From propellers and pus to tools and torcs, here are ten of our most talked-about archaeology stories during 2014
Executed Vikings were inexperienced raiders who oozed smelly pus
© Oxford Archaeology
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.
Beachy Head Lady was young sub-Saharan Roman with good teeth
© Graham Huntley
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.
Foetus, pregnant woman and male skeletons found at York church
© Courtesy All Saints 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.
First ever human discovery directly related to the 11th century Norman Conquest
© Courtesy Sussex Archaeological Society
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.
Roman gold coin provides “magical moment” along Hadrian’s Wall
© Vindolanda Trust
“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.
Ring sees Binchester Roman Fort proclaimed "the Pompeii of the north"
© Courtesy Durham University
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.
Facial reconstructions of medieval men and woman in Edinburgh graveyard
© Courtesy City of Edinburgh Council
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.
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.
Wrecked German Messerchmitt discovered in Dorset
© Crown Copyright
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.
The torc of the town in Jersey
© Jersey Heritage
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.
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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