The grave of a 6th-century man – a possible warrior – has been uncovered on a hilltop near Marlow, overlooking the Thames Valley. Its location within the borderlands of prominent neighbouring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms – at different times Wessex, Kent, and Mercia – will hopefully shed new light on this often-overlooked region, which was previously viewed as an obscure backwater during this period of history.
The burial was discovered by Sue Washington, a member of the Maidenhead Searchers metal-detecting club. Sue first received a large signal of what appeared to be iron in 2018, and initially thought nothing of it, but on her third visit to the site she unearthed two bronze bowls. Realising the importance of the discovery, Sue stopped digging and contacted the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS; see www.finds.org.uk).
This enabled the PAS Finds Liaison Officer for Buckinghamshire, Arwen James, to conduct a targeted recovery of the fragile bowls – and, in the process, she discovered a pair of iron spearheads that were immediately sent for conservation. (Following Sue’s donation of these objects, they are soon to go on display at the Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury.) That was not the end of the story, though. As such weapons are common in Anglo-Saxon burial contexts, might these artefacts have come from a grave?
This suggestion led to a more-detailed geophysical survey and excavation of the site, carried out in August of this year by archaeologists from the University of Reading and a group of local volunteers. The team quickly located the burial, which contained the remains of a man accompanied by grave goods that placed the interment in probably the 6th century AD. In addition to the bowls and spears already recovered, the team excavated a sword with a well-preserved wood-and-leather scabbard, as well as a glass vessel, dress-fittings, shears, and other personal possessions.
Physical analysis of the man’s remains indicated that he had been an imposing figure, probably around six feet in height and with a robust physique (as indicated by well-developed muscle attachments); he was quite possibly a formidable warrior in life. His stature, in combination with his elaborate grave goods and prominent burial location, indicate that he may have been a high-status figure of some note. Further analysis of the man’s remains at the University of Reading and a full programme of scientific analysis by Drakon Heritage and Conservation will help determine more details about his life and death, and the region in which he lived.
Dr 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. It provides new insights into this stretch of the Thames in the decades after the collapse of the Roman administration in Britain. This is the first burial of its kind found in the mid- Thames basin, which is often overlooked in favour of the Upper Thames and London. It suggests that the people living in this region may have been more important than historians previously suspected.’