Grave 116!

Grave 116 from Oakington dig 2014 excavations, containing an adult female truncated by a modern maintenance pipe

Last Tuesday saw the excavation of our very first complete skeleton of the 2014 season, and what an exciting find it was. Our skeletal team worked hard for over thirteen hours in order to meticulously excavate burial 116. The grave itself consists of a female adult placed on her left side, adorned with multiple grave goods. Unfortunately, the burial had been truncated by a modern services pipe, which ran straight up the middle of the skeleton, narrowly missing all of her grave goods. The pipe would have been laid using an auguring method (drilling horizontally though the ground) and so the workers would have been unaware of the early Anglo-Saxon burial in its path. Although the damage to the core of the skeleton was considerable – removing large parts of the central area and spine we were arguably lucky because it seems to have missed all of the objects she was buried with by a just a few centimetres.

Grave Goods

This female had numerous grave goods buried with her, placing her amongst the wealthiest burials identified during our excavations of the early Anglo-Saxon cemetery. These included:

Large Cruciform Brooch – the cruciform brooch gets its name from its cross shape, however they have no association to early Christianity being derived from pre-Christian Scandinavian bow brooches, the bow and cross design shape allows the large brooch to fasten a heavy woollen cloak, with an iron pin fastener at the back of the brooch. Brooches of this type often show zoomorphic designs, usually a representation of a horse’s head at the foot (the narrower end); the designs becoming more detailed and elaborate over time. In this burial, the cruciform brooch is likely to have been fastened to the centre of the cloak for decoration and is a simple form in the florid style suggesting a date between AD 550-600.

Two Small-Long Brooch – This brooch type are considered to be one of the more modest and less elaborate brooch types. In this burial two small-long brooches were identified, one on each shoulder and consist of a square shaped headed plate with scalloped edges, each would have been used to fasten her peplos style dress at the shoulder.

Two Wrist Clasps – Wrist clasps are each composed of two small copper alloy sheets one with a hook and one with an eye closure to allow them to fasten together. At the rear of the claps the object have two holes allowing them to be sewn onto the sleeve. This style is common in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire and allowed woman to have tight sleeves which prevented them being caught up in the loom.

Amber and Glass beads – These beads would have constituted multiple necklaces. The two we found here consisted of a fan shaped festoon of mostly amber beads and a string of mostly glass beads. The beads themselves could have been elaborately coloured or decorated they would have been collected over a number of years and would have been a demonstration of female wealth. In the case we will know more about the beads and their decoration following conservation.

Within this burial we also found a strap end, a pot sherd, an iron knife and a copper alloy loop used to hold keys. Interestingly a fastener found around her chin may have been used to secure a cap or hat.

Possible Interpretations

Initial examinations of the remains of the burial suggest that she may have been related to two of the other wealthy female individuals buried at Oakington. All three remains show signs of a diastema (gap between the two front teeth), one cause of this is thought to be an inherited trait. The other wealthy female examples are the pregnant woman excavated in 2011 (burial 57) and the women buried with the cow (burial 80) excavated in 2012. From this initial evidence and the broader dating of burials these seem to me from the early 6th century (57), mid-6th century (80) and late 6th century (116); alluding to multiple generations of wealthy or influential females from the same family buried at Oakington.

Following the excavation the remains will be assessed by a professional osteologist. We will post further findings onto this blog in the future. These initial interpretations may change following examination but that is the nature of archaeology!

-Bones without Barriers