The Ambleside Hoard: 4,000 year-old bronze weapons

Cumbria’s very lucky this summer to have a number of stunning local artefacts on display that we wouldn’t normally be able to see. Tullie House in Carlisle has borrowed the Sewell’s Lane Jug and Embleton Sword from the British Museum; the Dock Museum in Barrow-in-Furness has a hoard of Viking coins until mid July; and the Armitt Museum in Ambleside has persuaded the BM to let them borrow their very own hoard.

Ambleside hoard , copyright British Museum

Ambleside hoard, copyright British Museum

The Ambleside Hoard comprises two swords, a dagger and a rather impressive spear head. They were made from bronze in the aptly named Bronze Age and could be 4,000 years old*. Continue reading

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The Bewcastle Cauldron

Here’s a picture I thought you might be interested in. It’s the Bewcastle Cauldron, and it’s in Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

Bewcastle Cauldron, Tullie House, Carlisle

Bewcastle Cauldron, Tullie House, Carlisle

I wish I’d had a ruler on me for scale when I took the picture – it’s enormous! – certainly big enough to hide a couple of six-year-olds. Continue reading

Need Fires: the last Celtic tradition

Not that long ago – until only 150 years or so – if your cattle came down with murrain or foot and mouth, there was a solution. The ‘need fire’.

Each household extinguished their hearth fire, then a new, communal fire was lit using  friction, either with flints or by rubbing sticks together. Damp wood was added to the fire to create a lot of smoke, then the village’s cattle and swine1  were driven through the smoke in order of age. The householders then lit a brand in the communal fire, and re-lit their domestic hearth.

The cattle-curing aspect may be the last surviving memory of something much more significant. Today, we might wonder if the smoke or the heat had some affect on the micro-organisms that were causing the illness, and hence if there was some logical, albeit hit-and-miss, basis for believing this might work. And perhaps this is true, but, of course, knowledge of bacteria is recent, and this tradition is not. Two hundred – and two thousand –  years ago, people feared the cause was otherworldly. Continue reading

The Men in the Moss

Tollund Man Silkeborg Museum Denmark

Tollund Man, a well-preserved bog body from Denmark

Towards the end of May in 1834, a farmer digging for peat at Seascale Moor found human remains just one foot below the surface. The bones had been dissolved by the acidity of the moss, but the same process had tanned the skin like leather. The man was naked and buried with a long hazel rod. No one knows what happened to the remains.

On 25th May, 1845, a man was digging peat for his fire at Scaleby Moss, north of Carlisle. At a depth of nine feet, he came across human remains. Continue reading