Understanding Anglo-Saxon burial practice patterns through radiocarbon dating: a case study from southern England
Paper by Katherine Miller
Given at the European Association of Archaeologist Conference, in August 2018
Abstract: With the influx of European migrants from 500 to 800 AD, southern England endured major political and religious conflict. From warring kingdoms to missionary coercion, the south of England was in a constant state of change. This can be recognized through the adoption of burial practices. With cultural and religious practices often linked with burial tradition, funerary rites may give an insight into when and how these practices changed over time.
This paper will present preliminary data from a multifaceted approach to dating three Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in southern England, with mixed burial practices to reveal chronological patterns. Through reading contemporary accounts, utilizing artefactual evidence, and radiocarbon dating, we can hypothesize when certain burials practices, such as mixed alignments and the proportions of grave goods, were popularized. The sites analyzed are Apple Down (Compton, Sussex), Droxford (Droxford, Hampshire), and Pilgrim’s Way (Wrotham, Kent). Each of these sites presents a mixture of burial styles including furnished and bare; south to north orientation and east to west.
The importance of the first two sites mentioned, Apple Down and Droxford to this study, is demonstrated through their location in region previously belonging to the kingdom of Wessex whose history is largely absent from the written record. Radiocarbon dating on smaller, mixed practice cemeteries, this will help provide this missing information. Additionally, by including a site from the kingdom of Kent, Pilgrim’s Way, allow for comparisons between these two kingdoms to be made. With new data alongside previous research, the hopes for this project will be to question how the constant fluctuation in political powers and religious beliefs could have influenced cultural ideals concerning death and burial rites.
Top Image: Anglo Saxon skeleton – photo by UK Ministry of Defence / Flickr