Archaeological monitoring and excavation was undertaken during topsoil stripping for a works compound and pipeline construction corridors for two new sewers to the north of Adwick-le-Street near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, associated with the nearby Red House Park development scheme. The work was carried out during late January 2001 for Earth Tech-Morrison on behalf of Yorkshire Water Services Ltd. However, the results of the excavation are only now being made public to coincide with the recent purchase of the artefacts and site archive by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council Museums Service with the assistance of the Resource/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.
A geophysical survey of the site had shown that the proposed works compound area contained archaeological features including part of a rectilinear ditched enclosure, parallel trackway ditches and groups of smaller anomalies possibly representing pits or burials. The two pipeline corridors contained anomalies representing field and trackway ditches forming parts of a ‘brickwork’ field system of probable Romano-British date enclosing wide areas in the vicinity of Doncaster. As far as possible, the construction scheme was re-designed so as to avoid known archaeological features.
The watching brief confirmed the presence of small, rock-cut field ditches crossing the pipeline corridors, although no dating evidence was recovered from these features. Within the works compound area, one of the small, parallel trackway ditches produced sherds of Roman greyware pottery of 3rd or 4th-century date, fragments of a dog skull and a fragment of lead sheet.
Cutting the fill of one of the trackway ditches was a plough-damaged grave which produced fragmentary skeletal remains and an assemblage of copper alloy and iron grave goods typical of a female Scandinavian burial of the Viking period. The grave was orientated from north-east to south-west, with the head to the south-west and the body probably in an extended supine position. The grave goods included a plough-damaged copper alloy bowl, a non-matching pair of oval ‘tortoise’ brooches (front cover) and fragments of an iron knife and a key or latch-lifter. Other objects might previously have been removed by ploughing.
Analysis of the skeletal remains suggested that they were from an adult woman aged at least 33-45 years. Isotope analysis of teeth suggests that the individual originated in the Trondheim area of Norway.
The bronze bowl was probably originally positioned within the foot end of the grave. It was 180-190mm in diameter and probably a little over 50mm deep with a simple everted rim. It is made from a circle of sheet metal, beaten to shape and finished on some sort of turning equipment. There is an incised lattice pattern in the lower part of the bowl on the inner surface. The bowl falls into Trotzig’s C-vessel group, probably made in the Celtic areas of the British Isles in the 7th-10th centuries.
The iron knife had a straight back sloping down towards the tip, at an angle to the tang, and retains remains of a wooden handle. Typologically it falls into Ottaway’s category C3, largely limited to the 9th to llth centuries and found in England within the Danelaw and more widely in Scandinavia. The knife was found by the woman’s left upper arm, but if a cord on the back of one of the brooches represents the suspension cord, it will originally have hung on the right-hand side, and will have fallen to the left as the body was placed in the grave. An incomplete iron latch-lifter or key was found at the foot of the grave.
The non-matching pair of oval brooches are only the fourth pair to have been recovered in England and the first since 1867. Typologically they are the earliest, the design and condition of the brooches suggesting a date for the burial towards the end of the 9th century. They are both members of Peterson’s brooch series P37, one being a common pan-Scandinavian type, P37:3, and one a later and more typically Norse P37:12. They are made of slightly different copper-zinc alloys (brasses) and have a single-shelled cast construction with iron pins; they van- in size, one being 102mm and the other 97mm in length. The cast decoration on the brooches consists of bands of fretwork dividing the surface into eight compartments decorated with animals and human heads. Originally the intersections of the fretwork bands will have been decorated with bosses, possibly of silver, although these had either been lost during use or removed prior to burial. The flange around the edge of one of the brooches had been plated in wThite metal. The hinge-pin support on one of the brooches had been broken and repaired. This type of brooch was exclusively Scandinavian in origin, forming a standard part of the dress of a free-born woman. This consisted, at its simplest, of a full-length linen chemise, over which was worn a length of fabric wrapped around under the arms. The outer fabric had loops attached at the top edge, long loops at the back and short loops at the front, which were fastened by the pairs of oval brooches. Fragmentary remains of this clothing, including the linen loops, were preserved around the pins of the two Adwick brooches. This style of clothing would have looked entirely alien to the women of Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire. In the 9th century they would be wearing a long-sleeved gown, which stretched from neck to foot and did not require any brooches.
