A large Anglo-Saxon cemetery, dating back as early as the 6th Century, has been excavated near Oulton ahead of housing development.
Over 200 sets of remains were discovered, with some graves containing copper-alloy brooches, wrist clasps, strings of beads made of amber and glass, small iron knives and silver pennies.
The excavation of such cemeteries in their entirety is rare in England. What makes this cemetery so unusual is that the skeletons were mostly only visible as ‘sand-silhouettes’, a delicate form of preservation similar to that found in graves at the cemeteries of nearby Sutton Hoo and Snape.
Archaeological Solutions Ltd, who carried out the excavations, painstakingly excavated the delicate remains of 17 cremations and 191 inhumation burials. Due to the highly acidic soil the skeletons had mostly vanished and were luckily preserved as fragile shapes and shadows in the sand. These shadows also revealed traces of the wooden coffins that some of the individuals were buried in.
Unusually, many graves also included fragments of pottery and in some cases complete decorated pots. Weapons were rare, with a sword in one grave, iron spear heads in three others, and at least one shield – the metal fittings of the shield remained in place around the silhouette of the dissolved wooden boards. Many of the artefacts were so fragile they had to be block lifted for micro-excavation in the labs at Norfolk Museum Service for analysis and conservation – they were even able to recover pieces of textiles and leather.
The site appears to represent a farming community buried over several generations with male, female, child and infant burials. Interestingly, the cemetery was in continuous use during a time which saw major changes in burial practice and the conversion to Christianity.
This is a nationally significant discovery and continues to evidence what a historic place Suffolk is. The site lies within the 7th Century Kingdom of the East Angles, made famous by the royal burial ground at nearby Sutton Hoo. It is important that we oversee and record this work so that we can understand the community buried here and its connections to other finds in Oulton and the nearby settlements and cemeteries at Carlton Colville and Flixton.
The work here would not have been possible without the generosity of Persimmon Homes, the expertise of Archaeological Solutions Ltd and the work of Suffolk County Council’s Archaeological officers to make sure that the cemetery was recorded and excavated to the highest standards.
All remains have now been fully excavated ahead of the development and are undergoing post excavation analysis. The area has been fully mapped and recorded and building work has now begun.
The finds and remains will now undergo specialist analysis, details of the site will be documented, and the entire archive will be deposited with Suffolk County Council’s Archaeology Service. Once this work is complete, they will be available for researchers and local museums to borrow on loan for display to the public.
Featured image: excavation site of cemetery © Archaeological Solutions