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Excavations in the Anglo-Saxon Burial Grounds at RAF Lakenheath, Eriswell, Suffolk

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Excavations in the Anglo-Saxon Burial Grounds at RAF Lakenheath, Eriswell, Suffolk

Lecture by John Hines FSA and Jo Caruth FSA.

Excavations from 1997 to 2008 within the site of RAF Lakenheath involved the greater part of an Early Anglo-Saxon cemetery divided between three discrete but closely grouped burial grounds, together with some settlement evidence of around the same date. A further, successor, cemetery has also been found some 500 metres south of this area. A high level of public attention was attracted to this site in the late 1990s by the burial of a young man with a horse that had been slaughtered and interred equipped with saddle and an exceptionally richly decorated bridle. This can now be shown to be one of the earliest identifiable graves on the site, although there is not a strong case for labelling it a founder burial.

In broader archaeological terms, the importance of these excavations lies in the high quality of preservation of the evidence within the graves and its largely undisturbed character. Amongst many facets of the life and culture of the burying population that have been revealed by post-excavation analysis, this presentation will concentrate on certain key aspects of the demography of the people who were burying here and how their lives and communities were organised. How, for instance, are we to interpret the three contemporary but separate burial areas? There is evidence of a dramatic reduction in the size of the burying population no later than the middle of the sixth century, a threshold which coincides with fundamental changes in the range of material available to it and the way such resources and technical know-how were used. Chronological modelling provides us also with a direct sequence from an Early Anglo-Saxon furnished burial ground to a ‘Middle Anglo-Saxon’ field-cemetery successor for the first time.

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