ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 47, September 1999


Grave of an early Saxon `princess' found in Newark

The grave of a wealthy and important early Anglo-Saxon woman - possibly the leader of an early group of settlers, or a leader's wife - has been excavated in Newark, Nottinghamshire, in advance of a housing scheme.

The richly-furnished grave originally lay under a barrow with an enclosure ditch, and was in a prime position overlooking the River Trent, some 100 yards from the Roman Fosse Way and close to the parish boundary. It was isolated from other burials. According to the excavator, consultant John Samuels, its form, contents and position suggest an individual of the highest status. A similar grave found last century at Caenby, north of Lincoln, has been interpreted as that of a king of Lindsey.

The grave-goods, although rich, may once have been richer as the grave had been disturbed - and possibly robbed - in the post-medieval period. Surviving artefacts include a decorated urn, a bronze-rimmed wooden bucket containing three corroded Roman coins, two pairs of silver wrist clasps, a gilded bronze disc perhaps once attached as a decoration to a box or a bag, 47 glass and amber beads (with one trimmed snail shell) from a necklace, an iron knife, and other items. A lamb was also buried in the grave. The artefacts date the grave to the 6th or early 7th century.

The occupant, apparently buried on her side, was a woman in her late 30s or early 40s. She was about 5ft 8in tall - tall for women in the period - and, to judge from her bones and joints, she was `robust' and muscular.

The burial may shed light on the origins of settlement at Newark. The modern place-name dates from the 11th century, and until recently no evidence for pre-Norman settlement had been found in the town. Excavations over recent years at Newark Castle, however, have uncovered signs of Anglo-Saxon occupation and defensive ditches dating as far back as the 5th century.

Bede, writing in the 8th century, mentioned a place called Tiowulfingacaestir - the defended town of Tiowulf's people - by the River Trent in this area. The town has never been firmly identified. According to Mr Samuels, however, the Saxon defences at Newark Castle and the new burial strongly suggest Tiowulfingacaestir was the forerunner of Newark. `It would be nice to think we may have found the grave of Tiowulf herself,' he said.

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Christian graves around `adapted' barrow

New evidence for the way in which many early Christians were drawn to place their cemeteries around or near prehistoric monuments has emerged in North Wales.

A cemetery of 42 graves - mainly stone-lined `cist' burials - has been found on the outskirts of Holyhead, during excavations by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust on the line of a trunk road across Anglesey. The graves were aligned east-west and contained no grave-goods. The form of the cemetery and the absence of a church strongly suggests an early Christian (possibly 6th-8th century) date.

At the south side of the cemetery was a ringed enclosure interpreted as a Bronze Age barrow, associated with pottery thought to date from around 1800-1500BC.

Most interestingly, the barrow appears to have been converted in the early Christian period into a new type of structure that formed a dramatic focal point for the cemetery. Two cist graves were dug at right angles to an inner ditch - which was perhaps dug in the early Christian period through the mound. The ditch was filled in between the graves as if forming an entrance to the central area; and slots were found in the inner ditch suggesting that, possibly at this same time, some form of structure was built in the centre of the barrow.

According to project manager Andrew Davidson, several similar examples of early Christian cemeteries focusing on prehistoric monuments have come to light over recent years in Wales and western England. At Tan Dderwen in South-West Wales, a Bronze Age barrow within a Christian cemetery had been adapted in the Christian period with the construction of a new enclosure around the barrow. At Gogerddan in the north-east of the country, a cist cemetery had been sited around a number of standing stones and associated ring ditches.

At Capel Eithin on Anglesey, a cist cemetery lay next to a Bronze Age urn cemetery, whose covering mounds are thought to have still been visible in the early Christian period. On at least four other sites on Anglesey, barrows had been reused for Christian burial.

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In brief

Alfred's grave

A HUNT for the burial place of King Alfred the Great has been underway in Winchester this summer. The late Saxon king was reburied by the altar of Hyde Abbey at its foundation in the 12th century. The abbey disappeared after the Dissolution and the site is now occupied by a carpark. No significant remains had been found as British Archaeology went to press.

The long-term community archaeology project, run by the Winchester Museums Service, was supplemented this year by American volunteers - brought over by the conservation group Earthwatch.

Peat campaign

THE NATIONAL Trust's policy on another controversial environmental issue will come under scrutiny at its AGM in November - this time, its use of peat in gardens and horticulture. This follows stormy debates at previous years' AGMs over its policies on fox and stag hunting on its own land.

A resolution will be put to the vote recommending that the Trust ends the use of peat in its own gardens, stops within three years the sale of plants grown in peat, and ensures that peat-free growing media are widely available at its shops. Peat campaigners, including the CBA, are urging National Trust members to support the resolution.

Buildings at risk

ENGLISH Heritage's annual Buildings at Risk register was published this summer, and found that 1,615 Grade I and II* buildings were at serious risk of irreparable decay. These include West Pier, Brighton, Britain's only Grade I pier, the Tudor Apethorpe Hall in Northamptonshire, and the Roman Catholic Church of St Francis in Gorton, Manchester, a gothic masterpiece by Pugin. Overall, England has nearly 30,000 I and II* buildings.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens, the English Heritage chairman, announced that while £400 million was needed in grants to save all the buildings on the register, English Heritage's budget for buildings at risk was only £5 million a year. The rest of the money would have to come from other public sources.

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© Council for British Archaeology, 1999