New discoveries of Suffolk’s Anglo-Saxon past unearthed in the Deben Valley

people in a field digging with trowels

Featured image: volunteers from Suffolk Young Carers excavating the cellar of an Anglo-Saxon hut.

Archaeological excavation near Rendlesham is adding to Suffolk’s rich history, with archaeologists uncovering evidence of settlement and community 1,400 years ago at the time of the earliest East Anglian kings.

The discoveries have come as part of the community archaeology project Rendlesham Revealed: Anglo-Saxon Life in South-East Suffolk, run by Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, who awarded a grant of £517,300 for the four-year project.

Summer 2021 saw the first season of archaeological excavation, which uncovered the remains of buildings and pits over a wide area indicating an extensive settlement whose inhabitants were engaged in farming and craft working. Evidence that helps build up a picture of everyday life over 14 centuries ago includes:

  • bones from butchered cattle, sheep and pigs, indicating the types of livestock that were kept and the meat that was eaten
  • items associated with spinning and weaving, including spindle whorls and loomweights
  • melted metal fragments and slag which indicate iron smithing and the manufacture of copper-alloy objects
  • pottery vessels for cooking and storage
  • items of dress, including a copper-alloy brooch and buckle

Soil samples were also taken which will give evidence of crop farming and the local environment of the past.

two people putting soil in white buckets
volunteers from taking environmental samples

Discoveries of other periods of history were also made:

  • field boundary ditches and pits pointing to agriculture and activity in the Bronze Age
  • a settlement enclosure of the Iron Age
  • a First World War training trench, probably dug by a battalion of the Territorial Force in 1914 or early 1915.

The excavation was undertaken by local volunteers under the guidance of a small expert team co-ordinated by Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service and staff from the Suffolk Office of Cotswold Archaeology. More than 150 volunteers from the local community contributed to the summer’s fieldwork, including from Suffolk Family Carers, Suffolk Mind and the local Rendlesham and Eyke primary schools.

Professor Christopher Scull, the project’s principal academic advisor (Honorary Visiting Professor at University College London and University of Cardiff), said:

“1,400 years ago south-east Suffolk was the power centre of the East Anglian kingdom, which covered modern day Suffolk and Norfolk. At Rendlesham, there was a royal settlement which flourished for 300 years from the 5th to the 8th centuries.

“Our first season of excavation has unravelled some of the complexities of this internationally-significant site, and given us important insights into the lives of the people whose farming and craft skills supported the early rulers of the East Anglian kingdom.

“We have had a terrific team of volunteers and partners this year, and could not have hoped for better results. Together we have taken a big step towards a better understanding of this place and its landscape contexts, and we all look forward to continuing the journey of discovery next year when we will be investigating different areas and aspects of the settlement.”

Not only is the project providing a better understanding of the significant role Suffolk played in the country’s history, but is working with local charities to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their clients.

Jon Neal, CEO of Suffolk Mind said:

“Our clients have really benefitted from being involved with the archaeological fieldwork, getting hands on, being outdoors and learning something new. This has had a positive impact on their mental health, helping our clients to see life from a different perspective and improving their self-awareness beyond their diagnosis.

“Being part of such an important archaeological project has been a wonderful and unique experience for our clients, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Rendlesham Revealed project.”

Councillor Richard Rout, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Environment at Suffolk County Council, said:

“The archaeology at Rendlesham is hugely significant and I’m so pleased that we have been able to work with local communities and charities. Not only are we understanding more about Suffolk’s history, but we are able to support people by providing new experiences which are benefitting their mental health and wellbeing.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the co-operation of the landowners and the farmers who manage and work this historic landscape, so I thank them for supporting the project and generously allowing the fieldwork to take place. This has been a hugely successful first year for the project, I look forward to next summer and the new discoveries we’ll make!”

This season’s fieldwork at Rendlesham is now over and the excavations have been backfilled. Work has begun on analysis of the finds with provisional results expected in Spring 2022.

The next season of archaeological fieldwork will take place in Summer 2022 and local people will again be able to sign up and volunteer

Find out more

Discover more about the 2021 Excavations in our week-by-week blog series

Read about the Rendlesham Revealed project

Learn about the previous archaeological investigations since 2008

If you are interested in volunteering for the next season of fieldwork, you can join our e-newsletter mailing list to receive updates.

This fieldwork is part of the community archaeology project Rendlesham Revealed: Anglo-Saxon Life in South-East Suffolk, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We are very grateful to our many local and national partners who have made this project possible, and for the support of the landowners and farmers who work and manage this historic landscape.

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