18 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Origin of Ivory Rings Found in Elite Anglo-Saxon Burials

An elite class of ancient Anglo-Saxon women were buried with hundreds of ivory rings, and the origin of these ivory rings has long remained a mystery. Ivory rings found in England have origins from African elephants according to a new study.

In a new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, researchers were able to use biomolecular analysis to trace the origin of hundreds of ivory bag rings found at dozens of ancient burial sites of Anglo-Saxon women.

Long thought to be the ivory from mammoth or walrus specimens, the new research shows that the ivory, in fact, came from Africa around the fifth or sixth century CE. This means that the ivory was actually sourced nearly 4,000 miles (6,400 km) away from the cemeteries in which the Anglo-Saxon ivory rings were found.

Given what is known about travel and trade in the first millennium AD, this is an extraordinary distance for ivory to have been transported. Despite the incredible distance, this remarkable discovery suggests that a trading network connecting Eastern Africa and Western Europe must have existed at the time.

“Through a multi-methodological approach, we have established that the ivory used for the Scremby bag rings came from elephants living in an area of young volcanic rocks in Africa at some point during the 5th and 6th centuries AD,” the researchers write. “This preliminary evidence allows us to consider the networks and socio-economic factors that facilitated the distribution of ivory from Africa to the British Isles at this time.”

A well-preserved ivory bag ring from the an Anglo-Saxon burial at Scremby in Lincolnshire. Photo: ©Hugh Willmott
A well-preserved ivory bag ring from the an Anglo-Saxon burial at Scremby in Lincolnshire. Photo: ©Hugh Willmott

The ivory rings were found in the graves of women as part of the assortment of grave goods left in the grave with their bodies.

The rings themselves are somewhat enigmatic, as they resemble rings worn on fingers in shape but are much too large to have fulfilled that purpose. This indicates they were not jewelry and must have been used for something else. The rings are believed to have been part of bags that were hung from the women’s hips.

“Since most rings have been recovered near the hip, it is thought that the bags were suspended from the waist alongside other objects such as iron knives, pairs of copper alloy girdle hangers, and iron ‘latch lifters’,” the authors write.

A single bag ring that was taken from an early Anglo-Saxon burial and discovered in an old cemetery close to the village of Scremby in Lincolnshire was subjected to a thorough analysis by a team of UK researchers. This cemetery was in use from the late fifth through the early sixth centuries, and the ring was one of seven removed from excavated Anglo-Saxon graves.

North Africa and a large part of Great Britain were both part of the Roman Empire for centuries, so it would make sense that there would be some residual trade ties even after the fall of Rome. Why the trade appeared to end in the 700s isn’t known.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103943

Related Articles

The Nightmare of the Roman Soldiers “Carnyx”

9 July 2023

9 July 2023

The Carnyx was a brass musical instrument used as a psychological weapon of war by the ancient Celts between 300...

Archaeologists have found an intriguing Iron Age “shrine” in the Yorkshire Wolds

19 September 2021

19 September 2021

Archaeologists have discovered an interesting ancient Iron Age “shrine” in the Yorkshire Wolds, which was marked out by meticulously placed...

Analysis of 13,000-Year-Old Bones Reveals Violent Raids in Prehistoric ‘Jebel Sahaba’

28 May 2021

28 May 2021

Since its discovery in the 1960s, the 13-millennium-old Jebel Sahaba cemetery (Nile Valley, Sudan) has been regarded as one of...

New research determines portable toilets of the ancient Roman world

11 February 2022

11 February 2022

New research published today reveals how archeologists can determine when a pot was used by Romans as a portable toilet,...

6,000-year-old island settlement found off the Croatian coast

24 June 2021

24 June 2021

Archaeologist Mate Parica, a professor at the University of Zadar, noticed something unusual while examining satellite images of Croatia‘s coastline....

Earliest evidence for intestinal parasites in the UK came from Stonehenge

20 May 2022

20 May 2022

Researchers think they have discovered the earliest evidence for intestinal parasites in the UK. Ancient poop found at the site...

New study reveals Dog ancestry can be traced back to two separate wolf populations

30 June 2022

30 June 2022

An international group of geneticists and archaeologists with participation of the University of Potsdam have found that the ancestry of...

Scientists reveal new discovery inside the Pyramid of Khufu

20 March 2023

20 March 2023

An Egyptian pyramid for 4,500 years is still spilling secrets. After a years-long project using modern technology to reveal the...

A unique gold brooch talisman with inscriptions in Latin and Hebrew was found in the UK

19 February 2022

19 February 2022

A Medieval gold annular brooch with prayerful inscriptions has been discovered in the parish of Manningford in Wiltshire, in the...

Mysterious and Life-size camel carvings have been found in Saudi Arabian desert

4 October 2023

4 October 2023

Archaeologists have found life-size camel carvings on a rock near the southern border of Saudi Arabia’s Nafud desert. The Neolithic...

Freshwater and marine shells used as ornaments 30,000 years ago discovered in Spain

7 June 2023

7 June 2023

In Malaga’s Cueva de Ardales, up to 13 freshwater and marine shells that were carefully transformed by humans between 25,000...

Unique Scythian glass pendants found in the Poltava region of Ukraine

8 October 2021

8 October 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed unique amphora-shaped pendants near the town of Kotelva in the Poltava oblast of central Ukraine. A team...

Underwater excavations start at 1,700-year-old ancient Black Sea port Kerpe

20 September 2021

20 September 2021

The traces of the ancient harbor on the Black Sea coast of Kerpe, in Kocaeli’s Kandıra district, are being brought...

A Large Roman Building Discovered on the Limmat

13 April 2024

13 April 2024

In the Steinacher area (Canton of Aargau) on the Limmat there was a Roman settlement that was significantly larger than...

World’s Smallest Stegosaurus Track Found

14 March 2021

14 March 2021

The smallest trace of stegosaurus in the world that lived 155 million years ago was found. Stegosaurus, a herbivorous dinosaur,...