Sheffield archaeologists uncover previously unknown Anglo-Saxon cemetery in an innovative scientific project

This summer, in a simple field on the tip of the Lincolnshire wolds, excavations revealed an extraordinary Anglo-Saxon cemetery.



Digging at the site in Scremby, Lincolnshire was led by Sheffield archaeologists Dr Hugh Willmott and Dr Katie Hemer, in collaboration with Dr Adam Daubney, the Lincolnshire Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

The cemetery was first brought to light when a local metal detectorist began to discover a number of Anglo-Saxon artefacts, including copper gilded brooches, iron shield bosses and spear heads. The metal detected finds were typical of those found in early Anglo-Saxon burials and therefore it was necessary to excavate the site to ensure that any artefacts was retrieved, recorded, and persevered before being destroyed by agricultural activity. Throughout July 2018, international volunteers, Sheffield students, and members of the RAF from nearby stations excavated over twenty burials dating from the late 5th to mid 6th centuries AD.

Almost without exception, the burials were accompanied by a rich array of objects, in keeping with the funerary rites adopted during the early centuries of the Germanic migrations to eastern England. What was noteworthy, however, was the significant proportion of very lavish burials which belonged to women. These women wore necklaces made from sometimes hundreds of amber, glass and rock crystal beads, used personal items such as tweezers, carried fabric bags held open by elephant ivory rings, and wore exquisitely decorated brooches to fasten their clothing. Two women even received silver finger rings and a style of silver buckle commonly associated with Jutish communities in Kent. Furnished burials belonging to males were also identified, including a number buried with weaponry such as spears and shields. Children were notably absent in the parts of the cemetery excavated this year, however, one of the most striking burials was that of a richly-dressed women who was buried with a baby cradled in her left arm.

The preservation of the skeletal remains, as well as the many grave finds, provide an exciting opportunity to explore the social and cultural dynamics of the community who chose to bury their dead on this chalky outcrop. In order to understand as much as possible about the site and those buried here, a series of scientific investigations are underway at the University of Sheffield by various members of the Department of Archaeology.

Image of brooch

Image of Hugh

The human remains are undergoing a complete osteological assessment, whilst stable isotope analysis of teeth and bone will identify where the individuals grew up as children and what food resources they ate. As the Department’s Dr Katie Hemer explains, “Analysis also extends to a number of the finds, including the amber beads, which are being provenanced in collaboration with colleagues from Sheffield’s Department of Physics; the elemental composition of the metalwork will be identified through pXRF; and the elephant species which produced the ivory rings will be identified through ZooMS. The project’s multi-faceted investigation which incorporates cutting-edge scientific techniques will enable Sheffield archaeologists to ask and answer significant questions about early Anglo-Saxon communities in eastern England”.




The project’s multi-faceted investigation which incorporates cutting-edge scientific techniques will enable Sheffield archaeologists to ask and answer significant questions about early Anglo-Saxon communities in eastern England

Dr Katie Hemer, sheffield archaeology



The excavation will feature on Digging for Britain on BBC4 at 9pm on 28th November, and is presented by Professor Alice Roberts who will be interviewing Dr Hugh Willmott in the studio. Viewers will see the excavation unfold and will hear the exciting results of some of our preliminary analyses.

News coverage

The BBC

The Guardian

The Telegraph



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