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Skeleton of one of the individuals unearthed in Hildersham.

Workers Building Parishioners a Toilet Unearth a Mass Anglo-Saxon Grave


A group of more than 40 skeletons was found during the building of a new toilet for the parishioners of a church in Hildersham, Cambridgeshire, UK. The remains are about 900 years old.

According to the BBC, the burials are dated to the 11th or 12th century. Some of the graves lay 45 cm (18 in) below the path outside the Holy Trinity Church. They were dug into the chalk, with the bodies laid directly in the cavity. Most of the skeletons were of adults, but five of the individuals were children. The researchers examined 19 skeletons dated to the 9th or 10th century, predating the church by several hundred years, but they left 24 graves intact.

According to Mr. Andrew Westwood-Bate, a local historian and the Holy Trinity churchwarden:

"The discovery of the children was one of the most moving moments of the excavation. The graves were dug into the chalk and bodies laid directly in the cavity. When they were removed the bones were all put in bags and placed in a grave together. We gave them a proper funeral, again at 8am because we didn't want to draw any attention to ourselves. It was very moving and they have been laid to rest looking over the meadow where they would have lived when they were alive."

Excavating one of the skeletons.

Excavating one of the skeletons. (Andrew Westwood-Bate)

The graves are said to be Anglo-Saxon, although Cambridge University Archaeological Unit experts who examined the site dated the bones to the 11th or 12th century. Until the discovery was made, there was no proof for the existence of a cemetery in this area. The researchers believe that the graves belonged to villagers who lived outside the walls of what was probably an Anglo-Saxon church.

During the excavations, the bones were stored in the mortuary at the village undertaker's for the night. After the end of the works, the skeletons were buried in one new grave. A funeral took place just before Christmas 2015, and the toilet was completed soon after. The new grave is commemorated by a sculpture made by Per Hall, a surgeon and sculptor from the village, who made a mold of the grave of one of the children. The church paid archaeologists £20,000 (approximately 28,500 USD) to examine the 19 intact skeletons and accomplish works.

The skeletons were laid to rest together and a funeral was held before they were reburied.

The skeletons were laid to rest together and a funeral was held before they were reburied. (Andrew Westwood-Bate)

Another mass grave was found on September 2015, by workmen during the demolition of a Westminster Abbey toilet block. This burial contained about 50 individuals. The bones of men were thought to be connected with the events of 1066 in Westminster Abbey, when one king was buried and two were crowned in a year. The remains were discovered along with the skeleton of a child, no older than 3 years old, which was buried under the Victorian drainage pipes just outside the wall of Poet’s Corner.

“What the child is doing there is one of the many unanswered questions, but it is a feature of many ecclesiastical sites that you find the remains of women and children in places where you might not quite expect them.” the Westminster Abbey’s archaeologist Warwick Rodwell told the Guardian.

A painting of Westminster Abbey by Thomas H. Shepherd (1792-1864).

A painting of Westminster Abbey by Thomas H. Shepherd (1792-1864). (Public Domain)

The skeleton of the child was small and not well preserved, so the determination of gender was impossible. The child was buried in a wooden coffin, unlike some of the monks buried nearby. It is unknown why the baby was buried there.

The remains of other individuals from the discovery are believed to be dated to the 11th or 12th century. The most interesting was a grave of a man buried in a grand coffin made of Barnack stone from Northamptonshire, whose skull was stolen by Victorian workmen. The remains were discovered previously by archaeologists in the 1950s, after a lavatory block was demolished to make the new tower.

The history of finds related to toilets continues to be one of the most interesting parts of daily life. It contains the discovery of many surprising artifacts including jewelry, books, and organic remains. Another example from 2015 comes in the form of Polish archaeologists unearthing a 250-year-old sex toy during excavations in a latrine dated back to the 6th century AD.

While examining an ancient medieval port of Burgos in Bulgaria, archaeologists also discovered a number of artifacts which presented more on life in this area in the period from the 3rd to 6th century AD.

Featured Image: Skeleton of one of the individuals unearthed in Hildersham. Source: Andrew Westwood-Bate

By: Natalia Klimczak



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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