Secrets of Medieval University Life

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

In one of Britain’s largest ever urban excavations, experts have found bloodletting bowls, writing equipment and beer mugs used by both students and teachers.

The artefacts have revealed that Oxford’s 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 finds are helping scientists understand what life at the institute in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.

Scholarly equipment

Among some of the most exciting finds 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 manuscripts known as ‘parchment prickers’.

Archaeologists also found bronze book marks, 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 building’s foundations during preparations to build a new shopping centre, 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.

The operation has unearthed a number of tools used by scholars and their students. These include well-preserved styluses and quills as well as 'parchment pricker' needles (left). Parts of a brass clasp from a large 13th century book were also found (right)

The operation has unearthed a number of tools used by scholars and their students. These include…

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