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Friday, 19 September 2014

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Scrap of wool unravels Christian church find

A tiny scrap of wool found during an archaeological dig in Maryport has unlocked a piece of history.

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MARYPORT DIG: Site director Tony Wilmott, left, and Professor Ian Haynes last summer

Archaeologists revealed this week that the dig at Camp Farm last summer has unearthed what appears to be a Christian church, dating back to the 5th or 6th century.

Experts believe the possible church, built in an east-west direction, was positioned so it could be seen at Whithorn, the cradle of Christianity in Scotland, on the other side of the Solway Firth.

They revealed their findings exclusively to a Maryport audience crowded into the town’s Senhouse museum on Tuesday night.

Tony Wilmott, site director, said that volunteers on the dig had discovered what appeared to be Christian long cist graves. In one they found fragments of bone and a tooth.

Forensic work has since discovered that the remains may be of an individual, possibly a girl, aged about 14 but was unable to carbon date the remains.

He added: “However, one of the graduate students, Lauren Proctor, discovered a small fragment of textile while processing soil samples from one of the graves.

“It was a tiny piece of wool no bigger than my fingernail. The remarkable thing was that it has survived all these centuries.”

Radiocarbon dating indicated that the fleece was probably sheared between AD 240 and AD 340, placing it in a late Roman context.

Dig director Professor Ian Haynes, of Newcastle University, said: “This is big news. Maryport was already an important site.

“The discovery of pits containing altars in 1870 led to a belief that these stones were ritually buried by the Roman army. This is something that became accepted.

“What we discovered was that the altars were actually buried as ballast to support the large posts used for the church buildings.”

He added that activity at the church site may well have begun before 410 AD and that a Latin-using Christian community occupied the hill top for some decades afterwards.

Mr Wilmott said: “In the end, the least unlikely explanation is that the structures include a Christian church.”

Have your say

A Latin-using community of Christians? 410 A.D. sounds possibly a bit early for that, A.D. 240 - 340 most definitely too early. What evidence is cited for this conclusion?

Posted by Geoff on 8 March 2013 at 15:50

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