Day 28 – Filling a gap in our knowledge of Ethelburga’s monastery

It may not look very much but this is a very important piece of pottery.  It comes from a sealed layer in a pit in the trench we have opened to the east of the War Memorial in the New Churchyard, and it appears to be Middle Saxon, dating probably to the mid 7th Century.

08-aug-pot-from-war-memorial-trench-2.jpg

What this means is that it is dating the pit, and more importantly the structure of which it is part.  This allows us to say that there was a building between the edge of the monastic enclosure further up the hill explored in 2008-10 and the church.  Thus we are starting to get a picture of activity across the whole site, and this is looking to be broadly contemporary with Queen Ethelburga who died around 647.

08 Aug war memorial trench 2

The sherd, with two others, came from one of the pits in the picture above.

08 Aug war memorial trench 2 2

In this trench, east of the War Memorial, there is a post hole (on the left of the picture above) and then next to it what could either be a beam slot or a drainage gulley.  A beam slot would have held a horizontal timber cut with mortice holes to take the tenon of a series of upright timbers.  This would have formed the framework of a wall that then would have been filled with wattle and daub.  We have found fragments of daub in this trench.  Alternatively, the post hole might have held a post that was part of the framework of a wall.  This would have supported a roof, probably of thatch, and the drainage gulley would have caught rain water running off the roof.  Either way, this is suggesting a structure in the middle of the churchyard.

The plan below shows the areas of Lyminge that have now been dug archaeologically and where Anglo-Saxon activity has been found.  The edge of the monastic enclosure is to the bottom of the ringed area containing the church, which is highlighted black.  What this plan illustrates very well is that the current discoveries by the War Memorial fall midway between the edge of the monastic enclosure and the church itself.  The find of structures is a strong indication that the whole of this area was occupied and full of activity, and this was so from at least the mid 7th Century.  If this is the case, then it seems highly likely that what we are now uncovering are elements of the monastery founded by Queen Ethelburga, widow of King Edwin of Northumbria, in or around 634, following her return to Kent.  Up to now, there has been debate about whether a monastery could have been founded in Lyminge this early.  The case is now looking good that this was what happened, making Lyminge one of the earliest, if not the earliest, monastery founded in Anglo-Saxon England.

Anglo Saxon Lyminge

Finally, we hope to be able to share some aerial shots of the site with you in the near future as we had a drone on site today.

08-aug-drone.jpg

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