Students at the historic British boys’ boarding school Eton College may have been using an ancient grave as a community gathering place for centuries, not realizing that the 20-foot mound near the school is really a Saxon burial monument built 1,500 years ago, possibly holding the body of an important historical figure.
Eton Montem as depicted in The English Spy, published 1825. (public domain)
New Finds Will Extend Knowledge of the History of Slough
The University of Reading official website reports that the circular mound in Slough, England, which is more than 100 feet (30 meters) across, was built about 1,500 years ago, during the same period of time other well-known burial mounds were created in order to “accommodate” local leaders and people of high social status. According to the archaeologists of the prestigious University, the Montem Mound in the Berkshire town, now surrounded by Municipal buildings and car parks, is no exception to that rule and most likely served as the resting place of a significant person and could also contain artifacts of significant value.
The discovery of the “Sutton Hoo of Slough” is considered to be of great archaeological value since it is only one of the very few mounds from this period. Additionally, the newly found mound opposes the previous dominant theory that suggested that the specific structure was a Norman Conquest-era “motte and bailey” castle.
Dr. Jim Leary, the University of Reading archaeologist who led the exploration back in December 2016, stated as Phys Org reports: "Conventional wisdom placed the Montem Mound 500 years later, in the Norman period. But we have shown that it dates to between the 5th and 7th centuries, not long after the collapse of Roman Empire. This is a time of heroic myth and legend where archaeology fills the gaps of the historic record. This discovery will add so much more to our understanding of the people who lived in Britain at this time. It will also extend our knowledge of the history of Slough."
Unique Technique Used for the First Time
The mound is already a statutory Scheduled Ancient Monument which protects it from development. As Phys Org mentions, the discovery took place during a Leverhulme Trust-funded project called the “Round Mounds Project”. With the use of a novel technique which drills into and dates mottes in England for the first time, researchers get a unique chance to learn more about the age of the monuments. The specific technique allows important information to be collected while it doesn’t severely harm the precious archaeological sites.
King George III and Queen Charlotte at the “Montem”, 1778 (ink wash on paper), by Samuel H. Grimm via the British Library online gallery
Working alongside colleagues at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre at East Kilbride, the team from Reading has demonstrated that, despite the majority of the mounds examined so far being constructed in the period immediately after the Norman Conquest in 1066, there are some extraordinary exceptions.
Dr. Jim Leary said as Phys Org reports, “We tested material from all through the mound, so we are confident that it dates to the Saxon period. Given the dates of the mound, its size and dimensions, and the proximity to the known richly-furnished Saxon barrow at Taplow, it seems most likely that Montem Mound is a prestigious Saxon burial mound."
The archaeological investigations at the site were agreed with Historic England, and consent was granted by the Secretary of State. It is managed as a historical feature as part of Slough Borough Council's parks and open spaces services. The Council is already preparing an enhancement scheme with an interpretation board so that everyone can understand the importance and history of this special green mound.
Top image: Main: Anglo Saxon Portraits (BBC) Inset: Montem Mound (CC by SA 3.0)
By Theodoros Karasavvas