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Face of Anglo-Saxon teen VIP revealed with new evidence about her life

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The face of a 16-year-old woman buried near Cambridge (UK) in the 7th century with an incredibly rare gold and garnet cross (the ‘Trumpington Cross’) has been reconstructed following analysis of her skull.

The striking image is going on public display for the first time on 21st June, with new scientific evidence showing that she moved to England from Central Europe as a young girl, leading to an intriguing change in her diet.

Forensic artist Hew Morrison created the likeness using measurements of the woman’s skull and tissue depth data for Caucasian females. Without DNA analysis, Morrison could not be sure of her precise eye and hair colour, but the image offers a strong indication of her appearance shortly before she died.

Hew Morrison said: “It was interesting to see her face developing. Her left eye was slightly lower, about half a centimetre, than her right eye. This would have been quite noticeable in life.”

New “you are what you eat” isotopic analysis of the young woman’s bones and teeth conducted by bioarchaeologists Dr Sam Leggett and Dr Alice Rose, and archaeologist Dr Emma Brownlee, during PhD research at the University of Cambridge also reveals that she moved to England from somewhere near the Alps, perhaps southern Germany, sometime after she turned 7 years old.

Leggett and Rose also found that once the girl had arrived in England, the proportion of protein in her diet decreased by a small but significant amount. This change occurred close to the end of her young life, showing that the period between her migration and burial near Cambridge was tragically short.

Dr Leggett, now at the University of Edinburgh, said: “She was quite a young girl when she moved, likely from part of southern Germany, close to the Alps, to a very flat part of England. She was probably quite unwell and she travelled a long way to somewhere completely unfamiliar – even the food was different. It must have been scary.”

Previous analysis indicated that the young woman had suffered from illness but her cause of death remains unknown. She was buried in a remarkable way – lying on a carved wooden bed wearing the cross, gold pins (also on display) and fine clothing.

Hers is one of only 18 bed burials ever uncovered in the UK. Her ornate cross, combining gold and garnets (third quarter of the 7th century), is one of only five of its kind ever found in Britain and identifies her as one of England’s earliest converts to Christianity and as a member of the aristocracy if not royalty. The best known example of such a cross was found in the coffin of St Cuthbert.

In 597 AD, the pope dispatched St Augustine to England on a mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings, a process which continued for many decades.

Dr Leggett said: “She must have known that she was important and she had to carry that on her shoulders. Her isotopic results match those of two other women who were similarly buried on beds in this period in Cambridgeshire.

“So it seems that she was part of an elite group of women who probably travelled from mainland Europe, most likely Germany, in the 7th century, but they remain a bit of a mystery. Were they political brides or perhaps brides of Christ? The fact that her diet changed once she arrived in England suggests that her lifestyle may have changed quite significantly.”

Dr Sam Lucy, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon burial from Newnham College, Cambridge, who published the Anglo-Saxon excavations at Trumpington*, said:

“These are intriguing findings, and it is wonderful to see this collaborative research adding to our knowledge of this period. Combining the new isotopic results with Emma Brownlee’s research into European bed burials really does seem to suggest the movement of a small group of young elite women from a mountainous area in continental Europe to the Cambridge region in the third quarter of the seventh century.

“Southern Germany is a distinct possibility owing to the bed burial tradition known there. Given the increasingly certain association between bed burial, such cross-shaped jewellery, and early Anglo-Saxon Christianity, it is possible that their movement related to pan-European networks of elite women who were heavily involved in the early Church.”

Dr Jody Joy, the exhibition’s co-curator, said: “The story of this young woman goes to the very heart of what our exhibition is all about – new research making visible the lives of people at pivotal moments of Cambridgeshire’s history. MAA holds one of Britain’s most important collections of Early Medieval archaeology and the Trumpington bed burial is so important. It looks like it still has much more to teach us.”

In the exhibition, the ‘Trumpington Cross’ will be displayed together with the delicate gold and garnet pins connected by a gold chain, which were found near the teenager’s neck. These pins probably secured a long veil to an outer garment of fine linen. The pins would have caught the light as she moved. The burial bed’s decorative headboard will also be exhibited.

University of Cambridge

Header Image Credit : Hew Morrison ©2023

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Archaeology

Mysterious engraving might depict an Archaic temple on the Acropolis of Athens

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A 2,000-year-old engraving on a marble outcrop near Vari, Attica, might point to an Archaic temple on the Acropolis of Athens.

