Early Medieval

History of research

The literary output of Bede and the production of works of art, such as the Lindisfarne Gospel and the Codex Amiatinus, have ensured that the Golden Age of Northumbria has a high public profile. However, there is much more to the early medieval archaeology and history of the region than this short-lived flowering of ecclesiastical high culture. The surviving resource includes nationally important sites, such as Bamburgh, Lindisfarne, Yeavering, Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, in addition to a fine corpus of stone sculpture and a number of surviving Anglo-Saxon churches of 8th to 11th century date (Figure 31).

The best studied of these remains are undoubtedly the widely distributed and highly visible fragments of carved stone sculpture, associated almost exclusively with ecclesiastical sites. Many of these were discovered during 19th-century church restoration, built into later medieval fabric. In addition, the latter half of the 19th century also saw the beginning of more synthetic discussions of Northumbrian sculptural traditions. The earliest were the works of G. Baldwin Brown, who was followed in the early 20th century by W. G. Collingwood. From the 1960s this field of study has been dominated by the work of Rosemary Cramp, who was responsible for the first volume of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture, a project which comprehensively covered all the early medieval sculpture from the north-east region (Cramp 1984) and has since been rolled out nationally.

The rate of archaeological excavation on early medieval sites has increased since the 1980s. This has partly been due to some research excavations, such as the University of Leicester’s work on Green Shiel at Lindisfarne (O’Sullivan and Young 1991), Anthony Harding’s excavations at Milfield Henge (which produced several unexpected Anglo-Saxon burials) (Tinniswood and Harding 1991), and Colm O’Brien and Tim Gates’ excavations at New Bewick (Gates and O’Brien 1988). From the 1990s there has also been an increase in the discovery of sites due to excavation
carried out in a planning (PPG16) context: a further cemetery has been discovered in Norton recently, while excavations in the centre of Darlington have revealed Late Anglo-Saxon burials. Despite the rise of such developer-funded work, research work often continues as part of community projects, among them the campaign of excavations at Bamburgh and the Hartlepool Headland project.

Existing research frameworks

A number of research agendas and recommendations have, at one time or another, been created for the early medieval period. The earliest was Martin Carver’s list for pre-conquest Durham, which included an early demand for what amounted to deposit modelling, as well as the full publication of the late-18th-century excavations on the Chapter House (Carver 1980). Local issues were also addressed in the papers published in Past, present and future: the archaeology of northern Britain (Brooks et al 2002) which included an overview of the period of Roman to Anglo-Saxon transition by Chris Loveluck (2002). Research priorities highlighted there included the investigation of upland land-use through pollen cores, increased sampling of faunal remains, publication of Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavations, and a wider awareness of the role of burial for the understanding of early medieval religion and social identity. The later part of the Anglo-Saxon period (c. 700-1100) was addressed by Rachel Newman (2002). Limiting herself to evidence for Christianity, she pointed to the need for more work on minsters, the economic power of the church, and the role of the church in early urbanism, emphasising the need to and integrate evidence from the north-west and northeast of England as well as southern Scotland.

While the evidence for early medieval urbanism in the region is slight, it is important to be aware of a series of overviews of urban archaeology published recently (e.g. Addyman 2003). The framework for urban/rural interaction based on the Urban Hinterland Project (Perring et al 2002) made a series of methodological recommendations which should be implemented when exploring the early medieval origins of north-eastern towns, such as Newcastle, Berwick, Durham, and Hartlepool. The notion of ‘recovery levels’ and better dissemination of existing archives seem especially relevant.

A series of agendas and recommendations have tackled the issue of rural settlement and landscape change. The policy on the research, survey and excavation of medieval rural settlements compiled by the Medieval Settlement Research Group (MSRG 1996) highlighted the need to understand regional distinctiveness and the process of settlement nucleation. It also recommended further interdisciplinary research which combines environmental, documentary and archaeological skills. A number of managerial issues were also put forward, including the need for research to feed into planning decisions, both as advice to development control archaeologists and as a strategic influence in District Local Plans, etc. Steve Rippon also echoed this need for academic input into development control in his personal comments on the future of medieval settlement (Rippon 2002). He made it clear that future landscape work should ignore traditional chronological divisions, and highlighted the need for more long- term, large-scale excavation and survey work.

Landscape and environment

Patterns of long-term landscape change, particularly the impact of the transition from the Roman to the early medieval period, are best addressed through palynological evidence. At Hallowell Moss (Co. Durham) clearance appears to continue throughout the Roman period until the later 6th century, and Fellend Moss (Northumberland) showed stability in its landscape until the 7th century AD (Davies and Turner 1979, 789). Further north, pollen from Broad Moss (Northumberland), close to Yeavering, indicated landscape continuity and arable farming (Davies and Turner 1979, 796). Stability in open heathland, rather than arable landscapes, is indicated at Drowning Flow and Bloody Moss (Northumberland) (Moores 1998, 244). At Fozy Moss, however, there is clear evidence for the regeneration of woodland following the Roman withdrawal (Dumayne and Barber 1994). A similar pattern of regeneration (but commencing c. AD 500) was also found at Sells Burn and Steng Moss, where agriculture apparently only commenced in the later 9th century AD (Davies and Turner 1979, 794; Moores 1998, 245). The evidence from samples taken close to the mid-8thcentury settlement at Simy Folds in Upper Teesdale shows the presence of cereal pollen at even this relatively remote site (Coggins et al 1983). Pollen studies on the Lough at Lindisfarne meanwhile have suggested that it may have been significantly altered or even created in the 7th century AD (O’Sullivan and Young 1995; Brown et al. 1998).

