Dr Stephen Sherlock has found an abundance of archaeology at Loftus, including a Saxon Princess
I first met Dr Stephen Sherlock – Steve – many years ago, when he led an archaeology walk on the North York Moors to visit Bronze Age burial mounds.
He revealed that we see all this Bronze Age activity on the Moors, not because the Moors were more popular to live than the lowlands at that time, but because later activity hasn’t obliterated these signs of life thousands of years ago as it has in the lowlands.
So, you might expect, dig down anywhere, and you’d find evidence of earlier human activity. But it doesn’t always happen, “You could dig in some places, and find nothing,” comments Steve.
So his findings at Street House, near Loftus, have been extraordinary. So far, he’s discovered a Neolithic/Bronze Age timber circle – ‘think Seahenge’ – Bronze Age Burial mounds, an Iron Age settlement, a Roman Villa, and a Saxon graveyard.
Last summer, he dug up enough of a Roman Villa to think
important lived there. But there’s more – a tantalising corridor leading to – what? He’s going back next summer to find out more.
Such a prolonged period of occupation indicates, he says, “That people are returning to redefine a significant area.”
“There are other sites like it, with a depth of occupation – Sutton Hoo, for instance. But none of these places now are special. After the Norman Conquest, they made new towns, in places that were not previously the focus.”
What gave Steve the clue to Street House’s significance was the quality of the jewels in a Saxon grave. Experts are convinced that it was the grave of a Saxon Princess. Her story, and jewels, are now on show at the nearby Kirkleatham Museum.
Meanwhile, Steve continues to study the site. He’s uncovered evidence of Iron Age industries, including a salt works. He comments, “They were bringing sea water up and evaporating it in open hearths. It’s the only place in Yorkshire or Durham that we can prove this was happening.”
The salt was distributed as far as Scotch Corner and Durham, and Steve says, “They had a wide circle of trade networks”
Casually, he adds that he thinks they may have used jet shale, a form of coal, for fuel, and comments, “Sites in this area at that time seem to have been receptive to new technologies. They moved to Spelt, a form of wheat that gave better yields. Two hundred years earlier, they’d been receptive to the introduction of Iron Technology.”
Now he’s investigating a newly-discovered high temperature Iron Age industrial site, to elucidate what was being made.
By the Saxon era, he thinks the site was an important seat of power: close to Whitby Abbey, and burial place of a Princess.
The style of the Princess’ burial was at the crossover between the earlier, pagan, habits of the Saxons and the more modern, Christian habits. Steve has excavated an earlier graveyard in Norton, and says, “The graves in Norton reflected the past, where the Saxons came from. But the graves at Street House reflect their new aspirations, and where they want to go.”
He’s going back next year to carry on digging. There’s the Roman Villa to explore. And if there’s a Saxon graveyard, is there a Saxon village? Or, given that there’s a Princess in the graveyard, is there a palace nearby?
Whatever will Dr Sherlock find next?
Steve explains more about his discoveries in the January 2013 issue of Yorkshire Ridings Magazine
Steve has described the jewels from the Saxon Graveyard in detail on his blog at www.loftussaxonprincess.wordpress.com
See the jewels for real at Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum,TS10 5NW,
www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk/museums, Tel 01642 479500
Or read Steve’s new book, A Royal Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Street House, Loftus, North-East Yorkshire, available from the Museum