A study, published in the American Journal of Archaeology, suggest that the engraving was carved by sheep and goat herders in the area of Barako Hill during the 6th century BC.

The engraving was carved on an exposed marble bedrock and shows an elevated view of the facade of a temple building with at least five columns.

Snaking around the building is an inscription in the Old Attic alphabet that reads: “τὸ hεκατόµπεδον [–]Ε[–] Μίκōνος ⇄”, interpreted as “the Hekatompedon” and was produced by an individual named “Mikon”.

According to the study authors: “The term Ἑκατόµπεδον by which Mikon labelled the drawn temple is a neuter noun deriving from the adjective ἑκατόµπεδος (meaning “of a hundred feet,” occasionally rendered as ἑκατόνπεδος or ἑκατόµποδος). This adjective appears numerous times in the literary record, first seen in the Iliad. It can qualify various structures and spaces.”

In religious contexts, the term can refer to sacred structures with an average length of 100 feet. Several early temples with matching lengths are known from the Ancient Greek world, which archaeologists sometimes call “hekatompedos”.

The Acropolis of Athens is the most noteworthy context of ἑκατόµπεδος, where the word has been previously found on 5th and 4th century BC inscriptions that list objects stored on the Acropolis. ἑκατόµπεδος was in use long before the construction of the Periclean buildings (including the Parthenon) during the so-called Golden Age of Athens (460–430 BC).

“The inscriptions make it clear that in this space stood Pheidias’ colossal chryselephantine statue of Athena, whose base survives in the east chamber of the great Doric temple built at the instigation of Pericles, known in later sources as the Parthenon. The east chamber is 29.87 m (101.5 Attic feet) long, and thus provides a rare case where the term ἑκατόµπε-δος certainly described the actual length of a structure,” said the study authors.

Although the engraving lacks topographical clues, the study authors argue that the Acropolis is the most probable location. This is because the term ἑκατόµπεδος is strongly associated with a specific structure on the Acropolis in both the Classical and Archaic periods. No other Archaic structure in the Ancient Greek world is known by this name.

The authors have identified two Doric temples on the Acropolis that are worthy of the name Hekatompedon: the so-called Bluebeard Temple, stylistically dated to 570–560 BC, and the Gigantomachy Temple, stylistically dated to the final quarter of the 6th century BC.

“Beyond its archaeological significance, Mikon’s engraving shows that architecture featured among the escapist dreams of the shepherds who tended their flocks on Barako Hill. The Hekatompedon, which had perhaps recently emerged from Athena’s holy rock, was a natural source of Mikon’s awe. His drawing now stands as the earliest known testimony of admiration of the architecture of the Acropolis—and as the first of many to come.”

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : Mikon’s Hekatompedon: An Architectural Graffito from Attica. https://doi.org/10.1086/729771

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Giant catapult shots discovered from siege of Kenilworth Castle

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Archaeologists have uncovered eight 13th century catapult shots from the 1266 siege of Kenilworth Castle.

Kenilworth Castle, located in the town of Kenilworth in Warwickshire, England, is both a semi-royal palace and historic fortress.

Founded in the 1120s, the castle was the scene of the removal of Edward II from the English throne and the Earl of Leicester’s reception of Elizabeth I in 1575.

During the First Civil War (1642 to 1646), Kenilworth formed a useful counterbalance to the Parliamentary stronghold of Warwick. Following the defeat of royalist forces, Parliament ordered the slighting of Kenilworth 1649, leaving the castle a romantic ruin and popular tourist attraction over the centuries.

Recent works to improve a pathway on castle grounds has led to the discovery of eight giant catapult shots. According to the archaeologists, the shots date from the Siege of Kenilworth (1266), a six-month siege of the castle during the Second Barons’ War.

The conflict was between a number of barons led by Simon de Montfort (who had custody of Kenilworth Castle) against the royalist forces of King Henry III, and later his son, the future King Edward I.

Image Credit : English Heritage

According to historical accounts, the siege was the largest to occur in Medieval England and involved numerous “turres ligneas” (wooden towers), trebuchets, and catapults which fired the giant shots.

The shots are of varying sizes, with the largest weighing 105 kg and the smallest just 1 kg. “’These would have caused some serious damage when fired from war machines. Records show that one of Henry III’s wooden siege towers, containing around 200 crossbowmen, was destroyed by just one well-aimed missile,” said Will Wyeth, English Heritage’s Properties Historian.

Header Image Credit : English Heritage

Sources : English Heritage

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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