Insufficient excavation on early medieval sites means that there is meagre environmental evidence from archaeological contexts. The quantity of surviving invertebrate remains is correspondingly small, with nothing to match the 10th/11th century and 11th/12th century deposits from 61-63 Saddler Street, Durham (Kenward 1979). This was one of the first urban deposits from the north to be explored for insect remains. There are also limited quantities of plant macrofossils, mostly from the ecclesiastical sites at Hartlepool (Daniels 2007), together with a small quantity of pollen evidence recovered at Monkwearmouth (Huntley 1987a; 1990; Huntley and Stallibrass 1995, 62-63).

A number of bone assemblages also survive. Despite the potentially poor burial environment, some animal bone was recovered from the palace site at Yeavering (Hope-Taylor 1977, 325-327; Higgs and Jarman 1977); an assemblage dominated by head bones from young adult cattle. Some bone, all calcined, was also recovered from the henge monument there (Tinniswood and Harding 1991). Assemblages from ecclesiastical sites include those from Jarrow, Monkwearmouth and Hartlepool (Cramp 2005; Daniels 2007; Noddle 1987; 1992; Rackham 1988a) and fish bones were also recovered from excavations in Holy Island village (O’Sullivan 1985; Allison et al 1985). There are no major urban assemblages from Newcastle (except a small group from Blackgate), though there is an important collection from 61-63 Saddler Street, Durham, which contains bird (including capercaillie) and fish bones (Rackham 1979).

Apart from the environmental evidence, information on Anglo-Saxon agriculture is hard to come by. Although there are many relict field systems in most of the upland areas of the region, these are difficult to date, and where they have been, they mainly show either a prehistoric or medieval origin. An important question is when the medieval shieling system developed, and it is unclear whether upland sites, such as Simy Folds, were shepherd’s bothies or permanent farmsteads (Coggins et al 1983). There is some evidence for crop processing, the most important being the horizontal watermill excavated at Corbridge (Snape 2003). There is also information about crop processing on a household level; a fragment of a quern being found at Simy Folds (Coggins et al 1983).


The evidence for early medieval settlement in the NorthEast is extremely variable. Some areas, particularly the Milfield Basin (Northumberland), have important surviving sites, but elsewhere, particularly in County Durham, very little has been found.

Better known for its important prehistoric landscapes, the Milfield Basin has evidence for early medieval occupation in a number of locations. The most significant site is the nationally important centre at Yeavering, which has been the subject of extensive excavation (Hope-Taylor 1977). Although some of the excavator’s conclusions have been questioned (Scull 1991), this remains an important and unusual site. Conventionally associated with Bede’s Ad Gefrin (Ecclesiastical History II.15), it includes a complex of halls and an unusual palisaded enclosure and amphitheatre-like structure (known as the cuneus). More recent excavation on a neighbouring prehistoric henge monument also revealed evidence for early medieval metalworking (Tinniswood and Harding 1991). The site is now undergoing a major campaign of geophysical survey which aims to place the structures identified by Hope-Taylor and others into a wider landscape context.

Nearby, at Milfield, is another probable palace site, associated with Bede’s Maelmin (Ecclesiastical History II.15). Aerial photography and geophysical surveys have shown a complex of halls, enclosures and grübenhauser; a small amount of excavation has taken place on a timber post-hole structure (Gates and O’Brien 1988, 3). Crop marks have shown another similar site at Sprouston (Scotland), close to the Tweed (Loveluck 1990) and at at Philiphaugh, near Selkirk, which shows evidence of an Anglian settlement and associated cemetery, possibly dated to the 7th century (Smith 1991).

To the south-east of Maelmin is a Structures here have a range of constructional techniques and, like the other excavated sites in the area, an insignificant quantity of material culture.

Around 15km to the south-east of Thirlings a further site, New Bewick, was identified from cropmarks and later subjected to small-scale excavation (Gates and O’Brien 1988).

It is important to question how far this cluster of sites in North Northumberland is a real phenomenon reflecting intense early medieval activity in the region, or is simply due to the intense amount of aerial photography and academic research in the Milfield Basin by scholars of all periods. The area is also particularly conducive to the formation of cropmarks, in stark contrast to other parts of the region, such as Teesside, where even Roman villas are invisible from the air.

A second cluster of sites comprises Bamburgh and Lindisfarne (Northumberland). Unpublished excavations by Brian Hope-Taylor and current excavations by the Bamburgh Research Project have shown that Bamburgh is of exceptional importance, although until Hope-Taylor’s work has been fully analysed and published it is difficult to get a real understanding of the site. On nearby Lindisfarne excavation has taken place at Green Shiel, possibly a farmstead dependant on the monastery there. A series of stone structures were uncovered there, together with coins, bone comb fragments and iron knives (O’Sullivan and Young 1991). Recent excavations, also on the island, at the Winery site on Lewin’s Lane found a ditch containing a 9th-century bone comb and two possible cess pits (Williams 2000).

One unusual site is Huckhoe in the Wansbeck Valley. Though it began life as a Romano-British farmstead, excavations by Jobey suggested that the rectangular buildings which replaced the circular houses continued in use into the 5th or even 6th century AD (Jobey 1959, 247-250). The site also produced pottery identified as a post-Roman import from Ireland (Thomas 1959). Although early reports suggested that there might have been some Anglo-Saxon occupation at West Whelpington, subsequent excavation failed to produce structural or artefactual evidence to confirm this (Evans et al 1988). It was clearly a village, however, before the end of the 12th century.

