Popular History Abhors a Vacuum, but Accurate Historians Can’t

Celtic head from Netherby, at Tullie House. Copyright D McIlmoyl

This is how I feel about this subject.

One of the things you have to deal with if you’re interested in early history, especially of a small part of Britain, is that Aristotle’s line about abhoring a vacuum applies. We find that in the absence of easily proven facts, stories flood in to fill said vacuum  – often in the Victorian period, but sometimes earlier  – and as a result an awful lot of people have had many years to write books, speculate on the internet and generally promulgate stuff which has remarkably little evidence to back it up.

There are some subjects where lack of hard facts remains so troublesome that Continue reading

Three Triskele Brooches

Today I present for your delectation three lovely ‘celtic’ bronze brooches, all of which were unearthed at Brough in eastern Cumbria. They are officially ‘romano-British’1   which means that they date to the four hundred years after the roman invasion, but archaeology suggests that they are the products of a bronze workshop on this site in the 2nd century CE2.

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Brough is a signficant historical and archaeological site. When we look at a modern map, we assume that the main route into Cumbria has always been the M6 but this isn’t the case. The north-south route, despite its roman road (the A6, more or less), was not as significant as you might think. When the railway line was cut parallel to the A6 in the 1870s, engineers had to make 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts just to get the gradient under 1 in 100 and thereby traversable by the latest in high-powered travel at the time, the steam train. The more practical route for centuries –millennia, perhaps – was the Stainmore Pass, or, was we know it, the A66. Continue reading

Happy Midsummer!

Castlerigg stone circle

Castlerigg stone circle

Okay, I know it looks like I’m a day early, but the midsummer solstice takes place in the UK at 05.04am tomorrow (21st). Castlerigg is, of course, the most famous of Cumbria’s stone circles and sometimes – often – it’s obvious why. Continue reading

The genius cucullatus, or the Original Hoodie

Genius Cucullatus from Tullie House

Genius Cucullatus from Tullie House

Picture time! See this fella? He’s a genius cucullatus, to give him his Latin name, but whether he was a Roman import or a native, his original owner wouldn’t have called him that. Genius cucullatus just means, ‘spirit in a hood’. This one, which was found at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall, is the only one in Britain which is a single standing statue. They’re usually carved in relief on a flat stone, and in Britain, they are often depicted in groups of three.I wish it was simple matter to tell you what he represents, but that’s not possible. He’s often linked with Continue reading

One ring to rule them all… the 9thc Kingmoor Ring

Picture time!

Kingmoor Ring copyright British Museum

Kingmoor Ring copyright British Museum

I bet you’re thinking, ‘ooh, that looks a bit like the ring in Lord of the Rings’. Well, you wouldn’t be far wrong. This ring is 9th century and made by anglo-saxons, and JRR Tolkien was an expert in anglo-saxon language and literature. I don’t doubt he knew the Kingmoor Ring very well.

It’s called the Kingmoor Ring because it was found at Continue reading

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

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