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Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Full of Grave Goods Discovered Near Prehistoric Henge Monuments

Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Full of Grave Goods Discovered Near Prehistoric Henge Monuments

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A site in England with burials dating from the mid-Anglo Saxon period of 660 to 780 AD and other ancient features is being excavated. Archaeologists also have found Bronze Age or Neolithic monuments nearby, though no evidence of houses.

The archaeologists also found military features from both world wars at the site in Bulford, Wiltshire, where 227 new homes for British Army families are to be built.

Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology were called in to investigate the site before construction began in case there were valuable archaeological features on the site. A press release from Wessex Archaeology states:

“Further investigations revealed an Anglo-Saxon cemetery of about 150 graves, with grave goods including spears, knives, jewellery, bone combs and other personal items. One of the burials has been radiocarbon dated to between AD 660 and 780 which falls in the mid-Anglo-Saxon period in England.”

“A further phase of excavation is planned to examine the two adjacent prehistoric monuments beside which the Saxon cemetery was established. These appear to consist of Early Bronze Age round barrows that may have earlier, Neolithic origins. They are to be granted scheduled monument protection by Historic England and will be preserved in situ in a part of the site that will remain undeveloped. Neolithic pits outside the monuments contained decorated ‘Grooved Ware’ pottery, stone and flint axes, a finely made disc-shaped flint knife, a chalk bowl, and the bones of red deer, roe deer and aurochs (wild cattle).”

Archaeology.co.uk reports that the 150 graves contain the remains of men, women, and children laid out close together in neat rows. Wessex Archaeology osteologist Jackie McKinley told Archaeology.co.uk she believes it was a planned cemetery with graves perhaps identified with markers or a low mound.

One of the skeletons found at the cemetery.

One of the skeletons found at the cemetery. ( BBC)

The people were buried with personal items and grave goods giving indications of their social status, including jewelry of glass beads and brooches, knives, and cowrie shells from the Red Sea, which indicate far-reaching trade. One grave had a large comb made of antlers and decorated with dots, rings and chevrons.

Archaeologists also found a “work box” that may have served as an amulet meant to ward off evil. A scan of the small, cylindrical container showed it has traces of copper-alloy fragments. Other such boxes from the era had contained metal pins, thus they are called work boxes.

“This was a status symbol, and may have had amuletic as well as functional properties,” McKinley told Archaeology.co.uk. “This grave also contained what appears to be some kind of metal net bag, although we need to do more work on this to understand what it was.”

A workbox found in the grave of a woman.

A workbox found in the grave of a woman. ( Wessex Archaeology )

Still another grave, the largest on the site, contained an unusually large spear whose haft had bronze decorations. The spear may have had symbolic or ritualistic meaning and belonged to a man who apparently was of special status in his community.

There is no settlement of habitations near the hilltop burial ground, but archaeologists are exploring the site as a ceremonial or sacred gathering place dating from the Neolithic. The people may have lived in a nearby river valley.

Archaeology.co.uk says excavations at the site uncovered clues as to why the Anglo-Saxon people buried their dead there, including two prehistoric “hengiform” monuments not far away. Preliminary dating puts these in the Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The article speculates that the early medieval occupants of the area were drawn by the enigmatic features of the barrows and monuments and buried the dead near them, as they did at other sites in Salisbury.

Neolithic ritual or ceremonial activity was found in large pits that contained unusual objects, including sherds of pottery, antler and wild ox bones, axes and ax fragments, carved pieces of chalk in the form of a bowl, and little ball and flint hammerstones. Archaeologists also found a rare discoidal knife of flint. Only two of these are known in the area around Stonehenge.

A decorated bone comb found during the excavation of a grave.

A decorated bone comb found during the excavation of a grave. ( Wessex Archaeology )

“What stands out is that there is very little domestic activity going on here,” Phil Harding, a Wessex Archaeology prehistory expert, told Archaeology.co.uk. “You don’t see much in the way of burning, or of flint-knapping debris. The pits’ contents seem more ritual/ceremonial in nature.”

Featured Image: Saxon woman buried with her workbox and cowrie shell and a reconstruction what she may have looked like when she was buried. ( Wessex Archaeology )

By Mark Miller

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