Another important feature in the early medieval NorthEast is the frequent re-use of Roman military sites (Wilmott and Wilson 2000). There is on-going debate about the afterlife of forts along the Wall (Casey 1993; Dark 1992; Dark and Dark 1996; Wilmott 2000). Just outside the region, Birdoswald shows significant levels of early medieval activity, with late Roman granaries being converted into post-Roman hall houses (Wilmott 1997, 203-222). A number of sites in the region also show some level of post-Roman use, such as South Shields, which had a ditch cut across the outside of its south-west gate sometime in the early 5th century. This ditch was later filled in and the gate returned to use (Bidwell and Speak 1994, 48). At Binchester the evidence from excavations on the commandant’s house suggests continued activity into the 5th century. Midden deposits here were overlain by a flagstone floor associated with fragments of sawn antler (Ferris and Jones 2000). Further probable 5th-century refortifications include the addition of earthen banks to support pre-existing walls at Housesteads and Chesterholm (Crow 1989; Bidwell 1985, 46). There are also both Anglo-Saxon and sub-Roman burials associated with forts (see below).

Of possible interest in this context is The Castles, Bedburn (Co. Durham), which is, unusually, quadrangular in form with stone ramparts. Although the subject of several investigations, the date of this site has never been ascertained, though it may be an early medieval attempt to imitate a Roman fort (Birley 1954; R. Collins 2002).

Very little evidence for occupation comes from the lowlands south of the Tyne. The partial remains of a single structure at Ferryhill Police Station were dated to the 10th century by an associated bone mount (Batey 1990). Traces of a possible late Anglo-Saxon structure were also recorded during a watching brief at Seaton Holme, Easington (Daniels et al. nd).

There is some evidence for occupation in the uplands. A radiocarbon date from charcoal found during excavations on a group of rectangular buildings at Simy Folds in Upper Teesdale placed them in the mid 8th century AD (Coggins et al 1983). The buildings, paired at right angles and placed around a small yard, were sited within an extensive field system of possible early medieval date. The small finds assemblage comprised a spindle whorl, an iron ring and a fragment of rotary quern. This site shows parallels with other upland farms elsewhere in the Pennines, such as Gauber High Pasture (King 2004). It is difficult to date, however, purely on the basis of morphology; rectangular buildings from the same area have been found to have a later medieval chronology (Coggins 1992).

There are also hints at some kind of activity or re-use on Northumbrian hillforts. Radiocarbon dates from Wether Hill suggest some kind of activity here in the 6th century AD, though its nature is unclear (Frodsham 2004, 65). Another hint of early medieval hillfort occupation comes from Brough Law, where an early medieval iron knife was found in the 19th century (Tate 1863a). It has also been suggested that there may have been some form of early medieval activity at the Iron Age enclosure at Ingram (Hogg 1942; 1956; Jobey 1971; Frodsham 2004, 73).

The origin of urbanism in the North-East is poorly understood, although Hartlepool, Newcastle, Durham, and Darlington all have pre-conquest origins. Notably, all are associated with ecclesiastical sites. At Durham, much of the earliest occupation is probably beneath the castle and cathedral, though the excavations at Saddler Street revealed much about the Saxo-Norman city (Carver 1979). Excavations further south, in the Market Place at Darlington, revealed a probable Late Anglo- Saxon cemetery, presumably associated with a minster church (ASUD 1994), and it is possible that the large ditch known to have lain near North Lodge Park may have been an Anglo-Saxon defensive structure, though elsewhere the evidence is more speculative. It has also been suggested that the large bank and ditch on Spade’s Mire at Berwick-upon-Tweed may be of early medieval date (White 1962; Williams 2001). Excavations in Hartlepool have centred around the Headland and the monastery, while in Newcastle the early town of ‘Monkchester’ probably grew up around the castle. Although a 7th-century cemetery is known, it is not clear where the population lived. A few fragments of Anglo-Saxon pottery have also been found on the opposite bank of the Tyne at Bottle Bank, Gateshead (OAN 2003).

Trade, transport and communications

Coinage never appears to have been as widespread as elsewhere in the country. The Early Medieval Corpus of Coin Finds (EMCF 2005) lists 129 individual coin finds from the region; most are Northumbrian stycas and pennies. The vast majority come from Bamburgh (70), but also Early Medieval from Jarrow, Lindisfarne and Monkwearmouth. The most important scholarship on the coinage of the region is that of the late Elizabeth Pirie (e.g. Pirie 2000).

Of the four known hoards, those from Gainford and Satley date to c. 875, but the Hexham group is earlier, dating to the 840s-50s (Pagan 1966; 1974; Sugden and Warhurst 1979). The Bamburgh hoard was found in the village, rather than in the castle area, and consists of about 400 stycas, a fragment of a coin balance and some nondescript iron work (Pirie 2004).

Although the presence of Tating Ware at Jarrow, Stamford Ware at Durham, and walrus ivory from Bamburgh is all indicative of widespread trading, evidence for substantial long-distance trading links in the region is elusive. There is nothing to compare with the range of imported ceramics found at York, and the northernmost distribution of Ipswich Ware is North Yorkshire (Paul Blinkhorn pers comm). No settlements appear to be equivalent to the emporia of Mercia, Wessex, and York. The large amount of coinage and the presence of the walrus ivory at Bamburgh do suggest, however, some kind of regional importance as a trading entrepôt, and here further analysis of Hope-Taylors pottery assemblages will doubtless prove important. Perhaps at Bamburgh a landing place lay just to the north of the palace amongst the present day sand dunes; this would be accessible to the main site via ‘Oswald’s Gate’. The presence of important monastic sites at major river mouths (e.g. Monkwearmouth, Jarrow, Hartlepool) must surely be indicative of the significance of maritime trade elsewhere (Stocker 2000), though coastal erosion may have destroyed potential beach markets.

