Investigating Suffolk’s largest Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Lackford

reconstructed Anglo-Saxon cremation urn

Lackford has one of the largest Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in the region – the Archaeological Service are working on a project, funded by Historic England, to complete the analysis and publication of this important site at Lackford.

The Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Lackford in north-west Suffolk, is one of the largest known in East Anglia. Excavations in the mid-20th century by T.Lethbridge discovered well over 500 burials.

In 2015 and 2016, the Archaeological Service excavated further disturbed urns, after they were exposed by ploughing. Historic England are now funding the publication and analysis of this important site. 

three people excavating
The Archaeological Service excavating at Lackford

The project is addressing questions about the origin and duration of the cemetery. It will also analyse the burial practices compared to other large cremation cemeteries in Eastern England, particularly Spong Hill in Norfolk and smaller cremation groups such as Tranmer House at Sutton Hoo.

Analysis is focusing on the key groups of material – pottery, cremated bone, pyre and grave good finds – and the earlier excavation material, held in Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has also been re-examined by specialists.

Interesting results are already being revealed by the project team. Sue Anderson is studying the fabrics and forms of the urns, so that these vessels can be compared with those from other funerary and domestic sites. Julie Dunne (University of Bristol) has undertaken lipid analysis of some of the urn sherds and discovered that they have high lipid concentrations, suggesting that these were probably cooking pots before they were used as cremation urns. The cremated human bone is being examined to determine the age and sex of the individuals.

fragments of the cremation urn on a table and partially reconstructed with tape
Cremation urn before reconstructing (© Norfolk Museums Service Conservation)

Julie Bond (University of Bradford) has discovered that up to 50% of the more recently excavated urns contain not only human cremated remains but also cremated animal bone, including horse and cow. Grave goods of bone, antler and ivory are being examined by Ian Riddler and Nicola Trzaska-Nartowski and the antler combs found are key to helping date the cemetery phases.  

The results of this project will be presented in a detailed archive report and after this is completed, an East Anglian Archaeology publication is planned. There will also be a temporary exhibition of the finds and results of this work at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village in spring 2021.

View the Historic Environment Record LKD 001 for more information about the site.

Featured Image: Cremation urn after conservation and reconstruction (© Norfolk Museums Service Conservation).

This project is funded by Historic England.

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