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An Anglo Saxon trade citadel is found by an amateur with a metal detector

Ian Harvey

It might just be a barley field in the middle of the Fens today, but it was not always such. Following an unexpected discovery, archaeologists say this was a significant center of international trade around 750 AD.

Some of the discoveries suggest that an unknown monastery or trading center may have once existed there. A bunch of ornate silver writing instruments, coins, brooches and lead weights indicate that was the case. In fact, the site might have been utilized for a couple of hundred years.

It was found at Little Carlton, near Louth in Lincolnshire. During Anglo-Saxon times it definitely was an island within a channel of the rive Lud which was located about five miles from the coast. The drainage over the last few centuries has resulted in solid ground.

Graham Vickers is a metal detectorist that uncovered a glimpse of the site’s secrets. They were revealed when he found an ornate silver pen like stylus just lying in the ploughed field. It was a tool once used for writing on a wax tablet, and he reported it to the local board of antiquities. The discovery took place in 2011, but was kept a secret so that the site could be excavated. Only now was it allowed to be reported.

To this point, an additional 23 styli, 300 dress pins and about 100 silver coins have been found. Experts trace it all back from 680 to 790 AD. In the mix was a small lead tablet with a woman’s name (Cudburg) inscribed on it. Historians find this to be quite interesting. Believe it or not, that name was quite common among girls in the Middle Saxon period.

The name was etched in by hand, and historians think the style of writing shown was used to write on vellum scrolls. Of course, they are not sure if Cudburg herself or someone else is responsible for inscribing her name.

Dr Hugh Willmott, of Sheffield University’s department of archaeology said, “We are talking about hundreds of finds from bits of jewellery, dress accessories, Anglo Saxon pins, lead weights, bits of glass from vessels, gaming counters. It is probably the largest assemblage of Anglo Saxon finds of its kind.” He also thinks that monks and priests were present at this settlement; the writing in this period was associated with the church.

Willmott was really excited about the lead tablet marked with a name. He recognizes that a fellow human being scratched the name in some lead, but it was just thrown away. It is almost like touching the person, and it is the only thing that survives that particular human being.

The settlement has been measured at about 820 ft by 656 ft, and it was likely significant in the local Anglo- Saxon kingdom of Lindsey. It later went on to become part of Northumbria. Based on the presence of coins which had to come from Northern Europe, it is clear that site traded across Western Europe. However, it all came to a screeching halt once the Vikings showed up. Dr. Willmott points out that, “Whether people decided to walk away or it was burnt to the ground, we don’t know.” Details of the dig can be found published in the journal of Current Archaeology.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News