Diggin' It - Sutton Hoo
Today, January 29th 2021, the new drama film, The Dig, is being released on Netflix and we can't wait to watch it! We suspect our followers are the same! The film is an imaginative view of the now famous excavation of the main mound at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. It so happens that Sutton Hoo is one of our favourite historical sites, so much so that our very own James Pegrum has visited it many times in recent years, with the first occasion being part of our research for our big 2016 Anglo-Saxon build.
So why is Sutton Hoo so significant? At its simplest it’s a grave site (have you noticed that we have a thing for graves at the moment?). Graves in themselves are a rich source of information for historians and provide a great window into past. Sutton Hoo is a grave site and a half, holding a wealth of interesting and rich artefact's. These artefacts have helped historians understand the Anglo-Saxon period to a greater depth.
The site consists of around 20 barrows, which vary in size, content and condition. Controlled excavation of the site began in 1939 where the markings of a ship burial were found. The nature of this ship burial has drawn links with the Old English poem, Beowulf, and the world it portrays.
The ship was found to be the grave of an important figure, thought to be King Rædwald of East Anglia, who reigned between around 599 and 624. He was buried along with over 30 different items which have helped deepen our knowledge of trade, technology, weapons, religion and so much more during the Anglo-Saxon period. Most famous amongst these items is the iconic helmet, which is currently on display at the British Museum. Other items in the grave include a shield, throwing spears, a jewelled hilted sword, silver dish, silver spoons of Byzantine origin, gold coins from Frankish mint, beaver bad with a lyre inside. Archaeologist David M. Wilson has remarked that the metal artworks found in the Sutton Hoo graves were "work of the highest quality, not only in English but in European terms"
Ask most people in the UK, or indeed around the world, what Britain’s most famous prehistoric monument is and Stonehenge is likely to be at the top of most peoples’ lists. The site, located in Wiltshire, England, has captivated people for centuries. In recent years, more and more attention has been given to the landscape around it, which is found to be rich in pre-historic history, but in popular culture is less well known.
Recently, controversy has arisen around the proposed dualling of the A303 and creation of the Stonehenge tunnel, which according to Transport England, will remove traffic from the Stonehenge’s setting, thereby conserving and enhancing the site. On the other hand, opponents to the scheme argue that it would Introduce a massive change to the country’s ‘premier prehistoric landscape’, disturb species such as stone curlew and the great bustard and lower the water table, thereby eradicating the preservation of archaeological remains. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the proposal are, any works will be required to carry out archaeological surveys and this could yield some exciting discoveries.
Such a situation occurred in 2002 when a survey at a development site in Amesbury, just three miles from Stonehenge, revealed an unexpected treasure. Work was taking place where a school was planned to be built when a grave with pottery from the Beaker period, which is dated to around 2,800 to 1,800 BC, was found. Within the grave the archaeologists found the remains of single man, who came to be known as the Amesbury Archer and dubbed by the press as the King of Stonehenge.
The man buried with some of the richest articles from the early Bronze Age. In all, around 100 objects were found in the grave including three copper knives, two small gold hair tresses, two sandstone wristguards (these would have protected his wrist from the bow string), five pots, 16 flint arrowheads, a cushion stone (used for metal working), a bone pin (used to hold together a piece of clothing such as a cloak) and what is thought to be Britain’s first gold objects, dating ack to around 2,500BC. It was because of the worth of the gold that the man was named the ‘King of Stonehenge’ while the items related to archery; the arrow flint heads and wrist guards led to the skeleton being known as the Amesbury Archer.
Parts of the skeleton were tested which showed he was aged between 35 and 45 at the time of his death. From the enamel on teeth it was discovered that he had grown up in central Europe within the Alps region and it is unknown when he moved to Britain. From the skeleton it was possible to tell that he was strongly built but a nasty abscess on his jaw as well has having an injury to his left knee cap, which had been ripped off, probably leaving him with a nasty and lingering bone infection.
The find was important as it was the first example of what is thought to be a person in power. The time of his burial seems to coincide with the erection of the main stones at Stonehenge and it is possible that he had an important role in its creation. Certainly, his mourners clearly considered him important enough to be buried near to (if not in the immediate area of) Stonehenge. An alternative hypontheisis is that the skeleton is that of a pilgrim to Stonehenge who was there to draw on the 'healing properties' of the bluestones.
