One of the women interred in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery. (IMAGE: University of Sheffield)

A previously unknown Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been revealed in Scremby, Lincolnshire. On a chalky outcrop of the Lincolnshire Wolds, it was found by a local metal-detectorist, who discovered a number of Anglo-Saxon artefacts, including copper gilded brooches, iron shield bosses, and spearheads.

As the cemetery lies within an agricultural area, it was deemed necessary to excavate the site before it could be destroyed by ploughing or other farming activity. The dig was led by Dr Hugh Willmott and Dr Katie Hemer from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology, in collaboration with Dr Adam Daubney, the Lincolnshire Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and supported by students from the University of Sheffield, international volunteers, and members of the RAF from nearby stations.

The investigation uncovered 24 burials, all dating to between the late 5th and mid-6th centuries AD, and almost all of the individuals were buried with elaborate grave goods – a common practice during this period, brought to Britain by Germanic migrations.

‘What is particularly interesting is a significant proportion of these very lavish burials belonged to women,’ said Hugh. ‘These women wore necklaces made from sometimes hundreds of amber, glass, and rock-crystal beads, used personal items such as combs and spindle whorls, carried fabric bags held open by elephant-ivory rings, and wore exquisitely decorated brooches to fasten their clothing.’

Most individuals were buried with elaborate grave goods like this brooch. (IMAGE: University of Sheffield)

In particular, two of the women were buried with silver finger-rings and a style of silver buckle that is commonly associated with Jutish communities in Kent. Men were not left out though. Many had been laid to rest accompanied by shields, spears, and other forms of weaponry. While, for the most part, no children were found in the part of the cemetery that was excavated, one infant was found cradled in the left arm of a richly dressed woman who had been buried with more than 500 beads.

Hugh added, ‘The excellent preservation of the skeletal remains, as well as the many grave finds, provide an exciting opportunity to explore the social and cultural dynamics of the community who chose to bury their dead on this chalky outcrop.’

Post-excavation analysis will concentrate on the complete osteological analysis of the skeletons, including stable isotope analysis of teeth and bone. It is hoped that this will enable the archaeologists to identify where the individuals grew up and what types of food they ate.

‘Analysis also extends to a number of the finds, including the amber beads, which are being provenanced in collaboration with colleagues from Sheffield’s Department of Physics; we will analyse the elemental composition of the metalwork and identify the elephant species which produced the ivory rings,’ said Katie. ‘The project’s multi-faceted investigation, which incorporates cutting-edge scientific techniques, will enable Sheffield archaeologists to ask and answer significant questions about early Anglo-Saxon communities in eastern England.’

This article appeared in CA 347.

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