Faith

British metal detectorists unearth artifacts from medieval churches… | news report

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Much has been written about religious life in medieval times, but thanks to the British love of metal detectors, archaeologists are hoping to assess how much more has gone unwritten.

Earlier this month, the University of Reading announced that the British Arts and Humanities Research Council had awarded it one million pounds ($1,245,330) to study the role of religion in medieval life, for which the university will employ a unique source of data: the findings of amateur metal detector users who have registered with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Programme.

The museum project was founded more than 20 years ago, in part to calm archaeologists’ fears that amateur metal detector users were tampering with the historical record.

“At the time, there was a boom in metal detecting, with many archaeological finds discovered, and there really was no mechanism to record them,” Michael Lewis, director of the scheme, told Religion News Service. “So the Portable Antiquities Scheme was created to provide a mechanism, on a voluntary basis, to record all other types of discoveries that have been found.”

Since then, metal detecting enthusiasts in Britain have had more than a few minutes of fame thanks to a BBC programme. Detectoristswhich debuted in 2014. Detectorists It wasn’t his only time in the spotlight; Three programs about the hobby specifically in Great Britain came to light. Detect history list of their 10 “Best Metal Detecting TV Shows”.

While archaeologists once feared the trend would hinder their work, they now see it as another way to better understand our past.

“The reason we are interested in this is that sources of archaeological evidence increasingly show us that in the medieval period a lot of things happened that were not recorded in historical documents,” said Roberta Gilchrist, who directs the program at the Reading University.

“What we know about religion is through the lens of written sources, largely through the church and the male priesthood,” Gilchrist explained. “We hope to be able to use archaeological evidence to get more information from the people who left no documents. For example, ordinary women, children or men.”

Through the plan, metal detectorists can record their finds at the museum, including the exact coordinates and conditions of where they were found. Some then choose to donate the artifacts; others keep them in private collections.

Image: Courtesy of the British Museum Portable Antiquities Program / RNS

Flask used by pilgrims to contain holy water.

So far it has resulted in a database of more than 1.5 million entries, several hundred thousand of which date back to the late medieval period.

“What we’re particularly looking at is the material culture associated with medieval pilgrimage,” Gilchrist said, especially the pilgrim badges that were produced as souvenirs for Christian shrines at the time, as well as the metal vials that were used to hold water. blessed

“These were actually very cheap objects made of a lead-tin alloy. But there are thousands of these things,” Gilchrist said, “and we can map them because metal detectors now, when they find them, they all have GPS on their phones and can give you a very precise indication of where they are. find these things.”

The patterns they find give clues to centuries-old practices. A high concentration of insignia related to a certain saint found on a historic road may indicate a previously unknown pilgrimage route. Blisters regularly found at the edges of farms and fields suggest that farmers used holy water to bless crops.

“We very rarely find (blisters) in excavated sites in towns or cities. But we have hundreds of these showing up in plowed fields,” Gilchrist explained. “Often they are intact objects, but the top has been torn off or, in some cases, chewed off, so the kind of theory is that these things are being used in some kind of agricultural ritual.”

There are written records that speak of large-scale ceremonies in which priests carried crosses and other relics to village fields, but nothing on an individual level.

Existing records also tend to reflect what was happening in the cities. “Most of the finds we record are made by metal detecting, and metal detector users generally search in the countryside, on arable sites, and not in cities,” said the British Museum’s Lewis. “In the countryside, people live differently, and people in the countryside are likely to be less wealthy than those in cities.”

The project will also examine two major changes in society and religion in medieval Britain: the Black Death and the Protestant Reformation.

“It will be really interesting to see in a general sense what the impact of these kinds of changes in society were on material culture,” Lewis said.

“What we are trying to do here is something that is actually quite complicated. what we are trying [to do] “It is understanding – through these objects – how people relate to the divine in many different ways,” he added.



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