Preparations for two new Cambridgeshire housing development projects have uncovered a fine collection of precious ornamental items and weaponry from Anglo-Saxon times and rare Roman era domestic artifacts. The finds provide new insight on the fashion and lifestyle of the wealthy who lived in the area during the 5th-7th centuries AD.
The discoveries were made in Cambridge and near Soham in Cambridgeshire, England. Heritage Daily reports that the Anglo-Saxon objects were likely owned by nobles and include several well-preserved items. The jewelry they found at the sites includes beaded items made of glass, amber, jet, and amethyst, silver wrist clasps, bone pins, and rings.
Some of the Anglo-Saxon beads found at the Cambridge site. ( Archeology by Weston Homes )
Cambridge News says that one of the brooches found at the Soham site holds special importance for researchers as it still has textile fragments, which they can use to recreate Anglo-Saxon clothing
An Anglo-Saxon brooch discovered at the site with textile still attached to it. ( Cambridge News )
Some of the Anglo-Saxon domestic artifacts of the Soham site are a decorative bone comb, tweezers, buckets, and buckles.
As for the weaponry, the team of archaeologists from the University College London (UCL) discovered a dagger, iron shield bosses, and spear heads at the Soham site.
An iron Anglo-Saxon dagger found at the Soham site, by the Centre for Applied Archaeology. ( UCL Institute of Archaeology )
A final discovery of importance at the site near Soham was an Iron Age enclosure which measured at least 50m (164 ft.) by 20m (65.6 ft.) and was 2 m (6.6 ft.) deep. The archaeologists believe “The enclosures form part of a productive agricultural landscape with finds of quernstones for processing grain, animal bones and other domestic refuse, and pits possibly used for grain storage. Although no buildings were identified, it is likely a settlement focus was located nearby.”
Assistant director of UCL’s Archaeology South-East, Louise Rayner, told Cambridge News that the archaeologists were expecting to find something at the Soham site, though they were surprised to find as much as they did:
“The site was expected to contain archaeological remains after a large excavation immediately to the south-east had previously uncovered extensive evidence for the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, but it was great to discover such a range of artefacts”.
Following the Roman departure from the area, Anglo-Saxons arrived in Soham and surrounding areas around 411 AD. It is believed that they probably re-used the Roman villas they found.
In contrast, pottery vessels were found at the Cambridge housing development site, such as a rare glass claw beaker (named due to the claw-shaped handles which were attached to the conical walls near the stem of the vessel). The History blog states these “vases were very highly prized, probably imported from Germany, and have mainly been found as grave goods in 5th and 6th century Anglo-Saxon burials.” Cambridge News adds that “These elaborate drinking vessels are normally found further south east such as in Kent, northern France, the Netherlands and Germany.”
The rare claw beaker found at the Cambridge site. ( Stephen Collins )
Duncan Hawkins, Head of Archaeology and Build Heritage for CgMs discussed some of the Anglo-Saxon structures and features discovered during the Cambridge excavations:
“The site fell out of use in the 7th century but we discovered evidence of 8th century Middle Saxon activity including post-built structures, possibly workshops and livestock pens. Pits dug in this attest to local industrial activity and further processing of soil samples should help us understand what these were used for.”
A cross found during the Cambridge dig. ( Cambridge News )
Archaeologists were also delighted with the discovery of a Roman era pottery kiln and some plates, as well as a ditch delignating a field from the Late Iron Age and Roman times (all found at the Cambridge site). As Hawkins told Heritage Daily:
“Evidence of the time period 5th to 7th century AD is almost non-existent so this gives us a highly important window into understanding how people lived in that era, their trade activities and behaviours. The academic value of this collection is therefore immeasurable
The Cambridge site is located on the western edge of a Middle Saxon settlement previously found near Church End. It formed part of a 9th to 10th century manor. The Domesday Book shows that it was known as Hintona by 1086.
The Cambridge site during excavations. ( David Johnson )
Now that the artifacts have been recorded and removed from both of the Cambridgeshire sites, the builders have been given the go-ahead for their work. As development of the area continues, David Ivell, technical director at the Bovis Homes site, said:
“We’re delighted that it uncovered items of interest that will help future generations to understand how the land here has changed over many centuries, from an agricultural settlement for Roman families, right through to becoming the modern new homes site we are building here today.”
Heritage Daily reports that the fascinating collection of Anglo-Saxon and Roman artifacts will be housed in local museums.
Top Image: Vases and pottery found during the dig in Cambridge, England. Source: Stephen Collins
By Alicia McDermott