Medieval bloodletting bowls and beer mugs found in Oxford

A treasure trove of artefacts uncovered in Oxford has revealed what life was once like at the city's prestigious university. In one of Britain's largest ever urban excavations, experts have found carving knives (bottom), cooking pots (top left) and ceramic beer mugs (top right)
SHARE THIS ARTICLE
  • 321
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
    321
    Shares

Medieval bloodletting bowls and beer mugs found in Oxford:

A treasure trove of 10,000 artifacts uncovered in Oxford has revealed what life was once like at the city’s prestigious university 800 years ago.

In one of Britains largest ever urban excavations, experts have found bloodletting bowls, writing equipment and beer mugs used by both student and teachers.

The artifacts have revealed that Oxfords medieval scholars ate a wide range of food including eggs, trout, goose, beef, lamb, and salmon.

Uncovered at a university site once run by Franciscan friars, the discoveries are helping scientists understand what life at the institute in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.

Scholarly equipment

Among some of the most exciting find of the dig, directed by Ben Ford of the heritage consultancy Oxford Archaeology, were a number of tools used by scholars and their students.

These include well-preserved styluses and quills as well as special needles used to draft page layouts on parchment manuscript known as ‘parchment prickers’.

Archaeologists also discovered bronze bookmarks, oil lamps to read by, a rare medieval pencil made of pure lead, and a brass clasp from a large 13th-century book.

During their 18-month dig, carried out after developers found the buildings foundations during preparations to build a new shopping center, experts also found a small ceramic container that had held mercury dug up in Spain.

Researchers suggest it was used by scholars as part of alchemy research, metal gilding or possibly to treat leprosy and syphilis, according to the Independent.

Excavations at the Franciscan friary are critical because the institute was once home some of the university’s most important scholars.

A well-preserved small wooden bowl (pictured) made of plum or apple tree wood could have been used during bloodletting. Some medieval people, including members of religious groups, regularly bled themselves as it was believed to be good for their health
A well-preserved small wooden bowl (pictured) made of plum or apple tree wood could have been used during bloodletting. Some medieval people, including members of religious groups, regularly bled themselves as it was believed to be good for their health

Established in 1224 AD, the building was home to the ‘Greyfriars’ until 1538 when the group fled England during the Reformation.

They helped transform Oxford University into an international center of scholarship by focussing on the more intellectually challenging content on the syllabus.

The site was a multi-story car park until it was demolished in 2015. The friary had been hidden underneath the complex for centuries.

Food and drink

The building was once home to both friary lecturer and dozens of students – and evidence suggests they ate and drank well.

The fragments of hundred of medieval beer mugs have been found at the site, as well as a number of meter-high amphorae containers used to carry wine.

Within the friary’s great refectory, scientist found fragments of hundreds of jugs used to serve refreshments.

Iron knives with bone and wood handles and brass decoration were used to cut up joints of meat at mealtimes, which students and staff then ate with their hands

Iron knives with bone and wood handles and brass decoration were used to cut up joints of meat at mealtimes, which students and staff then ate with their hands

Analyses of the friary’s food waste show its inhabitants ate a wide range of fish, eggs, meat, and cereals.

Beef, pork, lamb, mutton, chickens, goose, and songbird were all eaten at the institute, as well as seafood including cod, eel, oysters, mussels, and trout. 

A thick vegetables stew known as pottage was also made by the friars using mostly wheat, barley, oats, and rye.

Much of the food eaten at the institute was divulged from a large numbers of cooking pots buried at the site, as well as iron spoons likely used to eat broth or pottage.

As well as food and drink, the friary focussed on the physical and spiritual health of Oxford's students. Pictured is a pendant displaying the crucifixion found at the site

As well as food and drink, the friary focussed on the physical and spiritual health of Oxford’s students. Pictured is a pendant displaying the crucifixion found at the site

Iron knives with bone and wood handles and brass decoration were used to cut up joints of meat at mealtimes, which students and staff then ate with their hands.

A large 60cm-diameter (23-inch) mortar was likely used to grind up huge quantities of spices – some of the seeds of which have also been found.

Medical tools

As well as food and drinks, the friary focussed on the physical and spiritual health of Oxford’s students.

A well-preserved small wooden bowl made of plum or apple tree wood could have been used during bloodletting.

Some medieval people, including members of religious groups, regularly bled themselves as it was believed to be good for their health.

For monks and friars of the time, each bloodletting session entitled them to three days holiday.

As well as food and drink, the friary focussed on the physical and spiritual health of Oxford's students. Pictured is a tool uncovered at the site

As well as food and drink, the friary focussed on the physical and spiritual health of Oxford’s students. Pictured is a tool uncovered at the site

The remains of at least a dozen medieval glass urine sample bottles have also been revealed.

Medically trained friars or barber-surgeons would have regularly inspected the samples, believing they could detect disease by assessing the liquid’s color.

Several other artifacts suggest the scholar were also concerned with their spiritual health.

A pilgrim badge found at the site shows one friar took a trip to Thomas Becket’s tomb at Canterbury.

A number of small ceramics containers were used to hold oil, possibly for sacramental purposes, researchers said.

Others finds

Possibly the rarest of the finds is a wooden ball that was used by medieval scholars and students to play ball games.

Ball games were such a notorious source of trouble in medieval England, so much so the government banned them in 1349.

In an official declaration, King Edward III ordained that all his subjects were prohibited ‘under penalty of imprisonment’ from ‘stone, wood and iron throwing’ including ‘handball, football or hockey’ or ‘other such idle games’.

A number of structures have also been uncovered by the team, including the friary’s chapel, infirmary, refectory, kitchen and its sewerage system, which originally had flushing toilets.

Geraldine Crann, Oxford Archeology’s finds superviser, holds a small leather shoulder bag (Oxford Archaeology)

Geraldine Crann, Oxford Archeology’s finds superviser, holds a small leather shoulder bag (Oxford Archaeology)

The full investigation will be completed by 2021, according to the researchers.

More than 10,000 artifacts have been uncovered so far, with many now being analyzed by scientists as part of further investigations.

All uncovered artifacts have been preserved and transferred from the construction site to the Museum of Oxford.

Medieval tiled pavement from the friary has just been put on public display close to where it was discovered in the new Westgate shopping center in central Oxford.

Dig leader Mr. Ford said: ‘Our excavation has allowed us to more fully understand the lives of some of Oxford’s earliest students.’

‘The hundreds of everyday objects we found are revealing, in remarkable detail, how they and their teachers lived.’ 

Writing implements uncovered (Oxford Archaeology)


Archaeologist Lisa Kennard with a medieval tile (Oxford Archaeology)

Source: independent.co.uk


SHARE THIS ARTICLE
  • 321
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
    321
    Shares
P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.