Culture24's top ten archaeology stories of 2014

By Ben Miller | 30 December 2014

From propellers and pus to tools and torcs, here are ten of our most talked-about archaeology stories during 2014

A photo of a skeleton laid out on a table
© Oxford Archaeology
Executed Vikings were inexperienced raiders who oozed smelly pus

There were some gorily unsettling finds from the Viking grave found on an Olympic relief road five years ago. Wounds covered the bodies of the victims with several blows that removed some heads. One skeleton, on show at the British Museum’s concurrent Vikings exhibition, showed signs of the chronic bone infection, osteomyelitis, on his thigh bone. A book, Given to the Ground, was published to document the mass grave.

A photo of a reconstruction of an african woman's face
© Graham Huntley
Beachy Head Lady was young sub-Saharan Roman with good teeth

Heritage Officer Jo Seaman went through 300 cremations and burials ahead of a major exhibition, Eastbourne Ancestors. Perhaps the most intriguing, found in two boxes from the 1950s, was the skeleton of a young woman, likely to have been Sussex’s first sub-Saharan resident from the Roman period, between 200 and 250 AD. “When we get 300 quid we can get a carbon dating done on another individual,” said Seaman.

A photo of a small brown skeleton
© Courtesy All Saints Church
Foetus, pregnant woman and male skeletons found at York church

The floor of All Saints, in York – made over for a new, Medieval-style floor – was found to conceal three men shoved into a tomb bearing grave markings to ward off evil 13th century spirits. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a place where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared seven times, an even more poignant discovery lay in the North Chamber: a heavily-pregnant woman. Archaeologists returned the foetus the tomb of before it was sealed.

A photo of a man holding a skull
© Courtesy Sussex Archaeological Society
First ever human discovery directly related to the 11th century Norman Conquest

Six sword blows spelled the grisly end of this 11th century fellow, carbon-dated to within 28 years of 1063 and found on hospital grounds in Sussex. Standing out from 103 excavated skeletons dating to the later Battle of Lewes, the find caused archaeologists to reconsider the story of the Norman Conquest.

A photo of two gold Roman coins bearing the head of an emperor
© Vindolanda Trust
Roman gold coin provides “magical moment” along Hadrian’s Wall

“I thought, ‘it can’t be true’,” said Marcel Albert, a French archaeologist who had spent six years helping out at a dig along the wall which had never identified a gold coin during its near-50-year history. He probably popped in to buy a scratchcard on the way home: the on-site Director of Excavations opined there was “more chance of winning the lottery” than finding a gold gem on a Roman military landscape.

A photo of a circular silver Roman ring with a red bit in the middle
© Courtesy Durham University
Ring sees Binchester Roman Fort proclaimed "the Pompeii of the north"

Only the second example of a Christian ring found in Britain, but a glowing, intaglio example in which two fish hung from an anchor. The surrounding Roman environs, from around the 3rd century, were full of intrigue, including evidence of plumbing, a well-preserved plunge bath and hints of the social centre status afforded to bath houses.

A photo of a reconstruction of a young man's face against a black background
© Courtesy City of Edinburgh Council
Facial reconstructions of medieval men and woman in Edinburgh graveyard

On average, women were slightly over five foot and men were about five inches taller, according to archaeologists working on a medieval graveyard. Research also revealed the diets of people 500 years ago (meat, dairy and marine fish made up their plates, apparently). Forensic reconstructions of several young people brought the research eerily to life.

A photo of a young boy holding up a piece of flint at an archaeology site
© CAER
Surprise Neolithic discovery sets site on outskirts of Cardiff back thousands of years

Caerau, near Cardiff, was known for its Roman and Iron Age finds. But a six-year-old’s discovery of an axehead shocked archaeologists by revealing Iron Age activity on the site – judging by the arrowheads and polished stone axe fragments, it could also have been a battleground more than 5,000 years ago.

A photo of a grey stone archaeological site
© Crown Copyright
Wrecked German Messerchmitt discovered in Dorset

The Me. 110 V (Z) Lehrgeschwader 1 was on a Battle of Britain mission to attack Portland, on August 13 1940, when it was shut down by RAF Fighters. Fragments of the German Messerschmitt’s propeller, Daimler Benz engines and spent ammunition cases were discovered at the Lulworth Ranges by a Wessex Archaeology squad aiming to pinpoint the location and extent of a crash which turned out to have slammed into the clifftop before being engulfed in flames.

A photo of a large circular gold torc
© Jersey Heritage
The torc of the town in Jersey

Our most popular story of the year came in the shape of an unprecedentedly large gold torc found as part of an enormous Iron Age hoard in Jersey. Even more excitement is on the way, by the sounds of it: “Every hour or so we are finding a new gold object,” said Jersey Museum’s expert, reflecting on an “incredible time” on the island.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Top ten science and nature stories of 2014

Culture24's top ten literary history and heritage stories of 2014

Top ten military history stories of 2014
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