Religion and burial

Anglo-Saxon burial

To the south of the region, in Teesside and south County Durham, several 6th- century cemeteries are known, including Andrew’s Hill, Easington (Hamerow and Pickin 1995), Norton (Sherlock and Welch 1992a), Green Bank, Darlington (Miket and Pocock 1976) and Saltburn (Gallagher 1987). These date to the 6th century, though the artefactual assemblage from Green Bank suggests that this site started and finished slightly later than the other two. Other probable cemeteries can be identified at Ferryhill and Denton (Co. Durham), where recent metal detector finds suggest cemeteries of 6th-century date (Philippa Walton pers comm). It is also possible that there was a cemetery at or near the Roman villa site at Ingleby Barwick, where excavation has revealed a fragment of a square-headed brooch and fragments of cremation urns (ASUD 2000c).

Examples of isolated burials can also be found. A single cist grave containing the remains of a child and a single bead was recovered in the early 20th century at Blackhall Rocks (Co. Durham). A number of finds, including a pair of unusual bow brooches possibly of north-west German origin (found at Maltby) are likely to have come from a female inhumation, though excavation at the site found no sign of any other burials (Sherlock and Welch 1992b). A spearhead found in Thornaby may also come originally from a burial (Sherlock 1988). Perhaps the earliest Anglo- Saxon burial from this area comes from Castle Eden (Co. Durham), where in the late 18th century an inhumation accompanied by a unique late- 5th-century Frankish green-blue claw beaker was discovered (Bruce-Mitford 1950).

Most burials in these cemeteries were inhumations, though from the south of the region a few cremations are known. Other than that from Ingleby Barwick mentioned above, over 20 were recorded at Saltburn and three from Norton (Gallagher 1987; Sherlock and Welch 1992a). A number of early Anglian burials has also been recorded from Roman forts. At Binchester a crouched burial was found in Phase 10, accompanied by a reverse S-shaped brooch, glass and amber beads, ceramic vessels and two antler objects. This burial probably dates to the mid 6th century. Two other Anglian objects are known from residual contexts in the fort: a small-long brooch and an iron francisca, though the latter may be a late Roman axe (Ferris and Jones 1996, 10; Ferris, 2011, 2010).

The evidence for burial from other sites is limited to chance finds of Anglo-Saxon metalwork. Two brooches of the late 5th century at Corbridge were accompanied by a string of beads and two fragments of a small urn (Knowles and Forster 1908, 342, 406-408). Two small, long brooches of uncertain provenance may also have been found nearby, though they may have come from Yorkshire (Miket 1985a). A small long brooch was also found in Hylton (Tyne and Wear) (Miket 1982).

A 7th-century annular brooch was found at Chesters and another, of 6th-century date, is known from Chesterholm (Miket 1978). A square-headed brooch, a cruciform brooch and a glass vessel (not fully recovered) were found to the east of the fort at Benwell (Jobey and Maxwell 1957). Whereas the Chesters and Chesterholm brooches could be simple losses, the assemblages from Corbridge and Benwell suggest an origin in a burial context. Squareheaded brooches have also been recovered from the Tees at Piercebridge and the banks of the Tyne at Whitehill (Cramp and Miket 1982, 10).

A notable group of apparent sub-Roman burials has been found at South Shields; burials from a courtyard house within the fort and some from its approach have provided 5th-century radiocarbon dates (Bidwell and Speak 1994, 45-6, 265).

North of the Wall the evidence for early Anglo-Saxon burial is less extensive, and noticeably lacking between the Coquet and the Tyne, apart from the individual barrow burial at Barrasford, which included a shield-boss with six silver studs, a sword and a knife (Meaney 1964, 198). Even to the north of the Coquet there are no extensive cemeteries to compare with Norton or Easington. Instead burial sites tend to contain only a few graves and are distinguished by their relative lack of material culture. Known burial sites include the poorly recorded site at Gayle, near Thirlings (O’Brien and Miket 1991), which has a broad 6th-7th century date, as does a group of fifteen burials from Howick Heugh (Cramp and Miket 1982, 5-6). The cluster of graves associated with a 65 Resource assessment Early Medieval prehistoric henge at Milfield North probably belongs to the later 6th or early 7th century (Tinniswood and Harding 1991).

As well as burials which are clearly culturally Anglo-Saxon, there are others which show different affinities, and contain few, if any, grave-goods. The largest group of these are from Yeavering, where two cemeteries were discovered (Hope-Taylor 1977, 67-78, 244-267). In total several hundred graves were excavated, though the final report gives them only limited space. Only four burials contained grave- goods: two from the western cemetery had knives, whereas in the eastern cemetery Grave AX contained a knife and an iron object identified as a groma, and Grave BZ56 iron belt fittings, a purse mount and a knife. Although an Anglo-Saxon rather than a British context for the settlement at Yeavering has been asserted (Scull 1991), it is clear that these burials have closer affinities with the traditions of the early medieval British. Another cemetery with similar attributes is that recently rediscovered and excavated at Bowl Hole, Bamburgh. Only one of the burials excavated there so far have any grave-goods (no. 130, with a knife and buckle).

There are also a number of barrow burials, though these have no firm dating evidence. Secondary inhumations with iron spears are known from Sweethope Farm, Bavington and Turf Knowe, Ingram (Northumberland) (Hodgson 1897, 408). Secondary inhumation burials without any datable grave-goods are known from Hollinghill and Copt Hill. It is possible that these are 7th century or later, when the use of grave-goods became less common; alternatively they could belong to the 5th or 6th century and represent a form of the native British findless burial rite.

