Two excavations in England have revealed important Anglo-Saxon burials, dating back as early as the 6th century AD, that shed light on the different communities living in southern Britain at that time.
In August, archaeologists investigated a site in the Thames Valley, where they uncovered the remains of a robust, 6ft-tall man, buried with weapons, dubbed the ‘Marlow Warlord’ (above left). The 6th-century grave came to light after metal-detectorists found two bronze bowls in 2018, and reported them to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). A targeted excavation carried out by the PAS Finds Liaison Office for Buckinghamshire recovered these fragile bowls and a pair of iron spearheads that suggested the finds were from an Anglo- Saxon burial. This prompted more detailed survey and excavation this summer. The bowls and spearheads have been conserved and will go on display at the Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury.
Working at the site in August, a team made up of both archaeologists from the University of Reading and local volunteers unearthed spears, bronze and glass vessels, dress-fittings, and shears. The ‘Marlow Warlord’ was also buried with a sword in a scabbard made of wood and leather and decorated with bronze fittings; it is one of the best-preserved sheathed swords known from the period.
Gabor Thomas, from the University of Reading, said, ‘We had expected to find some kind of Anglo-Saxon burial, but what we found exceeded all our expectations and provides new insights into this stretch of the Thames in the decades after the collapse of the Roman administration in Britain.’
The grave is on a hilltop site with a view over the Thames Valley. This stretch of the river, between London and Oxford, had previously been thought of as something of a borderland between powerful groups either side of the mid-Thames region. But the richness of the grave and its setting hint that this area was home to its own local groups, and the buried individual (probably a warrior) is likely to have led one. These groups were probably squeezed out or subsumed into the nearby proto-kingdoms of Kent, Wessex, and Mercia.
Further studies of the remains will be carried out at Reading, and the newly discovered objects are currently undergoing conservation by Pieta Greaves of Drakon Heritage and Conservation. The team are now raising funds for additional conservation work so that some of the finds can go on display (https://reading.hubbub.net/p/marlowwarlord/).
Elsewhere, at Oulton near the Suffolk coast, excavations carried out by Archaeological Solutions Ltd, ahead of construction of a housing development by Persimmon Homes Anglia, have revealed a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery of 191 inhumation burials and 17 cremations, the earliest dating back to the 6th century. The highly acidic soil at the site meant that the skeletal remains had mostly vanished, but left behind traces as shadows in the sand, something also seen in the more-famous royal Suffolk site of Sutton Hoo.
Several generations of men, women, and children from what appears to have been a small farming community were laid to rest in the cemetery, which remained in use through a period of changes to burial customs and conversion to Christianity. Copper-alloy brooches, amber and glass beads, small iron knives, and silver coins were found in some of the graves. Many contained fragments of pottery, or occasionally complete vessels (above right), but weapons were rare. Post-excavation is currently under way, and eventually the finds will be available for local museums to borrow from the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service for public display.
IMAGES: University of Reading; Suffolk County Council.