The Anglo Saxon cemetery near Stonehenge: Graves reveal a curious ‘work box’ and ‘fertility’ shells at a site that may have been used for 5,000 years
- Around 150 Anglo Saxon graves found in the village of Bulford, Wiltshire
- Grave goods include a ‘work box’, shells a spear tip and intricate comb
- Nearby site is home to Neolithic chalk goods and carefully arranged bones
- Army site may have been of spiritual significance 5,000 years ago
Salisbury Plain may be best known for Stonehenge, but the chalk plateau hides other secrets too.
Archaeologists have unearthed an Anglo Saxon cemetery of about 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods, including an intricate comb, jewellery, a ‘sewing box’ and intriguing shells in the village of Bulford, Wiltshire.
There are also indications the site has been of spiritual significance for 5,000 years with collections of Neolithic goods suggesting it may also have been an important burial site for Stone Age man.
Experts at Wessex Archaeology excavated the site, earmarked for 227 new Army family homes. It is around four miles from the famous Stonehenge circle.
Investigations revealed about 150 graves from the mid-Anglo-Saxon period in England, with one grave dated to between AD 660 and 780.
It held the remains of an Anglo Saxon woman who died in her mid to late 20s and was laid to rest with two boxes and a cowrie shell.
Simon Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology told MailOnline the grave contained a copper alloy ‘work box’ that may have been used as a little sewing box, because pins have been found in similar cylindrical boxes at other sites.
‘But they might be amuletic [served as a lucky charm] – on some occasions they might contain a piece of bone from a saint or a piece of cloth’ he explained, because at the time Christian influences were spreading across the largely pagan population.
The small cylindrical boxes have been found in tens of Anglo Saxon graves as far north as Northumberland and south as the Thames Valley, according to a study by Catherine Hills of the University of Cambridge.
‘Most have some indication that they could be suspended – they have attachment loops and/or chains,’ she wrote.
The work boxes may have been suspended from a woman’s girdle, but then again, they may have been too fragile and unwieldy and could have been carried in a bag, for example.
The box in the grave was found placed next to the woman’s head, which is relatively unusual as it was more normal for them to be buried by the wearer’s legs, based upon others unearthed.
The boxes have largely only been found in the graves of Anglo Saxon women, as have shells.
Two cowrie shells, possibly from as far away as the Red Sea or India, were also found at the site. Mr Cleggett said they may have come from Cyprus, Egypt, Syria or even India.
‘They are almost always buried with women and children,’ he said, explaining they may have symbolised fertility.
Because of the shells’ origins, they shed light on trade links at the time, stretching across the Mediterranean sea and beyond.
One large shell was found in the woman’s grave along with the work box, while another – buried with a child – has a hole in it, meaning it could have been used as a pendant.
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An “elaborate” Roman villa has been unearthed by chance by a home owner laying electric cables in his garden in Wiltshire.
It was discovered by rug designer Luke Irwin as he was carrying out some work at his farmhouse so that his children could play table tennis in an old barn.
He uncovered an untouched mosaic, and excavations revealed a villa described as “extraordinarily well-preserved”.
Historic England said it was “unparalleled in recent years”.
Thought to be one of the largest of its kind in the country, the villa was uncovered near the village of Tisbury during an eight-day dig. It is being compared in terms of its size and its owners’ wealth to a similar, famous site at Chedworth in Gloucestershire.
Finds including hundreds of oysters, which were artificially cultivated and carried live from the coast in barrels of salt water, suggest that the villa was owned by a wealthy family.
The dig also turned up “extremely high status pottery”, coins, brooches and the bones of animals including a suckling pig and wild animals which had been hunted.
“We’ve found a whole range of artefacts demonstrating just how luxurious a life that was led by the elite family that would have lived at the villa,” said Dr David Roberts, of Historic England. “It’s clearly not your run-of-the-mill domestic settlement.”
‘Not been touched’
Dr Roberts said the villa, built sometime between AD 175 and 220, had “not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago”, which made it “of enormous importance”.
“Without question, this is a hugely valuable site in terms of research, with incredible potential,” he said. “It’s one of the best sites I have ever had the chance to work on.”
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We will be including this art exhibition on our summer Stonehege and Avebury tours.
AN EXHIBITION of the history of Stonehenge will be taking place at the McNeill Gallery in Pewsey.
Archaeological artist Peter Dunn will be exhibiting his Reconstruction Paintings of the Stonehenge Complex at the McNeill Gallery in Pewsey over the summer.
Mr Dunn’s series of reconstruction paintings of the historic landmark were produced from the findings of the Stonehenge Riverside Project between 2009 and 2013.
Beverley McNeill, owner of the gallery, said: “I opened the gallery late November last year and Peter came along. I told him to pop in and talk about an exhibition, I loved the concept of the Stonehenge artwork. The exhibition will have original sketches of the site and findings from the architectural dig he took part in.”
The exhibition will be a first for the gallery, with Mrs McNeill believing it will give an insight into the history of the area.
“I am excited about the…
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Reconstruction of the riverside ‘village and its circular timber ceremonial focus and avenue leading from it down to the Avon
A while back I visited Woodhenge. On that occasion, I didn’t walk around the neighbouring, far larger and monumental Durrington Walls. In fact I never have done. It has always seemed just too big, too incomprehensible. Also, to be honest, I’ve always felt I could view enough of it from the site of Woodhenge and the road. Also, on my last trip, I knew my kids would complain about it not actually being at least part comprised of stones… So I confess publicly to be a shameful neophyte when it comes to experiencing the great DW.
This time, I tried. I walked its banks on the exposed western slopes of the River Avon in cold weather and with a strong wind insisting it was still wintry in late March.
I’m glad I did though. Walking so impressed on me regarding DW’s size…
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