Rare 16th-Century Textiles and Manuscripts Pulled Out of Giant Rat Nests in English Manor House

A gold-embossed religious text from the 15th century.
A gold-embossed religious text from the 15th century.
National Trust, Mike Hodgson

Several hundred years ago, the avaricious rats of Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, England, collected scraps of fabric and manuscripts from around the house and used them to assemble two rather opulent nests beneath the floorboards.

The long-abandoned nests lay undisturbed until just this year, when a massive restoration of the manor house prompted a close investigation of all its hidden nooks. The Guardian reports that the National Trust couldn’t staff a full team because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the job fell mainly to one freelance archaeologist named Matthew Champion. With the help of the construction crew, Champion pulled up the floorboards and probed every inch of space using his fingertips.

And there, in Oxburgh’s northwest corner, he discovered the nests. According to a National Trust press release, the rodent abodes were filled with more than 200 textile fragments from the 1500s to the 1700s. Among the silk, satin, velvet, embroidered wool, and other fabrics were additional surprises: shreds of printed pages and even some 16th-century handwritten music.

National Trust curator Anna Forest holding a bit of rat plunder (gold-embroidered brown silk).National Trust, Mike Hodgson

“It was utterly filthy work, and there is nothing like spending all day covered in rat crap to encourage social distancing,” Champion said on Twitter.

The rats’ cache of stolen treasure wasn’t Champion’s only finding. He also unearthed an empty chocolate box, wrappers included, from the World War II era—which he speculated may have been “rationed contraband”—hundreds of pins and other sewing materials, wax seals, and cut-up manuscripts that could’ve been reused as sewing patterns. Because the boards hadn’t been lifted in centuries, the items were extraordinarily well-preserved.

Who among us hasn't scarfed down a box of chocolates and hidden the evidence?National Trust Images, Matt Champion

The two most precious artifacts were both excavated by members of the construction crew. As Champion recounted on Twitter, a builder named Rob Jessop extracted a sheet of paper from the surrounding debris and asked, “Is this anything?”

It definitely was. National Trust curator Anna Forest consulted with Cambridge University Library’s medieval manuscripts specialist, Dr. James Freeman, and concluded that the page—printed with the Latin psalm “Expectans Expectaui”—may have come from a 15th-century psalm book or a private devotional book. And since the page is embellished with blue and gold ink, instead of the usual blue and red, it would’ve cost a pretty penny. The other most thrilling discovery was a nearly complete 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes, some of whose fragments had ended up in one of the rats’ nests.

The Kynges Psalmes, written by Saint John Fisher and possibly hidden by a Bedingfeld.National Trust

Together, the artifacts reveal much about the Bedingfields, Oxburgh Hall’s founding family. Sir Edmund Bedingfield constructed the manor in the late 1400s, and the family was well-esteemed in the royal court until Sir Henry Bedingfield declined to endorse the 1559 Act of Uniformity banning Catholic Mass. As evidenced by the Catholic manuscripts found at Oxburgh, generations of Bedingfields continued to practice Catholicism; it’s possible they even concealed their prayer books intentionally to avoid persecution.

When the renovation project is complete, the National Trust plans to display some of the “star finds” in Oxburgh Hall so visitors can see them in person.

[h/t The Guardian]

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More


During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

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Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Amazing Interactive Map Shows You Which Dinosaurs Roamed Your Neighborhood Millions of Years Ago

Is this midtown Manhattan?
Is this midtown Manhattan?
Orla/iStock via Getty Images

While most of us know that all sorts of prehistoric creatures once inhabited Earth, you might not realize which ones used to wander around your particular city.

Thanks to this interactive map, you can easily find out. Type in your city name, and you’ll see it plotted on the globe, along with a list of species whose fossils have been discovered nearby. If you click on the name of a species, a new webpage will open with details, images, and a map that shows where else that species lived.

Omaha, Nebraska, for example, was once home to the pteranodon, the trinacromerum, and the mosasaurus. Those last two are both marine reptiles, meaning that Nebraska used to be underwater—which the globe will show you, too.

A screenshot of Nebraska from Ian Webster's interactive globe.Dinosaurpictures.org

In addition to searching by city, you can also see what Earth looked like during a specific time period by choosing an option from the dropdown menu at the top. Choices range from 750 million years ago—the Cryogenian period, when glaciers abounded—to 0 million years ago, which is Earth as we know it today. Using a different dropdown menu on the right, you can view Earth during its many notable “firsts,” including “first land plants,” “first dinosaurs,” “first primates,” and more.

As CNN reports, the map was created by California-based paleontologist Ian Webster, who added to an existing model that mapped plate tectonics and used additional data from GPlates, another piece of plate tectonics software.

“It is meant to spark fascination and hopefully respect for the scientists that work every day to better understand our world and its past,” Webster told CNN. “It also contains fun surprises. For example: how the U.S. used to be split by a shallow sea, the Appalachians used to be very tall mountains comparable to the Himalayas, and that Florida used to be submerged.”

You can find other fun surprises by exploring the map yourself here. For the best experience, you'll want to access the site from a desktop computer or tablet versus a smartphone.

[h/t CNN]