us all to learn so much from what is the find of a lifetime for me.”

 

For more details visit  http://www.finds.org.uk/news/newsarticle.asp?id=217  or the finds website www.oxfordarch.co.uk/vikingburial   

 

-ends-

 

Notes to Editors

 

Press enquiries:  Fiona Cameron at MLA on 020 7273 1459, email [log in to unmask],

 

Press event: A press event will be held at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle on Tuesday 7 September, 11.30am. Many of the finds will be on view and interviews will be available with:

 

Michael Lewis, Deputy Head of Portable Antiquities Scheme

Faye Simpson, Portable Antiquities Scheme - Finds Liaison Officer (Cumbria & Lancashire)

Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman, English Heritage

Andrew Davison, English Heritage Inspector of Ancient Monuments, North West Region

Alan Lupton, Operations Manager at Oxford Archaeology North

Rachel Newman, Director of Oxford Archaeology North

Tim Padley, Keeper of Archaeology, Tullie House

Peter Adams, local metal detector, and finder of the site.

 

A reconstruction drawing of one of the graves will be on view.

To attend the press call please contact Fiona Cameron as above.

 

Photos and images

 

Print quality images including a reconstruction drawing will be available from PA Picselect at www.papicselect.com  under DCMS/PAS folder. For more images contact Fiona Cameron as above.

 

Viking burial sites in England

 

The only other known Viking cemetery in England is the cremation cemetery at Ingleby in Derbyshire, which was excavated in the 1940s.  Here ashes were buried in eathenware pots and few artefacts survive.  The only other group of bodies to be found buried together was a battlefield cemetery at Repton, Derbyshire. 

 

About the Portable Antiquities Scheme

 

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is the largest community archaeology project this country has ever seen. It was established in 1997 to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by the public and to broaden public awareness of the importance of such finds for understanding our past.

 

The data recorded - itself an important educational resource - is published on the Scheme's website (www.finds.org.uk) allowing public access to over 60,000 records and over 21,000 images of finds, as diverse as prehistoric flints to post-medieval buckles - and new finds are going online everyday.

 

The Portable Scheme is managed by a consortium of national bodies led by Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), and includes the British Museum, English Heritage, the National Museums & Galleries of Wales (NMGW) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, together with the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, the Council for British Archaeology, the National Council for Metal-detecting, the Society of Museum Archaeologists and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The major funding partners of the Scheme are the Heritage Lottery Fund, the DCMS, MLA, the British Museum and the NMGW.

 

For more information about the Portable Antiquities Scheme contact Dr Michael Lewis (Deputy Head of Portable Antiquities) at [log in to unmask] or 020 7323 8611.

 

Organisations involved

 

English Heritage

 

English Heritage (www.english-heritage.org.uk) is the Government's lead body for the historic environment. Funded partly by the Government and in part from revenue earned from its historic properties and other services, English Heritage aims to increase the understanding of the past, conserve and enhance the historic environment and broaden access and appreciation of heritage.

As the national archaeology service for England, English Heritage sets standards, promotes innovation and provides detailed archaeological knowledge on the historic environment. This work includes the discovery and analysis of new sites from the air and on the ground, recording and researching the history of landscapes and developing techniques for geophysical survey, technological analysis and dating.

 

MLA (the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council)

 

MLA is the national development agency for museums, libraries and archives, advising the government on policy and priorities for the sector. MLA's roles are to provide strategic leadership, to act as a powerful advocate, to develop capacity and to promote innovation and change.  Museums, libraries and archives connect people to knowledge and information, creativity and inspiration. MLA is leading the drive to unlock this wealth, for everyone. For further information visit the MLA website at http://www.mla.gov.uk

 

Oxford Archaeology North

 

Oxford Archaeology (www.oxfordarch.co.uk) is an educational charity with a Board of Trustees and has over 30 years of experience in professional archaeology and are the largest employer of archaeologists in the country (we currently have more than 200 members of staff). We have offices in Lancaster and Oxford, trading as Oxford Archaeology North (OA North), and Oxford Archaeology (OA) respectively, enabling us to provide a truly nationwide service. OA is an Institute of Field Archaeologists Registered Organisation (No 17), and is thus bound by the IFA's Code of Conduct and required to apply the IFA's quality standards. Oxford Archaeology North staff have unrivalled experience of the archaeology of the North West, having worked in the county for over 20 years

 

Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

 

Established by Carlisle Corporation in 1893, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery (www.tulliehouse.co.uk) houses considerable collections of fine and decorative art, human history and natural sciences.

 

The Museums Human History (Archaeology) collections comprise Cumbrian Prehistory; Roman Cumbria (especially Carlisle and the Hadrian's Wall area): Dark Age and Medieval Cumbria. There are a number of important excavation archives, including several from recent work in Carlisle itself, in which organic materials - especially wood and leatherwork - are notable. Important items within the collections include: Bronze Age stone spear-mould from Croglin, gold neck-ring from Greysouthern; Roman inscribed and sculpted stones from Carlisle and Hadrian's Wall; Dark Age objects from Viking burials at Ormside and Hesket; Saxon sword; Medieval city bell, chest & stocks; Elizabethan weights & measures.

 

 

 

 

Fiona Cameron

Media and Events Manager

Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

T:  020 7273 1459

 

Join the MLA News email list at:  http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/mlanews.html

 

 

 


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