In a region perhaps best known for the Neolithic structure of Stonehenge, archaeologists have uncovered another aspect to the rich history of the Salisbury Plain in southern England. Over the past two months, no less than two ancient burial grounds have been unearthed, both of which were found to date to the Anglo-Saxons around 1,300 years ago.
One of the intricate bone combs discovered in the graves. Wessex Archaeology/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
The graves, which contain a wealth of personal artifacts, give researchers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of two ancient communities living in close proximity, and who almost certainly knew each other at the time when the cemeteries were in use. The first site was discovered in the town of Bulford in April, and contains around 150 graves, while just a month later a second site only 11 kilometers (7 miles) down the road in Tidworth was found to have the remains of an additional 55 graves.
The earliest documentary evidence we have for Saxon settlement at Tidworth dates to 975 CE, explained Simon Flaherty from Wessex Archaeology, and site director for the Tidworth graves. This excavation potentially pushes the history of the town back a further 300 years. The bodies found buried show a cross-section of society, including women, men, and children, and are accompanied by a vast wealth of artifacts, with a particular abundance of small iron knives.
One grave contains the body of a man who when alive would have stood six feet tall, buried with a spear and the remains of a shield, leading experts to suggest he may have been a warrior. Another contains the remains of a woman with bronze jewelry, a bone comb, and a bronze box, indicating that she may have held high status within the community. The burial ground was actually discovered by accident, as work began on a 70 million housing development in the village for the families of service personnel.
The bronze box discovered in the grave of a woman. What they were used for remains a mystery. Wessex Archaeology/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
The discovery of the site in Tidworth comes after a similar find in Bulford, where archaeologist uncovered another mass of objects, including intricate combs, jewelry and a sewing box. The find adds to the rich history of the area, which experts believe may have been occupied for thousands of years as Neolithic artifacts, dating to around the time that Stonehenge was erected, have also been discovered in the same area.
After the excavations in Tidworth are complete, building of the housing for army families is expected to be completed in 2018, and the artefacts and human remains recovered will be examined by experts from Wessex Archaeology, based in Salisbury, before going on display at the Devizes Museum in Wiltshire.
Main image: Wessex Archaeology/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Second image in text: One of the graves containing a six-foot man thought to have been a warrior. Wessex Archaeology/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0