Pair of neolithic wooden tridents, Tullie House Museum

Pair of neolithic wooden tridents, Tullie House Museum

Cumbria has a lot of pretty unusual stuff, and has precisely 66.67%(1) of these fork-like items. The other 33.3% are in Ireland, and there’s every chance that even they were made here.

The second thing to note about these forks is that they’re giant – over six feet Continue reading

The Vikings are here…

Silver thistle brooch from Flusco Pike, Penrith. British Museum.

Silver thistle brooch from Penrith. COPYRIGHT British Museum.

Just a quick post today, mostly because I’m a bit freaked out by the slew of material on the ‘net yesterday and today claiming that this-that-or-the-other group is x% Viking, or that Penrith is 5% Viking (if you’re a man), or Yorkshire something more. The fact is that if you ask a scientific expert  – for which I recommend Sense About Science for a quickie – they say that it’s not that straightforward. The DNA testing companies that offer you and me the chance to decide we’re Celtic or Viking or Egyptian or whatever are being massively simplistic. We’re all probably related to the Vikings somewhere along the line, never mind the million that the headlines were talking yesterday.

Having depressed you all nicely, I remind you of these rather wonderful, actual Viking things that were found in a field, traditionally known as Silver Field (hah!), near Newbiggin, Penrith. One brooch was 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

Tourist trinkets, Roman-style

Copyright Dominic Coyne for Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries programme Aug 2007

Copyright Dominic Coyne (see details below)

See this lovely thing? It’s quite small – 47mm high and 94mm in diameter – but simply glorious. The colours are vivid shades of red, blue, turquoise and yellow, enamelled in a swirling native ‘celtic’ design of roundels, petals, and what the British Museum cutely call, ‘whirligigs’. The metal encasing the enamel is a copper alloy, so it would originally have been a lustrous reddish-gold shade. It’s actually more like a pan than a bowl as it would originally have had a dinky bow-shaped handle. And it’s about 1850 years old.

It was found by a metal detectorist in Staffordshire in 2003, but experts believe that it was made here in Cumbria as a very early visitor souvenir. The writing near the rim is in Latin and says, Continue reading

Fortune-telling, Iron-age style: The Crosby Ravensworth spoons

I never cease to be amazed by the wonderful, rare and beautiful objects from the distant past that have been unearthed in Cumbria. Here we sit, at the end of one of England’s cul-de-sacs but our ancient ancestors were up to all sort of interesting things.

Crosby Ravensworth spoons, copyright British Museum

Crosby Ravensworth spoons, copyright British Museum

They look like spoons, don’t they? And indeed archaeologists call them spoons. They’re between 2,200 and 2000 years old, and they were found at Crosby Ravensworth in the Eden Valley in 1868.

According to the 1869 edition of The Archaeological Journal1,

‘”They were found by a farmer in this parish near a spring of water, Continue reading

Here come the girls… a 3rdc ‘Celtic’ head

Pottery female head, Tullie House, Carlisle

Pottery female head, Tullie House, Carlisle

I’m sorry to say I really do only have time for the picture, not the story, this time but I wanted you all to know I’m still here! This female head is pottery and was probably on a jug handle. It dates to the 3rd century CE, and was found at Burgh-by-Sands. Good, eh?

She is on display at Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum alongside some other heads that are just as interesting but not as female. Go on, pay them a visit.

© Diane McIlmoyle

PS. I had permission to take this photo!

Penrith’s 10th-century Futhark Brooch

Just a quick one this time so you know I’m still here! My recent post on the Kingmoor Ring got me thinking about a number of things. Firstly, whilst people in southern England probably expect to find anglo-saxon archaeology, it’s a bit of a novelty in Cumbria. Secondly, why are we surprised to find an inscription that is a variety of good luck charm? And thirdly, why does this ring get a fancy name with capitalisations – actually, it gets two because it’s sometimes known as the Greymoor Ring – when other fabulous, and magical, things do not?

Norse Brooch from Penrith, copyright British Museum

Norse Brooch from Penrith, copyright British Museum

Let me introduce this unnamed brooch. It was found near Penrith and acquired by the British Museum twenty years ago 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