From the 7th century onwards the process of conversion to Christianity by Anglo- Saxon kingdoms began, with influences coming from both the Roman church via Augustine and Canterbury, and the Scottish church via Aidan and Lindisfarne. Many of the changes in Anglo-Saxon burial rites in this period seem to be related to shifts in religious belief. So-called ‘final-phase’ burials are believed to represent the last accompanied burials before the shift toward churchyard burial. They are characterised by a decline in the number of artefacts placed with the dead. Hepple, just to the south of the River Coquet had finds including beads, pendants, rings and a comb; a typical 7th-century ‘final phase’ assemblage (Cramp and Miket 1982, 4-5; Miket 1974). The more substantial Milfield South cemetery may have contained up to 100 graves, although only 41 were excavated. Just two graves here contained finds, which included iron knives, an iron buckle, a tag or strap end, and an unidentified perforated iron object (Scull and Harding 1990).

There are also some isolated burials from the 7th and 8th centuries. A barrow burial, probably inserted as a secondary burial into an earlier cairn, from Capheaton (Northumberland) was accompanied by a hanging bowl, a ring, and a few copper fragments; a bronze buckle with garnets was found in a rock-cut grave at East Boldon (Miket and Cramp 1982, 9-10).

The development of churchyard burial is poorly understood in the region. In some cases a ‘final-phase’ site may have developed into a church; a small gold and garnet pendant was found in the churchyard in Stainton and there are reports of Anglo-Saxon metalwork being found near the churchyard at Seaham. Subsequent excavation at Seaham has revealed an extensive cemetery, which was dated by radiocarbon dating and coffin fittings to the 7th and 8th centuries AD (NAA 1999; Macdonald 2000).

By the 9th century churchyard burial was probably widespread. There may have been an early church at Binchester, where burials radiocarbon-dated to the late 8th to 10th century were found at Binchester Hall within the Roman fort (Connell and Roberts 1996; ASUD 2005). Likewise, burials found during excavations at the Market Place in Darlington are probably related to the foundation of St Cuthbert’s church (ASUD 1994), which still retains some Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture. The cemetery at the castle at Newcastle also probably began in the 8th century AD and was presumably related to an ecclesiastical establishment.

The early medieval period is notable for the number of well-preserved skeletal assemblages. The early AngloSaxon cemetery at Norton (Teesside), dating to c. AD 520- 620, produced bone from 126 individuals (Birkett 1992; Marlow 1992). Recent excavation nearby at Bishopsmill School has produced a second, later, Anglo-Saxon cemetery (7th to 9th century?), again with substantial amounts of well-preserved bone skeletal material (Higgins 2004) (Figure 32). Large quantities of skeletal material of early medieval and later date have also been recovered from Monkwearmouth and Jarrow (Tyne and Wear) (Cramp 2005). Early Anglo-Saxon burials with bone are also known from Binchester (Co. Durham), Blackgate (Newcastle) and Bowl Hole, Bamburgh (Northumberland) (Norton and Boylston 1997). This skeletal material has been used in a number of doctoral theses, such as Sarah Groves’ on-going examination of activity-related stress and social status (which also uses material from Norton and Bowl Hole), Tina Jakob’s consideration of the prevalence and patterns of disease in early medieval Britain (using material from Norton) and Pam Macpherson’s work on Anglo-Saxon childhood diet (using material from Blackgate, Newcastle) (Jakob 2004). The assemblage from Bowl Hole is also being explored through isotope analysis (Budd et al 2004). This combination of good assemblages and wide ranging analysis means that skeletal material from this period is amongst the best studied and understood in the region.

Pagan religious activity

As for the rest of the country, evidence for pagan religious practice is sparse. Certain buildings at Thirlings (Building C) and Yeavering (Building D2) may have had a sacred function (O’Brien 2000), something which has also been suggested for Hurworth in Upper Teesdale (Coggins and Fairless 1997). This poorly understood site, which also produced Mesolithic occupation and a Late Iron Age burial, was surrounded by an enclosure with a radiocarbon date of mid-5th to mid-8th century AD which the excavators suggested may have had a ritual function. The evidence is tenuous.

British Christianity

There is also historical and archaeological evidence for Christianity amongst the native British elements of society. Possible churches of late Roman or sub-Roman date have been identified at Chesterholm, South Shields and Housesteads (Birley et al 1999, 20-21; Bidwell and Speak 1994, 102-103; Crow 1995, 95-96). It is uncertain, however, how long these structures were in use. They may merely have been regimental chapels for a final phase of Roman military use or they could have had continued importance throughout the early medieval period.

Chesterholm also produced an unusual portable stone altar of probable early medieval date, a rare find with few parallels, to which must be added a 5th- or 6th-century inscribed memorial stone to an individual named Brigomaglos. Haverfield’s attempts to link this with St Briog are unconvincing (Haverfield 1914b; Jackson 1982), though the stone is clearly part of an early medieval epigraphic tradition which is more common in Wales and southwestern England, but also stretches into Northumberland and Lowland Scotland (Thomas 1992). Other stones in this tradition were clearly carved within a Christian cultural milieu and it is likely that the Brigomaglos stone is an indicator of Christianity.

Churches and ecclesiastical sites

The North-East is home to a series of major Anglo-Saxon monasteries, several of which have been investigated. The best known are undoubtedly those at Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, which have been the focus of extensive excavation by Rosemary Cramp (Cramp 1969; 1970; 1994; 2005; Mills and Webster 1991). Founded in the 7th century by Benedict Biscop, the twin monastery was for nearly a century an internationally important centre for learning. Home to Bede (AD 673-735), whose writings on history, time, science and scripture were key texts, it was also a major production centre for books and produced the Codex Amitianus, the oldest surviving single-volume bible in the world.

