Secret Toilet Discovered In Scottish Castle

castle, Drum Castle
Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists working on a conservation project at Drum Castle near Aberdeen, Scotland, have discovered two secret chambers, one of which includes a medieval toilet complete with its wooden seat.

Drum Castle features a 13th-century castle keep that’s the oldest intact example in Scotland. Besides the hidden toilet, the team found a second secret chamber that’s reputed to have been where one of the men of the clan hid out for three years after the defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The chamber with the toilet was hidden by bookshelves installed in the 19th century, while the second chamber was a real-life safe room for rebellious Scots. Both were found in the medieval keep.

From 1323-1975, Drum Castle was the seat of the Chief of Clan Irvine. In addition to the keep, the property features Jacobean and Victorian additions. It is now open to visitors and is only 10 miles outside Aberdeen. Visitors can see the historic interior and stroll through the surrounding ancient oak woodland, a rare survival of primeval forest that’s been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Archaeologists Digging At Lincoln Castle Uncover Early Christian Community

Lincolnshire County Council

Archaeologists excavating at Lincoln Castle have discovered the remains of an early Christian community, according to a Lincolnshire County Council press release.

The team, which was digging inside the castle to clear the way for an elevator shaft, found the remains of a church that dates back at least 1,000 years. Inside a sealed niche in the wall they found human bones. They had been wrapped in finely woven cloth and while the cloth has long since disappeared, it left its impression on the surrounding mortar. Excavators theorize that these may be the remains of a holy person, as it was common to put relics in church walls and altars in order to make them holy.

An even older find included several skeletons and a stone sarcophagus. The archaeological team is planning to put an endoscopic camera into the coffin to see what’s inside without disturbing it.

%Gallery-188672%Both the cemetery and church date to the Anglo-Saxon period, when England was a patchwork of different kingdoms before the Norman conquest. Lincoln had been a walled Roman town. The Romans left Britain in the early fifth century and were soon replaced by Anglo-Saxons coming from Denmark and northern Germany. They took up residence in Lincoln and many other Roman towns.

The present castle was built by the Normans in 1068 on the foundations of a Roman fort. William the Conqueror, after defeating the English King Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066, built this castle to control the important town of Lincoln and its surrounding area. While the castle has been modified over the centuries, it’s still one of the best-preserved Norman castles anywhere.

The typical Norman castle has a tower on an artificial mound at the center and with a wall encircling it. Lincoln Castle has two mounds, each with its own fortification and a long wall encircling them both. This tough fortification was besieged twice. The second time, in 1216, was during the Baron’s War, which led King John into making concessions to the nobility in the form of the famous Magna Carta. One of the original copies is on display here.

Back in 2010, an earlier excavation uncovered a secret tunnel at Lincoln castle. Excavations continue at in the castle grounds.

If you visit the castle, also check nearby Lincoln Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic building from the 11th century.

Smithsonian Channel To Air Special King Richard III Discovery

The Smithsonian Channel will soon air a documentary about the remarkable discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III in a parking lot in Leicester, England.

“The King’s Skeleton: Richard III Revealed” premieres Sunday, April 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The two-hour show was produced by the only team allowed access to the scientists, the excavation and the lab tests used to determine the skeleton’s identity. The documentary has already aired in the UK and attracted five million viewers. This will be the first American showing.

Gadling received an advance copy of the show. For some background, read our article about Richard III and the discovery. Also check out these amazing photographs from the dig. Our review follows and contains some spoilers. Of course, everyone already knows how the story ends!

%Gallery-185896%The documentary follows the quest of Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society to find the king’s remains, said to have been buried the now-disappeared Greyfriars church in Leicester after he was killed by Henry Tudor’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Research with old maps revealed it to be under a municipal parking lot. Langley raised money from society members and spent years convincing the local council to allow an excavation.

Langley tells of how when walking through the parking lot she felt certain that she had found the spot where Richard lay. Remarkably, the letter “R” was painted on the very same spot. The documentary fails to mention that this R was a symbol for Reserved Parking. Once the excavation begins and a skeleton is found, there’s a sudden downpour. This normal English weather is given a spooky significance by the producers.

Once the paranormal silliness is dispensed with, we get to the real meat: the excavation and meticulous examination of the body. One interesting sequence is of an art historian talking about how later painters commissioned by the new Tudor dynasty made Richard look deformed, which then was considered a sign of moral corruption. This was the origin of the Shakespearean Richard with the hunchback and withered arm.

Then comes an interesting sequence where members of the Richard III society get their say. They’re dedicated to rehabilitating the king’s image, denying he killed his predecessor’s young heirs and denying he had a hunchback. Their main objection to his having a deformity is that he couldn’t have worn armor. Anyone with a passing knowledge of medieval warfare knows that knights and royalty didn’t go to Ye Olde Shopping Mall to buy armor off the rack; it was made to their specific measurements. Try wearing metal plates on your body that aren’t shaped to your dimensions and see how well you can move! This obvious rebuttal wasn’t mentioned in the show, although surely the producers were told this by their scientific advisers. It seems narrative tension is more important than historical clarity.