The Adwick-le-Street burial seems to belong to the period of Viking settlement and consolidation in the late 9th century. In England as a whole, there is only a scattering of identifiable Viking burials, and women are very poorly represented in this group. Even the other three burials with paired oval brooches (at Bedale in North Yorkshire, Santon Downham in Norfolk and Claughton Hall, Lancashire) cannot be confidently identified as female and there is as yet nothing to compare fully with the Adwick woman and her traditional pagan Scandinavian burial. No evidence was recovered to suggest why the woman was buried where she was, although Roman or post-Roman inhumations and cremations have previously been recorded nearby. Place name evidence shows that parts of the Doncaster area had become heavily populated by Scandinavian settlers by the time she died. She may have come from one of the farms newly settled by Scandinavians in the area, or she and the companions who buried her may have been in transit between the Humber estuary and Lincoln. Whatever the story behind her death, she represents the earliest evidence for a Viking woman in Yorkshire.
Some historical back-ground from Soceage to Sanbeck. An article I wrote in 2000 about the area around Laughton, twenty miles south of Doncaster
Viking raids started in 841 and continued until 876 when the Viking ‘Great Army’ founded their five boroughs, two of which were Lincoln and Nottingham. Large numbers of Danes settled in the area and it became one of the most Scandinavian parts of the Danish territory called Danelaw. For a hundred years the Danes settled and cleared the area and their Scandinavian place names are found everywhere. Here is a selection from our locality:
Firbeck – Frith (wood) Bekkr Stream, Dyscarr – Kjarr Marsh Sandbeck – Sandy stream Brands (Farm) – A place cleared by burning Langold – Long shelter Anston – (originally Anestari) Single stone Burrs (Farm)- Rabbit Lotties (Originally from Loft House Close-Viking for a house with a loft) Thwaite – Meadow or clearing Lindrick -Lime-tree strip Maltby – Malti’s farmstead
Old field names around Firbeck are particularly Scandinavian:
(Jowkill Close – Viking gaukr Cuckoo, Kemp Spot (Viking spot -piece of land) Pingle – (Viking pingel – enclosure) Screed, Viking Skrilh – a landslide) Ganghill – (V. gang – a cattle-path) Farwath – (V. vath – ford), Reins Plantation – (V. Rein – park), Ryddings – (V. Rydding – clearing) The strange Wong at Tickhill is nothing to do with the Chinese but is Viking for meadow. Slade Hooton is the farm hoh on the spur of land overlooking the valley slaed .
The Vikings, contrary to their earlier – and justified- lawless image, established a settled system of government across the area. It was centred on the annual assembly (Viking – thing) on the moor (Viking Mor) or Morthyng which was held at Morthen between Laughton and Rotherham.
Control of the kingdom swung between the English and the Vikings and this area was gradually brought under the control of Alfred the Saxon Door at All Great’s son, Edward the Elder, and his successor Aethelstan who was
acknowledged as ruler of both Danes and Anglo-Saxons. To promote this
unity, the kings worked hard to establish a common currency, the penny, The main mint was in York.
A generation of prosperous Anglo-Danes gradually exerted their influence on the area. Edwin, Earl of Mercia, an Anglo-Danish nobleman. must have been a powerful and wealthy man. He probably built 01 enlarged All Saints Church (the dedication is often an indication of a Saxon foundation). It is chiefly famous for its wonderful 14th spire but also an impressive Romanesque north door with massive red Rotherham stone lintel, a clear reminder of how large Edwin’s church must have been.
The church at Laughton dominated a huge parish which included
Woodsetts, Firbeck and Letwell and established boundaries which are still present today. North Anston and a large part of Dinnington belonged to S: Peter’s, the Minster church at Conisbrough. Possibly there was a daughter chapel at Letwell. A late medieval map shows the field next to St. Peter’s as Kirk Feld. The Scandinavian for church (church is an Anglo-saxon word) is Kirk and this is good evidence for a church on the site in this period, though no other evidence has been found.
As the century went on further Viking raids intensified. Perhaps the defences at Laughton date from this time and by 1013, London itself had succumbed to the raids of King Swein who was soon succeeded by his son. Canute. Canute, despite the famous story of the waves, was an able administrator and England enjoyed peace during his twenty year reign. 3 years: after his death, dispute over the succession began to ferment, swinging back between Saxon and Viking, and this was to come to a climactic conlusion thirty years later.