However, his grave is of particular importance because of its connections with Continental Europe and early copper smelting technology. He is believed to have been one of the earliest gold metalworkers in Britain and his discovery supports interpreters who claim that the diffusion of Beaker Culture pottery was the result of population movement, rather than just the widespread adoption of an artefact 'package'.
His skeleton is now on display at the Salisbury Museum:
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Located in The Fens of Cambridgshire are the remains of a Bronze Age settlement known as Must Farm, named after the quarry in which they were found. Discovered in 1999 when a local archaeologist noticed a series of wooden posts sticking out of the quarry’s edge, the site has since been subject to a programme of excavations, which have revealed many incredibly well preserved artefacts that give us a real glimpse into life during the Bronze Age.
The excavations paint a very different environment at Must Farm to the one that exists today. Sometime around 1,000-800BC a series of piles, or stilts, were sunk into a river channel on top of which houses were built. Around the edge of the settlement a palisade, consisting of large ash posts, was constructed in situ, leaving the debris at the bottom of the slow-moving river.
What is remarkable is that at some point, perhaps as little as six months, after the settlement was built a fire tore through it, causing the homes and to collapse and drop into the river below. In the water the flames were immediately quenched as the homes dropped to the riverbed, where they were then covered with layers of non-porous silt, preserving everything from wooden utensils to textiles. It is this degree of preservation which makes the site so special and gives us an unprecedented insight into life during the Bronze Age.
Other objects found included a large wooden wheel (reported to be the most complete and earliest of its type in Britain), eight Bronze Age log boats, glass beads from main land Europe, and a bronze sickle. Must Farm also has the largest, and finest, collection of textiles from the British Bronze Age. The fibres and fabrics are incredibly useful to study as they reflect different aspects of the production of textiles, from the initial stages through to the finished objects. The finds indicate that the occupants were not isolated but had a good connection with those living in Britain and beyond.
Analysis of the materials recovered from Must Farm are still underway and you can follow progress over at the project’s website:
Recently, Must Farm was subject to a BBC documentary, which can still be found on iPlayer and is well worth a watch:
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
New Project - Dun Deardail
We are delighted to announce that Brick to the Past have been commissioned by Nevis Partnership to build a minifigure scale model of Dun Deardail hillfort for permanent display at Glen Nevis Visitor Centre.
Dun Deardail occupies a striking position on a rocky knoll above Glen Nevis and is surrounded by the often snow-capped peaks of the West Highlands. To its east it is overlooked by Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain and to its north, Glen Nevis unfolds, revealing the historic town of Fort William. The hillfort is thought to have been built and occupied, perhaps over several periods, between 700 BC and AD 900 and is unusual because the stones that once made up its walls have been vitrified. Vitrification is the process by which stones are fused together at temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius. It is uncertain why vitrification took place, but current theories tend to see it as either an act of aggression following capture or as ‘ritual closure’ at the end of the site’s active life, akin to the destruction of many Neolithic ritual monuments.
Nevis Landscape Partnership have been running an ambitious project to excavate the Dun Deardail. Working closely with Forestry Commission Scotland & AOC Archaeology, they aim to uncover the mysteries surrounding this ancient settlement and have got hundreds of ‘citizen archaeologists’ involved in the work. You can find out more in this video.
The Fort from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.
The funding to build LEGO Dun Deardail has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Highland Council Discretionary Fund.
We’ll be keeping you up-to-date as we build LEGO Dun Deardail. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter andInstagram for the scoop!
Unveiling the Caithness LEGO Broch
Yesterday saw the unveiling of Caithness Broch Project’s LEGO broch at the Caithness Horizons Museum in Thurso. The model is a Brick to the Past creation, built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum, the former working on the broch itself and the latter the landscape it sits on.
One of the amazing things about this model is the distances it has travelled to get here. While Dan lives in Nethy Bridge near Aviemore, which to be fair is reasonably local in Highland terms, James lives in Devon. This means that a big part of a model that now resides in the most northerly town on the British mainland was created just a stone’s throw away from the English Channel.
The model is 1.4 metres square and reaches a height of about 40 cm. The broch itself is made of approximately 10,000 pieces and the whole model packs in a lots and lots of advanced building techniques. One of the greatest challenges was getting the gently tapered shape of the walls right and Dan admits that the Broch is the most challenging thing he has ever built.
The LEGO broch is just one of many outreach activities Caithness Broch Project have going on in 2017, which is Scotland’s 'Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology'. It will be at the Caithness Horizons Museum all summer but Caithness Broch Project also intend that it visit local schools and clubs to help promote brochs as one of the area’s richest historic and cultural heritage of assets.
