Books, bodies, bangles and boats: The top ten archaeology discoveries of 2013

By Ben Miller | 24 December 2013

It's been another amazing year of archaeology stories on Culture24; dig up the past as we pick some of the best archaeological discoveries of 2013

Cornish Lord Sir James Tillie, buried in his best clothes in a chair
Pentillie Castle, Cornwall

Although a marble statue was eventually built in his honour (servants lost their nerves after two years of taking food and wine to his corpse), Tillie – the builder of Pentillie Castle in 1698 – had asked to be left in his best clothes, bound to a stout chair and supplied with books, wine and tobacco until his certain resurrection. Excavators found a collapsed coffin and the remains of the chair in a brick vaulted chamber.

They said: “This was certainly not on the list...during the past five-and-a-half years we have researched much about him and the castle, so to finally tie up the loose ends was extraordinary. There was no sign of his pipe, books or wine, but there were the remains of a chair that looks typical to the 1700s, when he would have been placed there.” Ted Coryton, Pentillie Castle owner

A photo of a skull next to a gloved hand
© North News
A mass Medieval grave causing archaeologists to reconsider Durham Cathedral cemetery
Palace Green Library, Durham

Hastily “tipped” in, the 18 bodies buried here will be tested further in the new year. Intriguingly, the position of the crammed grave caused archaeologists to rethink the layout of the cemetery at Durham Cathedral.

They said: “The bodies have been tipped into the earth without elaborate ceremony and they are tightly packed together and jumbled.  We have found clear evidence of a mass burial and not a normal group of graves.” Richard Innis, senior archaeologist, Archaeological Services Durham University

© Lincolnshire County Council
A shoe-wearing skeleton within a stone coffin hidden in a church wall
Lincoln Castle

Wrapped in a finely-woven textile, this booted body indicated a holy figure from at least 1,000 years ago, buried in a stone coffin within a wall beneath William the Conqueror’s castle.

They said: “The first step was to take a 3D scan of the coffin itself. Then we carefully opened it up to see what was inside. The body appeared to be wearing leather boots or shoes. Finding a sarcophagus from this period that’s still undisturbed is extremely rare.” Mary Powell, programme manager, Lincoln Castle Revealed project

A photo of a hand holding out a small circular black bangle
© Archaeology Warwickshire
Skeletal coffin remains with telltale jet bangles

Carefully prising open a coffin found in a village field, archaeologists found fragmentary remains of a young child’s skeleton, thought to be a girl because of the hair bangles. Further tests could reveal grave goods such as oil, clothing, medicines and drugs.

They said: “Finding the two jet bangles was a surprise. They rather suggest that the child was female, although we cannot say with certainty if they were worn as bracelets, clothing adornments or were woven into long hair.” Stuart Palmer, Archaeology Warwickshire

A photo of a large brown soil archaeological pit with a measuring stick within it
© Wessex Archaeology
Prehistoric and Romano-British pottery at a trio of future solar farms

Hundreds of trenches yielded plenty of pottery at three sites being dug as part of plans to create solar farms, including Bronze Age barrows, Neolithic tidal creeks, roundhouses, enclosures and fields.

They said: "The edges of the Fen are where people have stayed and settled in prehistory, and there's absolutely no reason why there shouldn't be another Flag Fen out there, or a site that we can't imagine." Richard O’Neill, Wessex Archaeology

A photo of a large white stone sculpture of an eagle
© MOLA, Andy Chopping
An “almost unbelievable” snake-chomping eagle from Roman limestone

Archaeologists were agog at this beautiful, defiantly intact symbol of good against evil in oolithic limestone. Found beneath the grounds of a mooted hotel development, the sculpture also pointed to a rarely-exhibited school of Romano-British sculptors.

They said: “Its condition is extraordinary – the carving as crisp as on the day it was carved. All it has lost is the surface paint, probably washed away when it was deposited in a ditch.” Reverend Professor Martin Henig

A photo of two archaeologists in high-visibility clothing looking at a pair of skulls
© Crossrail
Liverpool Street Station Roman skeletons from a burial ground beneath the Thames

A score of skulls decapitated during an anti-Roman 1st century killing spree, tunnellers at the station expect to find thousands more bodies from the Bedlam burial ground, washed down the River Walbrook.

They said: “Many early historians suggested these people were killed during the Boudicca rebellion against the Romans. This isn’t the first time that skulls have been found in the bed of the river.” Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver

An overhead photo of a digger in high visibility clothing and a helmet working in a pit
© Courtesy York Archaeology Trust
A 12th century church lost for hundreds of years

Until recently, the only evidence the York Archaeological Trust had of the church of St John the Baprist was a handful of vague map references and wall remnants found more than a decade ago. A determined search resulted in the rediscovery of the 12th century building.

They said: "There has quite literally been a mark in the landscape which says ‘St John’s Church is here’, but [until now] nobody has been able to say that’s exactly where it is.” Peter Connelly, the Trust's Director of Archaeology

A close up photo of an ancient log boat
© Cambridge Archaeological Unit
Eel traps and log boats from a “lost world” of 3,500 years ago

Experts moved these eight prehistoric boats to a special refrigeration unit, vowing to deploy the same preservation techniques used on the Mary Rose after a discovery which also unearthed Eel traps, weapons, pottery and tools.

They said: “Around 4,000 years ago there was a period when water levels started to rise, effectively creating the fens. At first this drove people living in the area back onto drier land, but by the middle Bronze Age people seemed to be adapting to the new environment and trying to use it to its best advantage.  It is tremendously important that the Must Farm boats were brought to Flag Fen, because they are part of the same story." Mark Knight, Cambridge Archaeological Unit

© MoLA
The 10,000 finds of the Temple of Mithras

This enormous trove ranged from 40 AD to the early 5th century – good luck charms, a Roman well filled with coins and cow skulls, evidence of Roman drainage systems and a Gladiator amulet featured.

They said: “They are all beautifully preserved and containing amazing personal items, clothes and even documents – all of which will transform our understanding of the people of Roman London.” Sophie Jackson, Museum of London Archaeology

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