Description

This cremation urn — one of over 1800 found in an early medieval cemetery at Loveden Hill, Lincolnshire — bears an inscription cut in runes. About 20 objects with runic inscriptions dating before c. 650 are known from England, making this urn one of the very earliest pieces of evidence for the English language. Comparison with similarly shaped cremation urns from other cemeteries suggests that the Loveden Hill urn dates from the second half of the 5th century.

Cut into the clay when it was still soft, the runes on the urn spell out what could be a female personal name, sïþæbæd, followed by nine more letters of uncertain meaning, perhaps including the Old English word hlæw or ‘tomb’.

The letter-cutter was probably right-handed, turning the pot as they cut the text. It is not known whether sïþæbæd was the maker of the pot or the person whose remains were stored within it. sïþæbæd’s name can be seen when the pot is viewed from above, and so would have been visible to the mourners when the urn was placed in the ground prior to burial.

Intriguingly, the clay used to make the urn seems not to be from a local source, and so it, and the burned bones it contained, could have been brought to Loveden Hill from elsewhere.

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