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Second Anglo-Saxon cemetery with fascinating grave goods unearthed near Stonehenge

Second Anglo-Saxon cemetery with fascinating grave goods unearthed near Stonehenge

For the second time in one month archaeologists have found an Anglo-Saxon cemetery near the prehistoric Stonehenge monument on the Salisbury Plain in England. The cemetery is about 1,300 years old. Stonehenge is believed to be much older, and researchers have speculated that later people wanted to be buried near the gigantic, ancient wonder.

The Anglo-Saxon cemetery has about 55 skeletons buried in it. Most of the graves contain personal items placed with the bodies upon their burial to accompany them into the afterlife.

Archaeologists have found beads, combs, coins, bone pins and spearheads. Some of the coins were perforated, and it’s believed they were used in necklaces. The most common item in the graves were little iron knives, according to an article about the dig in the Daily Mail.

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

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

The researchers have narrowed down the dates of the cemetery to between the late 7 th and early 8 th century AD.  It is near the modern village of Tidworth.

The cemetery was discovered when archaeologists did a survey to prepare for a subdivision of homes for military personnel. In England as in many other countries, developers must commission archaeological surveys before construction to determine whether there are significant historic features that must be preserved.

“The earliest documentary evidence we have for Saxon settlement at Tidworth dates to 975 AD,” Simon Flaherty, site director for Wessex Archaeology, told the Daily Mail. “This excavation potentially pushes the history of the town back a further 300 years.”

Just last month (April 2016), archaeologists uncovered the other Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Bulford, Wiltshire. It had about 150 graves and beautiful grave goods.

Archaeologists will have now have an opportunity to compare the burial practices of two neighboring communities whose members likely knew each other, project manager Bruce Eaton told the Daily Mail.

Some of the Tidworth graves contained goods that pointed to their occupants’ occupations or social status. For example, one grave of an apparent warrior contained a man who had stood 1.8 meters (6 feet), who had with him an unusually large spearhead and a conical shield.

Another burial, of a woman, had beads, a bone comb, jewelry, a decorative belt and a fine bronze work box.

A workbox found in the grave of a woman.

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

Some of these small cylindrical boxes have been found at other Anglo-Saxon graves in the British Isles and Rhineland, but their use has confounded experts.

The objects have been dubbed variously as work boxes, thread boxes or relic boxes. Some earlier researchers thought they had practical applications, such as for sewing items. A few of the boxes had pins, pieces of fabric or threads in them.

But others have speculated they were used to hold magic spells, drugs or Christian relics, says the Daily Mail. A scan of the small, cylindrical container showed it has traces of copper-alloy fragments.

The graves at Bulworth had burials dating from the mid-Anglo Saxon period of 660 to 780 AD and is also being excavated. Archaeologists also found Bronze Age or Neolithic monuments nearby, though no evidence of houses nearby where the buried people may have lived.

In the April case too archaeologists were called in to investigate the site before homes were built. Wessex Archaeology issued a statement last month that said:

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.

The people in this cemetery 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.

Featured image: Skeleton found near Stonehenge. Credit: Wessex Archaeology

By Mark Miller

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