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Home » Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided History Tours » 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

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.

saxon-grave

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. This grave of a woman contains a shell and work box (just seen on the right of her spine and shoulder)

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.

Read the full story and see the image gallery on the Daily Mail website

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Stonehenge and Salisbury guided Tours
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