Anglo-Saxon cemetery found in Buckinghamshire

Almost three-quarters of the burials contained grave goods, including more than 2,000 beads, 86 brooches, 51 knives, 15 spearheads, and even a personal hygiene kit.

Excavations in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, carried out ahead of the construction of HS2, have revealed an Anglo-Saxon cemetery containing 141 inhumations and five cremations in 138 graves (below) – one of the largest early medieval burial grounds ever uncovered in Britain.

IMAGE: © HS2 Ltd.

The fieldwork was completed in 2021 by Infra JV, working on behalf of HS2’s enabling works contractor Fusion JV. The archaeologists knew the site had been in use over a long period of time, and indeed they found evidence of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman activity over the course of their investigations. It was the scale and nature of the early medieval finds that surprised the team the most, though: almost three-quarters of the burials contained grave goods, including more than 2,000 beads, 86 brooches, 40 buckles, 51 knives, 15 spearheads, seven shield bosses, and even a personal hygiene kit complete with an ear-wax remover and tweezers. These items have been dated to between the 5th and 6th centuries AD, and their presence suggests that the cemetery was used by a wealthy early medieval community.

One female skeleton, perhaps the cemetery’s highest-status individual, was found with a large selection of high-quality grave goods, including a complete and ornately decorated bowl made of pale green glass. This object, thought to have been produced around the turn of the 5th century AD, has been interpreted as a possible Roman-era heirloom. Other items associated with this burial included copper-alloy rings, a silver zoomorphic ring, brooches, discs, iron belt fittings, and ivory objects.

Dr Rachel Wood, Lead Archaeologist for Fusion JV, said: ‘It is not a site I would ever have anticipated finding – to have found one of these burials would have been astonishing, so to have found so many is quite unbelievable. The proximity of the date of this cemetery to the end of the Roman period is particularly exciting, especially as it is a period we know comparatively little about.’

A number of the graves also contained vessels similar to cremation urns, but as the majority of burials were inhumations these items seem to have been included as accessories. Post-excavation analysis of the finds, which include objects that may have been imported from abroad, will continue over the next few years.