Ivory bag rings found in more than 70 Anglo Saxon cemeteries in England have origins from African elephants according to a new study.
Bag rings are commonly found in high status female burials from the late-5th and 7th centuries AD, but the source of the ivory has long been debated since the 19th century, with walrus and mammoth ivory considered as possible contenders to elephantid ivory.
Recent excavations of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Scremby, Lincolnshire, have found elaborate female burials containing bag rings which have been subject to a study using radiocarbon dating and a Zooarchaeology study by mass spectrometry (ZooMS).
According to the study: “Strontium analysis was also used to identify the place of residence of the elephantids at the time of tusk formation. Through a multi-methodological approach, we have established that the ivory used for the Scremby bag rings came from elephants living in an area of young volcanic rocks in Africa at some point during the 5th and 6th centuries AD.”
The strontium isotope values indicates a region around Eastern Africa, with the ivory likely entering Northern Europe from the Kingdom of Aksum, located in modern-day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia.
The Aksumite Kingdom emerged in the former historical kingdom of Dʿmt, first documented in a trading guide called the ‘Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’ from around the mid-1st century AD. The Kingdom was centred on the capital of Aksum near the base of the Adwa mountains, situated to control both the highland and coastal regions of northern Ethiopia.
According to the Periplus text, the position of the Aksumite Kingdom in international terms, played an important role in the transcontinental trade route between Rome and India from an early stage.
The Kingdom played a prominent role in the supply of ivory until the 7th century AD. This coincided with the early Islamic conquests and expansion into North Africa, which established a trade monopoly between the region and the Mediterranean.
Perhaps related to the disrupted trade routes to the West was the marked decline in the occurrence of ivory bag rings in Anglo-Saxon graves dating from the 7th century onwards. This was also a time of flux in England that saw wider changes to burial practices in part due to the re-establishment of Christianity.
Header Image Credit : Science Direct
Early medieval carved stone of a warrior figure found in Glasgow
Archaeologists excavating the grounds of Govan Old Church in Glasgow, England, have discovered an early medieval carved stone figure dubbed the “Govan Warrior”.
Govan Old Church is the home of the Govan Stone Museum, a collection of early medieval and Viking-Age sculptures found in the grounds, including 30 sculptures from a lost kingdom of Old Welsh-speaking Britons known as the Ystrad Clud who dominated the Clyde valley from the 5th to 11th centuries AD.
Excavations have been conducted by the University of Glasgow and Clyde Archaeology, in which a carved stone of a warrior was uncovered during a community fun day organised as part of the Glasgow Doors Open Days Festival.
The carved stone depicts a man standing side on and carrying a round shield and a shaft. According to the researchers, the discovery dates from around 1,000-years-ago and is unlike any of the other carved stones found at Govan Old.
According to a press statement by the University of Glasgow: “The Govan Warrior is unique within the existing collection due to its stylistic characteristics, which has drawn parallels with Pictish art and carvings from the Isle of Man. Unlike the other stones in the Govan collection, whose chunky style of carving is so distinctive that it has been described as a school of carving in its own right (the ‘Govan School’), the Govan Warrior is lightly incised, which may bring parallels with famous Pictish stones like the Rhynie Man from Aberdeenshire.”
Professor Stephen Driscoll said: “It’s a style that makes us think both about the Pictish world and also about the Isle of Man and it’s interesting that we are halfway between these two places. Govan is the ideal place for these two artistic traditions or styles to come together.”
Header Image Credit : Govan Heritage Trust
Iron Age port discovered on Baltic Sea island of Gotska Sandön
An excavation project, in collaboration with archaeologists from Södertörn University, Uppsala University’s Campus Gotland, Gotland Museum, and the Swedish National Heritage Board, has led to the discovery of an Iron Age port on Gotska Sandön.
Gotska Sandön is an island and national park in Sweden’s Gotland County, situated 24 miles north of Faro in the Baltic Sea.
Earlier in 2023, archaeologists found two 2,000-year-old Roman coins on one of the island’s beaches. Both coins are made of silver, with one coin dating from AD 98-117 during the reign of Emperor Trajan, and the other coin dating from AD 138-161 during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius
In the latest excavations, archaeologists have now discovered evidence of twenty hearths on the same beach as the Roman coins discovery.
According to Johan Rönnby, a professor of marine archaeology at Södertörn University, the site is an Iron Age port, not in the sense of quays we imply in the modern era, but instead a place where Iron Age people regularly landed their boats and formed an encampment.
Although the purpose of the encampment is speculated, the researchers suggest that it may have been linked to an emerging seal hunting industry.
“Seal hunters may have come from the island of Gotland and landed on Sandön to boil seal blubber. This could have been what the hearths were used for, but we don’t yet know – there may be other reasons why the site looks like it does, such as it being a trading post,” said Rönnby.
Excavations and carbon-14 dating of one of the hearths has indicated that they also date from 2,000-years-ago, suggesting a possible link between the encampment and the Roman coins.
Header Image Credit : idw
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