Friday, November 10, 2006

Grave Confusion

In 1822 the construction of a small road near Claughton Hall led builders to dig into a tumulus made of sand. As Michael Jones later recalled in an essay, the workmen soon, “…discovered about two or three feet below the surface the following antiquities: two large convex brooches, joined together and forming a kind of oval box. They are made of white coloured metal, perforated in an ornamental pattern.”
The illustration below shows both sections of the brooch.

Once opened the brooch was found to contain a decorative fibula (or pin) accompanied by two beads, one blue the other red, and a tooth.
John Weld, the Chipping antiquarian, also recorded the Claughton burial, adding that, “With the above, an axe, hammer, spearhead and sword all of iron and a stone hammer or maul, were likewise discovered.”
These items are, predictably, now lost. Our drawing below of the spearhead and sword, however, is based on Weld’s original watercolour.

One final object unearthed from the Claughton tumulus was a baked clay urn. It contained cremation ashes, most likely belonging to the owners of the other artefacts. Unfortunately, once excavated, the urn began to crumble and now no longer exists.
That the owners of these grave goods were Norse is irrefutable. However the existence of the stone axe and the urn led authorities to conclude that two burials, one Celtic the other Viking, were accidentally conducted in the same spot.
And there the matter would have rested, if it wasn’t for the fact that in 1889 at Crossmoor in Inskip more workmen uncovered a second urn, on this occasion broken into pieces. Also excavated at Inskip were portions of a rusted sword and what Henry Fishwick described in his ‘History of Saint Michaels’ as “…a large dagger”. Ben Edwards makes reference to this dagger in his 1998 book ‘Vikings in the North West’ suggesting that it was probably a spearhead, similar to the one discovered at Claughton.
True to form all the Inskip artefacts are now missing, with the exception of what was clearly a Viking sword (now kept upstairs in the Grundy Art Gallery at Blackpool) which we’ve illustrated below.

Similar to the Claughton burial, the Inskip urn is something of an enigma. Fishwick includes the following description of it: “It was of extremely rude workmanship, and the heat to which it had been subjected had left it almost black. (It was) round, narrowing from the base and then broadening out and again contracting at the mouth; the rim of the mouth was slightly ornamented with curved lines.”
Vikings of course were not generally cremated suggesting that the barrow was, once again, a combination of Celtic and Norse burials. Even Ben Edwards couldn’t understand why this should be the case, concluding simply that, “Not Proven is the verdict at the moment.”
One possible explanation, however, that everybody appears to have overlooked, is that these were standard burial practices for a Norse/Celtic crossover culture. To illustrate how such a crossover might have occurred just take a look at today’s immigrant populations whose children have adopted both the cultures of their parents and of their British peers.
Of course, such a Norse/Celtic cross-culture strongly suggests that the Vikings couldn’t have arrived in the Wyre by force, before hacking and slashing their way through the peaceful Anglo-Saxons, as tradition dictates. In fact the Norse probably coexisted peacefully with the Wyre’s Celts long before the Saxons had even ventured this far north.
As though in confirmation of this William Thornber writes in his ‘History of Blackpool and its Neighbourhood’: “This Palgrave confirms when he states, ‘…that from the Ribble in Lancashire, or thereabouts, up to the Clyde, there existed a dense population composed of Britons, who preserved their national language and customs, agreeing in all respects with the Welsh of the present day, so that even to the tenth century the ancient Britons still inhabited the greater part of the western coast of the island.’”
All of which, naturally, brings us back to one of our favourite subjects i.e. the Battle of Brunanburh. Obviously we’re not about to rehash our previous arguments here. Brunanburh is far too complicated a subject for a short essay such as this and, if you’re not already familiar with our ideas, you could always buy a copy of ‘The Ancient History of the Wyre’; excellent value at only £5.95. No…to return to the point, the implications that a Norse/Celtic cross-culture existed from the Ribble northwards only adds weight to the idea that Athelstan established his war camp at Walton-le-Dale, that being the most northerly extent of Saxon Mercia at the time. In case you’re wondering, we’re well aware that Athelstan also had control of Yorkshire but, as any military strategist would no doubt be quick to point out, leading your armies across the Pennines on the eve of war wouldn’t be the most intelligent manoeuvre.
A Norse/Celtic crossover culture in the Wyre would also explain why, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, the Brunanburh locals fought so diligently on the side of Olaf Guthfrithson.
Athelstan’s charter states that: “I, Athelstan, king of the English and ruler of all Britain do freely give to…the diocese of York, a certain section of land, not small in extent, in the place which the inhabitants call Amounderness…”
This charter was clearly written after the Battle of Brunanburh as Athelstan called himself the ‘ruler of all Britain’; something he wouldn’t have done had the battle yet to take place. Amounderness, of course, was a Norse name meaning the ‘Headland of Agmundre’, the Saxon word ‘Fylde’ (meaning ‘Battlefield’) not being used for several more centuries. That Athelstan used Amounderness almost begrudgingly indicates that Viking influences on our local population were far from excised and that the Saxons hadn’t yet ‘won over any hearts’.
So, are the Claughton and Inskip burials more evidence for the Wyre’s claim to Brunanburh, then? Well, we’ll leave that up to your judgement for now and keep on searching for the definitive argument.


John said...

The lesson here is not to bring any expectations or assumptions to an excavation site. Very difficult to implement, but even the best of us bring theories and suppositions that could blind us to the truth.

Also, we have to remember that nothing in human history is absolute; there must have been crossovers, and linkages between the various concurrent cultures out there, as there is now.

This is why careful, thoughtful, and especially careful excavations must be carried out at any site, taking the time to record things as they are, so that one day patterns can emerge to give us the real truth, not established truth.

Excellent post! JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


We could do with you over here. There's a couple of people that I know (who for the sake of diplomacy I'm not going to mention by name) who would do well to heed your advice.
The truth is always more important than bending the facts to fit the theory. Unfortunately not everybody shares that opinion. Personally I'd prefer to find out that what we might have originally suspected was a Bronze Age burial site for example was, in reality, a tyre dump...and then publicly admit that we were wrong rather than go down in history as the burks who refused to acknowledge our own mistakes. Now, if I could only convince everyone else to do the same...