Lindisfarne, on the other hand, has been relatively little explored, with excavations only within the precinct of the medieval priory and on selected sites in the village. activies on the island. Just a few traces of early medieval activity have been found here, though a possible proto-grange has been excavated elsewhere on the island at Green Shiel (O’Sullivan and Young 1991). In Hexham excavation has concentrated on the church itself and little is known about the wider monastic enclosure of what was undoubtedly an important monastic site (Cambridge and Williams 1995; Harbottle 1978). There is also a lack of work on early medieval Tynemouth. Excavation by George Jobey revealed Iron Age or Roman round houses and a post-Conquest cemetery here, but no traces of the early medieval monastery were identified, although the site has produced Anglo-Saxon carved stone and an Urness-style mount (Jobey 1967; Miket and Cramp 1982, 10, catalogue no. 14). The same is true of Chester-le-Street, where the foundations of modern housing over the site of the monastery may have destroyed any surviving Anglo-Saxon stratigraphy, though the deeper layers relating to the Roman fort still survive. In Durham the Romanesque cathedral and its precinct probably lies over the site of the Anglo-Saxon monastery of which little has been recorded beyond some Late Anglo-Saxon burials on the site of the Chapter House (Carver 1980). Hartlepool, the site of the double foundation by Hild, has been the focus of extensive excavations, including the remains of structures and evidence for metalworking and other craft and industry (Daniels 1988; Daniels et al 1987; Daniels et al 1998).

In addition to its archaeology, the region possesses a range of standing Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical architecture. The major overview of Anglo-Saxon church architecture in Britain is Taylor and Taylor’s magisterial Anglo-Saxon Architecture (1965-78). They recognised pre-conquest fabric at several churches in the region: Aycliffe, Billingham, Bywell, Corbridge, Escomb, Hart, Hexham, Ingram, Jarrow, Monkwearmouth, Norton, Ovingham, Sockburn, Staindrop, Warden, Whittingham, and Woodhorn. Work by Peter Ryder on the churches of Durham over the last 20 years has amended this list, suggesting that the early fabric at Staindrop is more likely to be Norman, as is that at Hart, Pittington and St Mary, Seaham and possibly Norton. On the other hand, the evidence from Chester-le-Street is more convincing than previously thought and Anglo-Saxon fabric has also been recognised at St Brandon in Brancepeth, St Nicholas in West Boldon, Hamsterley, Gainford and possibly Church Kelloe (Ryder 1988; 1996; 2004a). An argument has also been made for Anglo-Saxon fabric at St Michael in Heighington (Clack 1986; though Ryder remains unconvinced), while Eric Cambridge has suggested that the Anglo-Saxon tower at Billingham is, in fact, 12th century, though this remains contentious (Cambridge 1994). The best preserved crypt in the region is at Hexham; Anglo-Saxon crypts may be preserved at Bamburgh and Jarrow, but this has yet to be confirmed by fieldwork.

Carved stone

The major overview of the Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture is Rosemary Cramp’s Durham and Northumberland volumes of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture in England published in 1984. Those areas to the south of the region (i.e. Durham south of the Tees) not covered by this volume are treated in James Lang’s volume in the same series, dedicated to North Yorkshire (Lang 2001). Cramp’s volume has records for nearly 400 individual stones, fragments or groups of architectural stonework (e.g. balusters). A modest number of additional fragments have since come to light (e.g. Richardson 1994), although this has not significantly changed the overall distribution of early medieval sculpture in the region.

Anglian material consists mainly of objects from Hartlepool, Hexham, Jarrow, Lindisfarne and Monkwearmouth, though finds are also known from Escomb, Norham and Rothbury. Crosses dominate the assemblage at Hexham and Norham, whereas grave markers are more common at Monkwearmouth and Hartlepool (Figure 33). Both Lindisfarne and Jarrow have significant groups of both types. This distribution appears to reflect that of the major Northumbrian monastic establishments, though sculpture was also found at important minster sites. By the late 8th century there is an increased Mercian influence on the region’s sculpture, which can be seen on fragments from Rothbury, Auckland St Andrew and Norham (Cramp 1984, 3).

The initial Viking raids of the late 8th and early 9th century appear to have had little impact on the output of the stonecarving workshops of Northumbria. The establishment of the Viking kingdom of York in the mid 9th century, however, was more significant. In the early 10th century, the great estates of the monasteries were being alienated by the Viking kings and redistributed to both Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian lords. The concentration of hogbacks along the Tees valley, on land formerly held by the community of St Cuthbert, probably reflects the establishment of new churches by these new lords. The style of these monuments shows an increasing Scandinavian sense of identity. It is noticeable that hogbacks are almost entirely absent from Northumberland, where a rump kingdom of Northumbria survived into the early 10th century.

Evidence for the use of runic epigraphy in the North-East is very rare. A runic inscription in Old English is carved on a house-shaped memorial at Hawkhope, Falstone (Northumberland), and, intriguingly also carries the same Old English inscription in insular majuscule. Inscriptions using runes and Anglo-Saxon capitals are also known from Chester-le-Street and Alnmouth (Cramp 1984, 54, 161). Three runes have also been found carved onto living rock adjacent to prehistoric cup-and-ring marks at Lemmington Wood, Northumberland (Beckensall 1983, 51, 186). Of the Late Anglo-Saxon sundials from the region, the best known is that built into the south wall of the nave at Escomb, which, if it is contemporary with the construction of the church, dates to the 8th century. Other pre-conquest sundials are known at Pittington, Staindrop, Middleton St George, Dalton-le-Dale, Darlington and Hart. Unlike examples elsewhere in England, none carry inscriptions.

