Dracula's abbey reveals site of Iron Age village

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The Independent Online

Archaeologists digging land adjoining Whitby Abbey have discovered a new and unexpected dimension to the site's colourful past.

Archaeologists digging land adjoining Whitby Abbey have discovered a new and unexpected dimension to the site's colourful past.

A part of the 150ft headland – on the brink of collapsing into the sea – has yielded evidence of a 2,000-year-old Iron Age domestic settlement, including the remains of a distinctive "round house", possibly dating from the first or second century BC.

While the abbey is famous for hosting the Synod of Whitby in 664, which committed England to the Roman rather than Celtic Christian church, its headland's capacity for yielding tantalising secrets is legendary among archaeologists. It is also, famously, the setting for the opening of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.

The remains of a substantial Dark Ages settlement were discovered there last year.

Archaeologists have been racing against time to salvage its antiquities because of the threat posed by coastal erosion in Yorkshire, a danger demonstrated four years ago when a four-star hotel was sent crashing into the sea. They said yesterday that they had discovered a circular trench with holes on the headland – the remains of a wigwam-style, thatched Iron Age house. Supporting posts for the dwelling would have been lodged in the holes.

The house, made of wood, straw and turf, had a diameter of 11 metres and its entrance faced east, a typical trait of Iron Age dwellings. This would have allowed early morning sunlight to filter into the interior – though if yesterday's bitter winds and rain were anything to go by, afternoons may have been a different proposition.

Near the dwelling, English Heritage archaeologists have discovered rubbish pits containing large lumps of pottery, the remnants of Iron Age vessels. The priority for the nine-week investigation, involving up to 34 archaeologists, has been to find clues about the Anglo-Saxon period, during which the first abbey was founded by St Hilda. They have been surprised by the scale of industrial activity on the headland, having found iron slag, loom weights and even indications of glass making.

Among other artefacts recovered are two ninth century copper alloy strap-ends, possibly used on a belt, featuring delicately carved animal motifs. Some of the relics will be on show at an open day on Sunday. Entrance is free.

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