Three cemeteries at RAF Lakenheath

Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries at Eriswell (RAF Lakenheath)

Horse and rider grave at ERL 104 under excavationExcavation of three early Anglo Saxon cemeteries at RAF Lakenheath between 1997 and 2002 uncovered a total of 394 inhumation and 17 cremation burials; the inclusion of burials from earlier excavations by Grace, Lady Briscoe, gives a total of 446. Cemeteries ERL 104 and 114 were almost fully excavated with the majority of the cemetery limits exposed, but only the southern and western limits of ERL 046 were contained within the excavation. Small areas of all three cemeteries remain preserved below roads, buildings and grass.


A high proportion of the inhumations produced grave goods ranging from individual beads and iron knives, through full weapons burials and furnished female graves to animal sacrifices. The most exoticBridle fitting of gilded silver from the horse burial at ERL 104 burials were two cases in which men were buried in graves within small ring-ditches and accompanied by their horses. The first of these burials from site ERL 104 aroused much excitement, receiving international media coverage. It included in situ gilded bronze bridle fittings, the first time this has been found in Britain. 


The vast majority of burials were east-west aligned, and supine extended or flexed. There was little rigid order to the burials on site ERL 104, although short lines can be seen in certain areas. Most of the burials on ERL 046 were clearly aligned in rows and the ‘wealthier’ burials seemed to be grouped to the west end of the cemetery. Two Bronze Age inhumations excavated within a circular area devoid of Saxon burials in the centre of ERL 114 were indicators of the prehistoric burial mound which was to become the focus of this cemetery. This is the largest group of Early Bird shield mount lying on the face of a skeletonAnglo-Saxon burials excavated in Suffolk and one of the largest in the country in modern times. More than half the burials have been assessed as in fair condition or better, thus representing the largest group of reasonably preserved Anglo-Saxon skeletons in Suffolk, and one of the largest in the country in modern times. The date range of the cemetery group as a whole has been provisionally identified as late 5th to early 7th century AD and grave goods typical of both the Migration and Conversion Periods have been recorded.

The intensity of development at RAF Lakenheath means that there is an unusually high degree of recently excavated settlement and landscape information available to provide a context for the cemeteries. Evidence of settlement, with dwellings and occupation deposits, from the 6th to the 8th centuries has been found nearby, and dense late Roman settlement lies within 500m. There is evidence of extensive field systems showing a continuity of land use in this area dating from the prehistoric to medieval periods. The possible presence of some ditches contemporary with the cemetery use may provide evidence for the wider landscape around the cemeteries during the Early Saxon period.

The excavation of three adjacent cemeteries is a rare occurrence and these form the largest Anglo-Saxon cemetery sample available for modern analysis. Study of it is likely to increase the possibility of deriving good evidence for debate on gender, class, ethnicity and social organisation within rural Anglo-Saxon communities, an eventuality which will be enhanced by the good state of preservation and the apparent completeness of the cemeteries. Assessment has shown that the excavated evidence has good potential to contribute greatly to the understanding of Early Saxon population studies, funerary ritual, social structures, artefact studies and the relationship between cemetery, settlement and the wider historic landscape. The significance of these sites and the value of the information contained within them cannot be overstated.


Contact details:

Richenda Goffin and Jo Caruth
Post-Excavation Manager and Senior Project Officer
Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service
Shire Hall
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk
IP33 2AR

Telephone: 01284 352446
Email: richenda.goffin@et.suffolkcc.gov.uk or joanna.caruth@et.suffolkcc.gov.uk

©2007 Suffolk County Council
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