Material culture


The best source for early Anglo-Saxon ceramic assemblages is the small group of cemeteries from the south of the region. Twelve pots were recovered from inhumations at Greenbank, Darlington, which have broad parallels with vessels from Sancton (East Yorkshire) (Miket and Pocock 1976). Three urned cremations were also recovered from Norton (Teesside) (Sherlock and Welch 1992), while an isolated urn came from the south bank of the Tees near Yarm (Myres 1977, fig 332.150). Several urns were also revealed during work on the mixed-rite cemetery at Hob Hill, Saltburn (Hornsby 1912; Myres 1977, figs 193.152, 273, 153, 344, 151; Gallagher 1987). Tiny fragments of pot have come from other burial sites, such as Andrew’s Hill, Easington (Durham) (Hamerow and Pickin 1995, 44).

Pottery from non-burial contexts is rather less common, particularly towards the beginning of the early medieval period. Settlement sites have produced little; only five fragments of Anglo-British pottery were recovered from Thirlings (O’Brien and Miket 1991, 87) despite extensive excavations, and New Bewick produced even fewer (Gates and O’Brien 1988). More substantial quantities have come from Bamburgh, but these have yet to be assessed (Paul Gething pers comm). Surprisingly little has been found at Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, though it does include some rare northern examples of Tating Ware. There is little pottery from urban sites, such as Newcastle and Hartlepool (Wrathmell 1990, 383); the only substantial collection are the very late Saxo-Norman assemblages from Saddler Street, Durham (Carver 1979), which include a Stamford Ware lamp (Clack 1980). 

Alan Vince is currently working on a survey of Anglo-Saxon pottery from the Northumbrian kingdom, in order to generate a database and a series of ICPS (InductivelyCoupled Plasma Spectrometry) analyses and thin-sections which will be disseminated on-line via the Archaeological Data Service. The project involves examining as many collections of 5th-11th-century pottery as can be identified (Alan Vince pers comm).

Rough ceramic loom weights and spindlewhorls are also known, including chance finds from Wooler and excavated examples from Thirlings (Miket 1980, 295; O’Brien and Miket 1991, 87).


Glass vessels are rare in the North-East. Perhaps the best preserved is the Frankish claw beaker (late 5th century) from the barrow burial at Castle Eden. Some fragments of claw beaker were also recovered at Thirlings (O’Brien and Miket 1991, 87).

Window glass has been found in ecclesiastical contexts at Monkwearmouth, Jarrow and Escomb (Cramp 1976; Pocock and Wheeler 1971), but also, unusually, in a secular context at Bamburgh (Paul Gething pers comm).

Glass beads are known from a range of sites, including from burials at Norton (Teesside), Hepple and Howick Heugh (Northumberland), and Blackhall Rocks (Co. Durham) (Sherlock and Welch 1992a, 45; Cramp and Miket 1982, 4-5), and as chance finds, such as those from Ilderton and Dilston (Northumberland) (Anon 1951; Smith 1966).

Metal objects

Little is known about metalwork from sub-Roman contexts. Margaret Snape has identified a possible early-5th-century sub-variant of a Type D penannular brooch (Snape 1992), though a brooch of this type has been found in a secure late Roman context at Piercebridge (Fitzpatrick and Scott 1999, 114-115). The increasing evidence for sub-Roman continuity on Roman sites means there is a need for the late finds assemblages from such sites to be re-assessed.

The main source for early Anglo-Saxon metal objects in this region is burials. However, although there are a number of important Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in the south of the region, the wider Bernician burial rite is relatively low in material culture (Cramp 1988). The metalwork from the southern cemeteries is typical of the assemblages found further south in Deiran contexts. For example, Norton, Easington and Greenbanks, Darlington, have all produced a range of personal items including cruciform brooches, small-long brooches, annular brooches, buckles and wrist clasps (Miket and Pocock 1976; Sherlock and Welch 1992a; Hamerow and Pickin 1995).

Industrial features of Anglo-Saxon date were associated with a Neolithic henge at Yeavering, and included a number of crucible fragments, which produced evidence for copper and tin, implying bronze working at the site (Tinniswood and Harding 1991). Clay metalworking moulds have also been found at Hartlepool, including moulds for high-status objects such as a plaque showing a calf with a trumpet (presumably a symbol of an evangelist), and a small cross, either a mount or a pendant (Cramp and Daniels 1987; Daniels 1988, 187-190). The same site produced crucibles and slags which demonstrated copperalloy and silver working (Daniels 1988, 184-187). The presence of several pins made from the same mould at Bamburgh is also suggestive of metal production on the site (Paul Gething pers comm). Iron smelting and smithing also took place at Simy Folds (Coggins et al. 1983) and while there is no evidence for primary extraction, on the north side of Bollihope Burn, Stanhope (Co. Durham), charcoal from earthworks has produced a radiocarbon date of AD 880-1050 (90% probability). Analysis of associated slag shows it to have a high lead content, suggesting it was either at an intermediate stage in processing or it was being refined for silver (Manchester 2001; Paynter 2001). Excavations at the same site have also revealed a probable early medieval iron-working furnace (Rob Young pers comm).