Chairman of Caithness Broch Project, Kenneth McElroy said:
"The LEGO broch's main purpose is to encourage people to learn and engage with the archaeology of Caithness. We hope that we can make learning about the heritage of our county exciting and enjoyable.
We also hope that it will let people know about Caithness Broch Project, and what we are aiming towards. We hope to build a much bigger replica broch one day!"
We’re proud of working with this grassroots organisation and hope that our little model will in some small way contribute towards their goal of building a fully sized reconstruction of a broch in Caithness.
The exhibition opens at the Caithness Horizons Museum today and the LEGO broch will be on display at until October 16th.
You can find more about Caithness Broch Project and offer your support by visiting their website:
Thursday saw us traveling to Thurso, the most northerly town on mainland Britain and the home of the superb Caithness Horizons Museum. Our mission was to deliver and set up the now well publicised LEGO broch for Caithness Broch Project, a task which we of course delighted in, because a). it meant that we got yo visit a museum, and b). it meant that we got to play with LEGO. The LEGO broch will now form part of a summer exhibition on, you guessed it, brochs, before being taken on a tour of local schools as part of Caithness Broch Project's exciting outreach program.
We won't give you a full look at the model just yet, there will be a proper press release issued by Caithness Broch Project that will do that. In the meantime, please enjoy our little teaser... and to see more, visit the museum!
Dan Harris has been island hopping in Scotland’s Western Isles, here’s what he found out.
What do you do for a holiday if your country has just heedlessly voted to devalue its own currency? Well one thing is to take a bit of gamble on the weather and look a bit closer to home and, to be fair, when you live in a country that disregards the forecasts of economists about a post-Brexit economy, then disregarding the forecasts of the Met Office is the next logical step, even if years accumulated climatic data and complex mathematical models suggest the odds are stacked against you. And so with unrealistic expectations of a brighter tomorrow, we hopped on the ferry at Ullapool and set sale for the Isle of Lewis.
For those unfamiliar with Scotland’s geography, the Isle of Lewis is the largest island in the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides. More accurately, it is just over half of the largest island in the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides, because confusingly, the southern half is called the Isle of Harris, despite being part of exactly the same landmass.
There are brochs on Lewis, awesome ones.
Situated on Europe’s Atlantic edge, Lewis and Harris are both astonishingly beautiful islands, with everything from vast, white sandy beaches to precipitous, rugged hills and mountains. You might be able to tell, it didn’t really take that much to convince me to visit them, even if the weather was more promising in the Mediterranean. But I’ll pause there, because this isn’t supposed to be some kind of ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ type essay, of the sort you had to write on your first day back at school. No, this is essay is supposed to have some relevance to the Blog and oh what relevance there is!
Not only beautiful, the Outer Hebrides are also home to some of Scotland’s finest archaeological sites and so this trip wasn’t just a holiday, it was also a field trip. There were three sites in particular that we wanted to visit and by happy coincidence, they are all within a few miles of each other, on the western coast of Lewis. Of greatest relevance to our current work was the Dun Carloway Broch. This remarkably complete structure, perhaps second only to Mousa on Shetland, is thought to date from the late first millennium BC and the late Iron Age. It’s south side stands almost intact to what is thought to be its original height of 9 metres. Remarkably, people alive in the 1830s remembered seeing the broch in a near-complete state, roofed over with a large flat stone. The broch has a well preserved entrance, guard cell, intra-mural staircase and cavities, scarcement ledges and ground level chambers. The ground floor of the broch is uneven and contains a large slab of bedrock, suggesting that a second timber floor would have been the main living space. The broch proved an excellent source of first-hand information to help inform the construction of our own Lego Broch for Caithness Broch Project…despite not actually being in Caithness.
Dun Carloway is beautiful.
Just south along the coast is another of Scotland’s best archaeological sites, the Callanish Complex of Standing Stones. These are somewhat older than the Broch, dating back to around 3,000 BC and the Neolithic period. The complex comprises of at least 19 visible monuments as well as many now hidden remains. The best known and best preserved is known as Callanish 1 or Cnoc An Tursa, located just to the west of the village of Calanais. While we don’t have any immediate plans to build any more stone circles, it’s always worth having a few examples stored up, just in case we do decide to. Building an accurate model of Callanish 1 would certainly prove an interesting challenge.
Neolithic stones and highland cows.