While I found some segments of the show distracting, historians and archaeologists get plenty of airtime and we learn a bit about how bones are analyzed and how a DNA match with one of Richard’s descendants proved it was him. There’s also some gruesome detail about all the wounds on Richard’s body, including demonstrations of some of the weapons probably used. The army of Henry Tudor repeatedly hacked at Richard and appears to have humiliated his corpse by stabbing him in the rear end. It was a grim end to a short reign.

My wife, a scientist with no special interest in medieval history and perhaps more representative of the target audience than a former archaeologist like me, commented that the documentary could use some more historical background to place Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth into context. This could have been easily done by shaving off some of the more frivolous segments.

Despite these reservations, we both thoroughly enjoyed the show for its stunning imagery, clear narration and scientific detail. We recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the archaeological discovery of the year.

A Medieval Monastery In Estonia

Estonia
Estonia had an interesting time in the Middle Ages. Along with the other Baltic States of Lithuania and Latvia, they were the last bastion of paganism in a continent that had become entirely Christian.

Various Christian kingdoms decided this was a good excuse for conquest and launched the Northern Crusades. From 1208 to 1224, the Germans, Danes, and Swedes attacked Estonia and eventually conquered it.

Once the knights had finished their work, it was time for the clergy to step in. Prominent among these were the Cistercians, one of the most powerful monastic orders of their time. In 1220 they were rewarded with lands at Padise near the important port of Tallinn. They built a small stone chapel there and began expanding it into a large fortified monastery in 1317.

In 1343 the Estonians rose up against their occupiers and burned down Padise Monastery, killing 28 monks. The uprising was crushed and the Cistercians rebuilt the monastery better and stronger than before. It continued being a monastery until 1558, when it became a fortress protecting the landward approach to Tallinn. The building changed hands several times during the region’s many wars. It was besieged twice, the siege in 1580 lasting 13 weeks, during which the defenders (Russians at that moment) got hammered with Swedish artillery and eventually were starved into submission.

%Gallery-180500%In 1622, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden gave the monastery and lands to Thomas Ramm, Burgermeister of Riga, in exchange for Ramm giving up the city to the king’s army. I suppose the Ramm family wasn’t very welcome in Riga after that.

I visited on a quiet, gloomy winter afternoon as part of a day trip with Tallinn Traveller Tours, after a morning spent chasing the Estonian Army. Mart, my guide, led me up some slick icy steps to the top of the tower to look out over the snowy countryside. Somehow I managed not to slip and fall to my death. Writing for you people always seems to send me up unsafe heights. At least it wasn’t as bad as the minaret in Samarra.

After we made it down safely, Mart took me around the castle grounds.

“Imagine being a kid here,” he said. “We all played like we were knights in castles, but the kids around here get the real thing.”

Lots of Estonian kids are lucky that way. Forts, manor houses, and monasteries abound in the Estonian countryside. This area was fought over for centuries yet the Estonians managed to keep their distinct language and national character. Eventually they managed to get independence too.

We entered the great hall, once used for meals and services, and admired the fine arches and carved columns. From there we explored the dark, chilly cellar, where a centuries-old oven was still black from baking bread for the monks.

“Look at this,” Mart said, shining is mobile phone light on the wall.

A mosquito was perched on the cold stone.

“I’m surprised it’s still alive,” I said.

“I should kill it,” Mart said. “I hate those things. They swarm around you all summer.”

He left it alone. I was glad. I’ve always respected survivors.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming Up Next: Gifts from Estonia!

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Search Is On For Another Lost Medieval English King

medievalIn the wake of the media blitz around the discovery of King Richard III’s remains under a parking lot in Leicester, England, archaeologists have announced they’re looking for another medieval English king.

The Times reports that archaeologists are seeking permission to exhume an unmarked grave at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Hyde, Winchester, that they think contains the remains of King Alfred the Great.

Alfred ruled from 871-899 and helped consolidate the patchwork of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into a unified country. He spent much of his reign fighting off the Vikings and establishing a legal code.

Alfred’s remains were buried in Winchester Cathedral and later moved to nearby Hyde Abbey. In the 19th century, an amateur archaeologist explored the altar of this abbey and dug up what he thought were Alfred’s bones. The vicar of St. Bartholomew’s later bought them for ten shillings and reburied them.

Records show there are five skulls and various other bones in the grave. While radiocarbon dating them and determining the age and sex is a simple affair, proving that one of them is Alfred will be a lot more difficult. In the dig in Leicester, the archaeologists were able to find direct descendants of Richard III to supply DNA for testing. Alfred lived centuries before Richard, however, and this makes it tricky to find a direct descendant.

The Diocese of Winchester said in a statement that the matter is being looked into.

Alfred left an enduring mark on the English consciousness. Many places bear his name, including places he probably never visited such as Alfred’s Castle on the Ridgeway Trail. It’s said Alfred defeated the Vikings nearby in 871. In fact the “castle” is a hill fort dating to about the sixth century B.C. If you’re in Oxford, go to the Ashmolean Museum and check out the Alfred jewel, made by order of the king himself and shown here courtesy John W. Schulze.