In general, the quality of middle and later Anglo-Saxon metalwork is low compared with other parts of AngloSaxon Britain. The end of the tradition of depositing gravegoods and the lack of excavated settlement sites means that most metalwork of this date are chance finds. Hanging-bowls are known from a burial at Capheaton (Northumberland) and a possible votive deposit at Newham Bog (Northumberland) (Collingwood Bruce 1880, 184; Cramp and Miket 1982, 10, no. 12), while a gilded 8thcentury disc-headed pin was found on the monastic site at Hartlepool (Daniels et al 1998). The Portable Antiquities Scheme has recently recorded a gilded mount from the Bishop Auckland area (Philippa Walton pers comm), and a gold mount has been recovered at Bamburgh (Wood 2004). Among finds of rings are a late-8th- century silver ring with runic decorations from Whitley Hill and a pair of Saxo- Norman gold rings from Corbridge (Craster 1914, 103- 104). Important pendants include the small gold example from Daisy Hill, Sacriston, dating to the 7th century AD, and a recently discovered gold and garnet pendant from the churchyard at Stainton, Middlesbrough (Figures 34-35). Strap-ends are known from Wooperton and Frosterley (Bailey 1993), and from the Green Shiel settlement on Holy Island (O’Sullivan and Young 1991). David Wilson suggests that an unusual strap-distributor in the British Museum, which has parallels with examples from Meols and the Viking burials at Cronk Moar and Ballateare on the Isle of Man, may have come from Goswick (Bersu and Wilson 1966, 55n). Ecclesiastical metalwork includes the pectoral cross from the shrine of St Cuthbert in Durham, and an Anglo-Saxon chalice from Hexham. A final important discovery is the hoard of Viking silver objects from Old Spital, Bowes, which included nineteen silver bars, a broken bracelet and a rough waste object (Edwards 1985).

Weapons occur as excavated and chance finds. Spears and shields were found at the cemetery at Greenbank, Darlington (Miket and Pocock 1976, 72), a spear fragment from a grave at Easington (Hamerow and Pickin 1995, 40), and twelve spears and spear fragments, shield bosses and a seax from Norton (Sherlock and Welch 1992a, 32-34). HopeTaylor’s excavations at Bamburgh recovered two swords and several spears (Paul Gething pers comm). Chance finds include a probable seax from Lowick (Northumberland), and a decorated spear of probable 9th-century date from Burradon (Spain 1923). Two swords and an axe, part of the Viking ‘Hurbuck’ hoard discovered at Lanchester, are now in the British Museum (Shetelig 1940, 74).

Fragmentary iron objects are known from cemeteries, including knives from Easington and a key from Greenbanks, Darlington. Iron objects were also found at Yeavering, among them a curious ‘standard’ (Hope-Taylor 1977, 200-203). Iron tools, including four scythes and a pickaxe, were part of the ‘Hurbuck’ hoard (Shetelig 1940). Knives have also been found at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth.

Bone objects

The acid soils of the north mean that bone objects are under-represented. Combs are known in grave contexts from a burial at Hepple (7th century) (Cramp and Miket 1982, 4-5) and the Viking burial from Bedlington (Shetelig 1954, 77) as well as from occupation sites at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth, Green Shiel and The Winery in Holy Island, Saddler Street in Durham and Church Street in Hartlepool (O’Sullivan and Young 1991; Carver 1979; Daniels 1988, 195). A 10th-century decorative bone strip, probably some form of mount, was found during an excavation at Ferryhill (Batey 1990). Intriguingly, recent work at Bamburgh has also produced a fragment of walrus ivory with saw marks, suggesting both trade with northern Scandinavia and probably craft working on the site (Paul Gething pers comm). The wider context of bone combs in the north of Britain is currently being explored in his PhD thesis by Steven Ashby at the Department of
Archaeology, University of York.

Other objects

Worked stone objects are relatively rare, though recently three stone bowls of early medieval date have been identified from sites in Sunderland, Dalden and Durham, one with an Anglo-Saxon inscription. Their function is uncertain, though it is possible they may have had a liturgical purpose (Hart and Okasha 2003). A range of limestone containers were also recovered from the monastic site at Hartlepool (Daniels 1988, 190).

Durham Cathedral has an important selection of well-preserved organic objects from the shrine of St Cuthbert. These include the unique carved wooden coffin, a portable altar (wooden encased in metal) and embroidered silk stoles. The shrine also contained his gold, cloisonné pectoral cross (Emery 2004).


In Teesside the Dorman Museum holds the finds from the cemeteries at Saltburn and Norton; the main early medieval collection held by Tees Archaeology being the 120 skeletons from the recent excavations on the cemetery at Norton. In County Durham, Bowes Museum holds the archives and finds from Denis Coggins’ excavations at Simy Folds, and the cemeteries at Seaham, Binchester and Andrew’s Hill, Easington. The Old Fulling Museum in the City of Durham holds little Anglo- Saxon material beyond some fragments of late sculpture. More significant collections of Anglo-Saxon sculpture are held at Durham Cathedral in the Monk’s Dormitory. The Cathedral, of course, also holds the material from St Cuthbert’s shrine. There is also a small collection of sculpture held in the Anker’s House Museum in Chester-le-Street.

On Tyne and Wear the Museum of Antiquities holds a good collection of sculpture (32 objects or fragments), but fewer items of pottery or metal. Major items include the Capheaton hanging bowl and cross fragments from Rothbury and Nunnykirk. A full catalogue of early medieval items (from both within and outside the region) was published in 1982 (Cramp and Miket 1982). The material excavated by Rosemary Cramp at St Paul’s, Jarrow, can be found in Bede’s World; here are also the objects relating to the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries at Milfield North (on loan from the Museum of Antiquities), Andrew’s Hill, Easington, and Norton on Tees (on loan from the Bowes Museum). In Northumberland, a small collection of material is held in the Alnwick Castle Museum, including an annular brooch from Coquet Island and the objects from the barrow at Barrasford (Collingwood Bruce 1880). Outside the region, the British Museum holds a small number of early medieval objects from the North-East, of which the Viking Hurbuck hoard is the most significant.

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