1,400-Year-Old Skeletons Reveal Location of Anglo-Saxon Enlightenment
Dating to about the 7th-century or Early Middle Ages, the team of researchers say the skeletons belong to people of “high social standing” within the royal court. The hoard of human remains was originally discovered between 1998 and 2007 at the ‘Bowl Hole’ cemetery site which is thought to have been the burial ground for the medieval royal court of the Northumbrian palace, now located beneath dunes just south of Bamburgh Castle , in Northumberland, England.
Over the past two decades scientists from England’s Durham University have been studying the remains of 110 Anglo-Saxons buried near the famous Northumberland castle. According to a report in The Daily Mail while the greater part of Britain was experiencing the Dark Ages , travelers from all across Europe visited Bamburgh and it had its own “local enlightenment”, according to the team of university researchers.
A Killer Blow At Bamburgh
Detailed isotope analysis of the remains revealed that “less than 10% of the people came from Bamburgh” and the researchers say the remains belonged to people from across the British Isles and particularly western Scotland, but also from as far away as Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. What all the people had in common was that they were all likely of “a high status within the court” during what a BBC article calls the “ Golden age of Northumbria ”.
The isotope analysis also identified several individual people, including a nine year-old child born in North Africa who had lived in France during their childhood, and a man aged between 17 and 20 years-old with a mighty sword strike down his left-hand side which had severed his left clavicle, scapula, ribs, pelvis, and knee.
Detailed isotope analysis was done on the Bamburgh skeletons. (Bamburgh bones / Facebook)
A Rich Cultural and Religious Heritage
What the researchers mean when they refer to the “Golden age of Northumbria”, is a period of time when Bamburgh thrived as a cosmopolitan center populated by folk from all over Europe, living and working under the rule of the powerful kings of Northumbria stationed at their royal capital at Bamburgh Castle. And the experts said the excavation site where these new remains were found was once a 650-700 AD cemetery probably associated with the Royal Court of King Oswald .
Bamburgh Castle and the sand dunes where the skeletons were discovered. (jon57 / Public Domain )
In 2006, the remains were interred in individual ossuary boxes at the crypt at St. Aidan's Church in Bamburgh which has now been opened to the public as the ‘Aiden Bones Exhibition’. So far, “little has been made of this period in Bamburgh's history”, said Jessica Turner of the exhibition and she said the diverse range of ancient visitors would have come to enjoy the regions “rich cultural and religious heritage”.
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- Sword of Late Viking Age Burial Unveiled Exhibiting Links Between Norway and England
The remains were interred at St. Aidan's Church in Bamburgh. (JohnArmagh / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Fragile Borders of Anglo-Saxon England
Furthermore, Turner said of the area that it was “a bright and shining age with the melting pot of cultures” reflected in holy books such as the Lindisfarne Gospels with its blazing colors blending Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Mediterranean, and Arabic imagery and calligraphy.
And this discovery, according to the Rev. Louise Taylor-Kenyon, Vicar of St. Aidan’s, is a reminder of how the UK’s country boundaries have always been “fragile”, and she adds, the nation’s (UK’s) history has continually been one of people “visiting, settling, intermingling, and creating relationships and a more diverse society as a consequence”.
Childy Wynd and the Terrible Worm
With all this rather intense talk of skeletons and isotope analysis, let us now take an alternative look at the mythological history of Bamburgh and specifically at “The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh”. Most recently printed in Jennifer Westwood’s 1987 book Albion - A Guide to Legendary Britain this mysterious ancient song first appeared in Hutchinson’s 1778 View of Northumberland and was said to be “a Song 500 years old, made by the old Mountain Bard, Duncan Frasier, living on the Cheviot in 1270 AD”.
The story tells of a king bringing a new wife home to Bamburgh, she becomes jealous of her stepdaughter, Margaret, and turns her into a "Laidley Worm”, which is a repugnant serpent or dragon. The cursed princess is served the milk of seven cows daily in a food trough located at her lair at the foot of Spindlestone Heugh from which her breath poisons the surrounding countryside.
The hero of this ancient tale, which is practically stuffed with classic archetypes of mythology, is “Childy Wynd”, the heir of Bamburgh Castle. Upon hearing of the wretched beast, he and his men set sail for Northumbria and while, of course, the wicked queen tried to stop their landing they came ashore at “Budle-sands” and advanced on the terrible worm. The creature eventually begs Childy Wynd to kiss her three times, after which it morphs into his sister and together they confront and defeat the wicked step-queen by turning her into a hideous toad.
The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh, is part of the legend of Bamburgh. (Sofi / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
The isotope analysis has failed to show evidence of this worm, but it really is all going on at Bamburgh folks, and if you live in England or plan to visit, do as ancient travelers did and visit Bamburgh, for there really is no better way to spend a weekend than exploring the magical and mixed histories of this most wonderful English tourist destination .
Top image: Study of 110 Bamburgh skeletons indicates Anglo-Saxon enlightenment. Source: Bamburgh Bones
By Ashley Cowie