The final site visit took us to the island of Beàrnaraigh Mòr, perhaps better known as Great Bernera, which is connected to Lewis via a short bridge. On its northern coast lies the sandy bay of Traigh Bostadh where in 1993, following a severe storm, the remains of a Viking house and older Iron Age village were uncovered. Evidence suggests that the bay was occupied at least as far back as 1,500 years ago by people thought to be Pictish in origin. The Iron Age village proved the most interesting find, comprising of a complex of semi-subterranean, drystone dwellings of a ‘jelly-baby’ shape. The local history society has built a life-size reconstruction of one of these Iron Age dwellings, which can be visited for a small donation. While obviously less ambitious than Caithness Broch Project’s aim to build a life-size reconstruction of a broch, the house is an excellent example of what can be done and of the benefits of recreating historical buildings using traditional methods.
Traigh Bostadh and the reconstructed Iron Age house.
This is how we think the Picts lived; it's all mood lighting & sheepskin rugs.
Since I don’t think you want to hear about my days spent on the beach or wandering the hill country of Harris, this marks the end of my report. As forecasted, the trip ended with driving rain and winds so strong they uprooted our tent, leaving us soaked, cold and in need of alternative accommodation – next year we’ll probably just holiday in Greece.
Dan Harris is a builder for Brick to the Past. He lives in the Scottish Highlands and enjoys hill walking, rock climbing and old piles of stones. All opinions are his own.
This week is National Parks Week in the UK, so we thought it might be a timely moment to bring you an article about why we love them. A strange topic, you might think, for a blog that mostly concerns itself with Lego and photos of decaying piles of stone, but in fact, National Parks provide us with a great deal of inspiration.
Our National Parks aren’t just wildernesses to be preserved like enormous cumbersome museum exhibits, they’re vibrant fluid entities, embracing history and culture as much as nature and conservation. Their landscapes are the product of thousands of years of interaction between man and environment, and it’s this interaction that provides us with the rich and infinitely diverse subject matter that proves so popular in Lego form.
By now I think it’s fair to say that we’re well accustomed to creating massive sprawling landscapes that test our reserves of dark green and reddish brown, but landscapes aren’t just endless expanses of pasture and peat bog, they’re also made of buildings and ruins and of course, decaying piles of stone. To date, our largest model of a National Park’s landscape is 2015’s ‘The Wall: Rome’s Northern Frontier’, a sixteen square metre intricately detailed depiction of Hadrian’s Wall. Some of the Wall’s most iconic and best preserved sections are located within the Northumberland National Park, including Housesteads Roman Fort, which provided much of the source material for our own fort. We of course undertook a field trip to Housesteads, walked a section of the wall, chatted to English Heritage’s knowledgeable staff and generally had a good poke around. The visit proved invaluable and, in our own inflated opinion of our work, it’s reflected in the quality of the build.
2017 will once again see us drawing heavily on the history and landscape of one of Britain’s iconic National Parks. At the moment we’ll leave you guessing as to its identity, but needless to say, we have big plans for this one, it is after all, a big Park. Field trips are already underway; stay tuned for further clues, updates and, in the not too distant future, a big announcement.
Could this blurry snowbound ruin be a thinly-veiled clue to 2017’s big build?
Anyway, the point is we love our National Parks and we love building bits of them. Don’t forget, this week is National Parks Week, so put down your phone, tablet or computer and get out and enjoy one... or two or three if you can manage it.
Field trip season well and truly kicked off this weekend as we ventured north to what is arguably the farthest corner of mainland Britain. On Sunday we were lucky enough to be given a tour of some of the finest Broch sites in Caithness and Sutherland by none other than local Broch experts Ken and Iain from Caithness Broch Project.
Field trips are a valuable part of what we do and despite some mildly grim weather and the occasional cloud of midges, this one was no exception. Brochs on our visit included Nybster, Dunbeath , Kintradwell / Cin Trolla and Carn Liath and they provided us with a wealth of features, some of which are delightfully grizzly, to include in our forthcoming model.
As if having two Broch experts accompany us wasn't enough, we were also lucky enough to bump into AOC Archaeology's John Barber, who has years of experience working in Scotland's historic environment. John is currently undertaking research into the engineering, architecture and conservation of brochs with the University of Edinburgh, so the opportunity to quiz him did not go unmissed.
This may well have been our most productive field trip ever and so now, with our heads full of new found information, it's time to get building... or maybe go on another field trip, because you can't have too much of a good thing.
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