The Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Snape has been investigated since 1862. With a range of burials, including cremations, inhumations and a ship burial, this cemetery provides a wealth of information on how Anglo-Saxons buried their people.
People were being buried in this cemetery between the mid-6th century and the early 7th Century AD. This article focuses on one of the less grandiose or lavish graves from the site (Grave 28), nonetheless it is fascinating in its relative simplicity.
The conditions of the ground at the site meant that no bone survived, only a shadow remained in the sandy soil, outlining where the individual was laid. Based on the objects in the grave the person was probably female. She wasn’t buried in a coffin, but was either wrapped in a shroud or her grave was lined with a textile cloth or animal hides.
Buried alongside this woman were two complete pottery vessels made from fine clay; although they were not decorated, they would have looked fabulous as they were burnished to a high shine. As can be seen from the drawings and photographs, these were carefully placed by the persons head in an upright position, their contents probably formed part of an offering.
The other grave items deposited in this burial adorned the lady herself. On her left wrist she wore a delicate beaded bracelet made of glass and amber. As is evident in the photograph below the deep blue of the glass beads against the golden hues of the amber still looks particularly striking after 1,500 years in the ground.
In addition to the bracelet, this lady wore a penannular brooch on her neck and a lozenge shaped belt buckle upon her waist. The copper alloy brooch measures just 4.5cm across and was decorated with “arrowhead” stamps – it would have been a charming way of pinning on a head dress. Amazingly, both of these items had fragments of preserved textiles adhered to their surfaces. From these small fragments and other textiles on site, we know that her under-dress was likely made from undyed wool and was woven using a variety of different patterns and techniques.
Finds such as this have allowed for woman’s dress styles from the Anglo-Saxon period to be reconstructed, from the examples below it is needless to say that fashion during this period was surprisingly complex and colourful. Given the similarity of the finds and textiles from this grave, this lady certainly had style!
For further information:
Filmer-Sankey, W. & T. Pestell, 2001, Snape Anglo-Saxon Cemetery: Excavations and Surveys 1824-1992. East Anglian Archaeology Reports No. 95
The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer