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Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Calm down about the Pipe Lady

A photo of an Anglo-Saxon skeleton skewered by a pipe has gone viral. But it’s not the scandal you’re looking for. 
Can we all please calm down about the pipe lady?

Recently a photo of an intact early Anglo-Saxon skeleton absolutely skewered by a modern cable or pipe, has gone viral. It’s a powerful photo emblematic of the trampling of heritage by modernity, and brutal disrespect of human remains. Except it isn’t.....

Early Anglo Saxon burial (Oakington, Cambs) bisected by modern utility pipe

Saturday, 16 May 2020

There are FIVE Anglo-Saxon Helmets

Only five helmets; and the Staffordshire Helm isnt one of them. -------------------
 Opinion: There are FIVE Anglo-Saxon Helmets (and the Staffordshire Helm isn’t one of them) 
- A corpus review & quibbling rant by Æd Thompson


Sutton Hoo Helmet (reconstr.) - Wikimedia Commons
Few archaeological finds are as evocative as helmets - many items of war-gear can help paint a picture of ancient battlefields, but in framing (or in some cases directly representing) the face, helmets help to humanise warriors from centuries past. This is particularly ironic given that, at least in some cases, helmets in antiquity were designed to create an intimidating sense of “otherness”, occupying the “uncanny valley” between metalwork and man. It is in our nature to recognise and emotionally respond to faces, and it is hard to stare into the eyes of the Sutton Hoo helmet and not feel as though you have, in some sense, met a person, rather than simply viewed an archaeological artefact. No surprise then, that over and above all the other treasures in that unprecedented burial panoply (including some with considerably higher bullion value) it is the helmet from Sutton Hoo that has become emblematic of the assemblage, and the most enduring symbol both of Anglo-Saxon material culture, and even of British history itself.

The Anglo-Saxon period in Britain spanned six centuries, and although it is unfairly reductive to characterise it purely as a time of war, it is undoubtedly true that regular clashes between well-equipped armies peppered the period and dictated the convoluted path taken from locally identifying post-Roman communities to a coherent united England. The scale of Anglo-Saxon armies continues to be debated, and it is not entirely clear how well equipped they were, but archaeological discoveries in recent decades have provided abundant examples of war-gear – especially weapons – to inform our image of Anglo-Saxon warriors. Such gear is most abundant from the early period (5-7th centuries) thanks to grave goods from the ultimately doomed furnished-burial rite, but even from these centuries, that most evocative item of war-gear, the helmet, is exquisitely rare. We just don’t have many examples. There’s a bigger problem though; we don’t even know how many examples we have. Almost all running totals are wrong.

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Sunday, 15 March 2020

Hanging Bowls

Hanging Bowls; Wash your hands like an Anglo-Saxon


 An enigmatic and often overlooked class of objects particularly common in high status Anglo-Saxon “warrior” burials of the 6th, and especially the 7th century, hanging bowls were typically 15-30cm and made of unusually high purity leaded bronze. Early examples hung from 3-4 hooks with rings, integral with elaborate openwork or enamelled escutcheons, while later examples had hooks cast with brackets, which contained separately made disc escutcheons, typically tinned bronze with opaque red enamel, in swirling “trumpet spiral” patterns with strongly “Celtic” affinities which would later play alongside Germanic motifs in early insular manuscript art. Where did these enigmatic objects come from, and what were they used for? 


Sunday, 13 October 2019

Men's Hairstyles

"Anglo-Saxon" and "Viking" Mens Hairstyles
Æd Thompson

"Criticise our haircuts one more time. I dare you..."
In our presentations we endeavour to create convincing and well-researched impressions of the dress and accoutrements of people of particular cultures, sub-periods (ideally century, half-century or even decade) and of particular status or societal role. Recently there has been a trend towards re-creation of assemblages from specific graves, though most such contexts fall well short of providing sufficient evidence on which to entirely base all details of costume, let alone other more ephemeral aspects of appearance.  

One such matter is that of hairstyle. We very frequently encounter individuals with very strong opinions on the matter of what hairstyles the people of late antiquity or early medieval period would have had, and are keen to point out how wrong we are, for our variously either “too modern” or “too clichéd” haircuts. Such criticism raises two questions; 
  • What do we really know about the hairstyles of nominally “Anglo-Saxon” and “Viking” period peoples?   
  • What is our group’s authenticity policy with respect to this issue?

In this article we hope to address both questions with respect to male hairstyle and grooming, with a further article on womens’ hair and head-wear to follow.