Votive Offerings


Iron Age to Medieval, River Witham, Fiskerton, Lincolnshire, England.

Complete swords were thrown into the river as votive offerings as recently as the time that Geoffrey Chaucer was alive.

'Imagine yourself as a Medieval knight,' said Miranda. 'Perhaps, John of Gaunt, or one of his retainers, or even Geoffrey Chaucer in his later years.'

Quintin had paid for a taxi ride out to Fiskerton, just a few miles from Lincoln Railway Station, but the wind had started to blow across the flatland, the afternoon was drawing in and the banks of the river Witham seemed very bleak to him at this moment. A sudden call of ducks filled the air.

'Medieval?' he answered, not understanding.

'Well, you know that many hundreds of swords and shields and spears must still remain to be discovered in the peat that used to be at the bottom of this river and all the other deposits at the bottom of it now? And you know the most intriguing thing?'

'The Witham shield discovered here in 1826, dated to around 350 BC. The wooden causeway over there,' he nodded to his left, 'built and maintained between 457–317 BC, according to the dendrochronology, and lying amongst a mass of votive offerings, including six swords, eleven spears, woodworking and metalworking tools, all dated to the early-to-middle Iron Age. Many had been deliberately broken before being thrown into the water. There were even two wooden boats, not sunken wrecks but ones that were unused and had been pegged into position as votive offerings.’

'And all associated with a causeway,' replied Miranda, enthusiastically. 'There are other ancient causeways along this river, too, and swords were thrown into the water as offerings around some of them, during the Iron Age, the Roman occupation, the Viking age and even as recently as the medi...'

Quintin gave a start. 'Oh I see!'

'Medieval,' she said.

'Are you sure?'

'Absolutely. An unbroken chain of observance.' She delved into her rucksack, took out a dog-eared archaeological paperback and flicked through it until she came near to the end. The latest depositions are of complete swords that were placed in the water in the fourteenth century, or later, she read. 'Something must still have been important to some wealthy and influential people in the late Middle Ages, since ...these people were prepared to make substantial financial sacrifices to honour their beliefs.

'God!' exclaimed Quintin.

'Or goddess,' said Miranda.

Speculation based upon discoveries on the River Witham in Lincolnshire, England, described in: Pryor, Francis, 2004. Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons. HarperCollinsPublishers. Chapter 8, The Making of the English Landscape, pp 191–219. See also: Pryor, Francis, 2003. Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans. HarperCollinsPublishers. Chapter 11: Men of Iron (the Early Iron Age: 700–150 BC), pp 320–67.

See for yourself

Votive offering – Wikipedia

Fiskerton – Wikipedia

River Witham Sword – Wikipedia


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