Whitton - Report published in Lincolnshire History and Archaeology (2002)

Dawn Hadley


coffin fittings
Fig.4 coffin-fittings

A second season of excavation of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Whitton was undertaken during August 2002 by the Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield(1). These two excavations were prompted by a previous examination of the site undertaken in 1987, in the wake of a forensic investigation. In 1987 it was ascertained that the remains were ancient, and it was suggested that they were Christian burials, probably of later Anglo-Saxon date. Last year's excavation uncovered coffin-fittings that were comparable to examples found in cemeteries of eighth- and ninth-century date. In the light of this, radiocarbon dates were acquired from three skeletons(2). These produced dates indicating that the date of the cemetery is closer to that suggested on the basis of the coffin-fittings (Fig.4).

The three investigations of the site have uncovered the remains of around fifty individuals. Although a detailed analysis of the skeletal remains uncovered in 1987 was not undertaken, both adult and sub-adult remains were present(3). Analysis of the remains excavated more recently reveals that this was the cemetery for a normal lay population, including adult males and females of all ages, juveniles and infants.

Iron coffin-fittings were found in association with two sub-adult burials. The burial of a child aged three to five years had been placed in a coffin, or chest, which was fastened with right-angled brackets, a 'latch' and adjoining bracket and a hasp through which a wooden rod appears to have passed. The burial of a child aged eight to thirteen years had been placed in a coffin with a pair of parallel right-angled brackets holding the base and sides of the coffin. Analysis of the iron-replaced wood evident on the fittings revealed that the coffins were made of oak(4). A few further fragments of coffin-fittings (including various nails and studs, a flat bracket, and sections of right-angled brackets) were found in disturbed contexts, suggesting that there were other coffin burials in the cemetery. However, the incidence of inter-cutting and overlaying of burials indicates that other burials were not placed in coffins, and the tight configuration of bones of some skeletons may suggest occasional shrouded burial, although confirmatory evidence in the form of shroud pins was not forthcoming.

The recent excavations uncovered not only intact skeletons, but also much disarticulated and disturbed material. The lack of visible grave and other cuts made it difficult to date the disturbance of the skeletons. Nonetheless, while some disturbance clearly occurred in later centuries, it was apparent that some of the skeletons were disturbed or moved relatively soon after they were buried, since the scattered parts of the skeleton were still broadly articulated. Three clusters of skulls and other bones may have been deliberate charnel deposits, rather than the result of simple disturbance.

We are not yet able to say whether the cemetery was associated with a church. The parish church of the village appears to be no older than the eleventh or twelfth century. The burials excavated in 2001 were associated with some sort of wall, which survived only to three courses, over which the articulated legs of one skeleton lay. Unfortunately, it was not possible to extend our excavation of the wall due to the layout of the garden. It may have been a boundary wall, which was subsequently superseded, or it may have been the footings of a building. The spatial geography of the cemetery hints at some sort of focal point (?a church) to the west of the garden, as this is where the burials are more densely located, and where evidence for intercutting and overlaying of burials has emerged. A programme of test-pitting was undertaken around the village in an attempt to place the cemetery in its settlement context, and it is hoped that analysis of the pottery recovered may help to identify where contemporary settlement was located(5).

Notes.

1. For a report on the first season of excavation see Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 36 (2001), p.59.

2. Samples were processed by the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, The University of Waikato, New Zealand.

3. Kevin Leahy, pers. comm.

4. Ian Tyers, English Heritage Dendrochronology Laboratory, pers. comm.

5. I am grateful to Phillip and Susan Sibborn for permission to excavate in their garden, to Andrew Chamberlain and Rebecca Gowland for their analysis of the skeletal material, and to Alison Walster and Ian Tyers for their examination of the coffin-fittings. Post-excavation analysis of the finds and radiocarbon dates were funded by a grant from the British Academy.

Radiocarbon dates, Whitton.

Specimen

Whitton007

Whitton009

Whitton020

Lab Number

Wk-10348

Wk-10349

Wk-10347

C14 (uncalibrated)

1375±50BP

1324±45BP

1218±47BP

Date (calibrated 68%)

AD 615 to 690

AD 650 to 770

AD 720 to 890

Date (calibrated 95%)

AD 560 to 780

AD 620 to 780

AD 680 to 960