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Medieval Graffiti project wins national archaeology award

Elaborate compass drawn design from Bedingham church in South Norfolk. It is believed that these designs were created as ‘apotropaic’, or ritual protection, markings designed to ward off the ‘evil eye’.
Elaborate compass drawn design from Bedingham church in South Norfolk. It is believed that these designs were created as ‘apotropaic’, or ritual protection, markings designed to ward off the ‘evil eye’. – Photo courtesy Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Project,

The Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Project, a volunteer led archaeology group that searches England’s medieval churches for early graffiti inscriptions, has been awarded the prestigious Marsh Community Archaeology Award. This Award, run in partnership by the Marsh Christian Trust and the Council for British Archaeology, is given to a community archaeology group in order to recognise and promote high quality archaeological work being carried out by local communities. The award was presented to the group by Historian and TV presenter Michael Wood at a ceremony at the British Academy in London.

The Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Project began in January 2010 with the aim of carrying out the first large scale study of surviving medieval graffiti inscriptions in Norfolk churches. Although the project has so far only managed to survey about 200 of the county’s 650+ medieval churches the results have been a surprise to all involved. Over 80% of the churches surveyed have turned out to contain significant amounts of medieval inscriptions. The project has also made a number of nationally significant discoveries, including the 13th century architectural inscriptions at Binham Priory, and has featured in the national and international media on numerous occasions.

More recently the project has been undertaking the very first medieval graffiti survey of Norwich cathedral. The survey teams are slowly working through the building and have now completed over half of the ground floor area, in the process recording several thousand early graffiti inscriptions. These have included everything from medieval ships and music, to names and geometric patterns. One of the most unusual discoveries made at the cathedral were several inscriptions that appear to have been specifically created during the late Middle Ages as ‘curses’.

Depiction of a medieval demon with flesh hook etched into the south arcade, Beachamwell Church, Norfolk
Depiction of a medieval demon with flesh hook etched into the south arcade, Beachamwell Church, Norfolk – Photo courtesy Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Project

“Winning this award is a great boost for the project”, states Project Director Matthew Champion, “and a real recognition of all the hard work that has been put in by the volunteers. The project has made some amazing discoveries and it really highlights the fact that local volunteers can make a real difference to the archaeological record. This sort of project simply wouldn’t be feasible for a professional unit or university to undertake in the current climate. It’s just too big and too expensive. The volunteers have already invested over £100,000 worth of their own time, with the projects actual budget being only a few hundred pounds. The award is really a fantastic recognition that real people can undertake real and meaningful archaeology – and make a real difference.”

The Marsh Award for Community Archaeology is awarded each year to encourage and promote high quality volunteer projects taking place in the community archaeology world. The prize of £1000 is to be used as the winning project sees fit to further promote is aims. “For a project such as this one”, continues Matthew Champion, “any sort of funding is a real bonus. The prize money will be spent on new survey equipment, which we have far too little of, allowing even more people to take part in the project. It is also hoped that we’ll have a little left over to spend on an event to thank all of the volunteers. It is, after all, their award. Sitting in cold and draughty churches staring at the walls can be a little dispiriting at times, so this recognition is a real morale booster”.

Jo Winyard, Director of the Marsh Christian Trust, added “A huge congratulations to all the winners involved in The Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey. The Marsh Award for Community Archaeology was set up to support just these sorts of local volunteer initiatives. It is a credit to all those involved that their work and the dissemination of their results have been recognised by this Award.”

Further information on the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, and information on how you can volunteer to help, can be found on the project website – www.medieval-graffiti.co.uk

See also: Church discovery sheds light on medieval mystery

See also: Norwich Cathedral Yields its Medieval Secrets



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