Anglo-Saxon Island Discovered in England

A Lidar survey of the Little Carleton site in England showing a dark splotch of raised land where the site sits (left) and a Lidar visualization of what the site may have looked like in the Middle Anglo-Saxon period with marshland surrounding a little island. Credit: University of Sheffield

A newly discovered Anglo-Saxon settlement in England is surrounded by dry land today, but once was an island oasis amidst marshland. And at least some of its inhabitants were literate.

The long-ago island was inhabited continuously between at least A.D. 680 and A.D. 850, during the Middle Anglo-Saxon era, archaeologists from the University of Sheffield report in the April 2016 issue of Current Archaeology. Among the tantalizing discoveries in the area were 16 silver styluses for writing and a tablet inscribed with the female name “Cudberg” — perhaps a coffin plaque for a long-ago resident.

The site is in Lincolnshire parish near the village of Little Carlton, an area of grassy fields, marshes and small forests. The first hint that something intriguing might be buried in this bucolic setting came in 2011, when a metal detector hobbyist named Graham Vickers discovered a silver writing stylus featuring decorative carvings. Archaeologists dated the utensil to the eighth century. [See Photos of the Newfound Island Site and Its Treasures]

Additional searches near the ground surface turned up more treasures: loom weights, whetstones, glass fragments and pottery pieces. One little glass piece was crisscrossed with decorative, intertwined glass strands. These finds hint at a settlement with access to life’s little luxuries.

The flow of artifacts from the site caught the attention of University of Sheffield archaeologist Hugh Willmott and doctoral student Pete Townend, who conducted geophysical surveys and Lidar scans of the area. Lidar uses laser pulses to measure and map out surface features. The data can be used to create models that show the shape of the Earth with all its vegetation stripped away.

These surveys revealed a slight rise in the land around the area richest in artifacts. As the archaeologists moved south, where fewer artifacts were found, they noticed that the land dipped. A survey of the historical field names of the area turned up monikers like “Little Fen,” suggesting a marshy history. All of this data added up to a picture of the site as a long-ago island in a marsh, which has since been drained and converted into agricultural fields.

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