Boneyard Field

 

The Jewell Excavations have taken place on the site of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sedgeford prior to the commencement of SHARP in 1996.

 

Several excavations were carried out in the environs during the 1950s, the most significant of which was that conducted by Dr Peter Jewell of Cambridge University during 1957 and 1958. The site was known to be of archaeological interest and as deep ploughing was to be undertaken in the field, the Ministry of Works decided that would be appropriate to carry out trial trenching. In December 1957, two series of trial trenches were dug across the Boneyard field, the first running north-south across the centre of the field and the second running east-west. Several skeletons were discovered in one area (Site 32) and structural evidence was located further to the west (Site 36). Jewell returned to the site in August 1958 and carried out further, more concentrated excavation on these two areas.

 

Although a brief summary of his excavation findings was published (see below), the fact that some of his collaborators did not deliver their respective reports means that the excavations were not fully published. However, we hope that, using the excavation archive and the report prepared by Jewell and others, we will be able to publish the 1957-8 excavations as part of the New Trench monograph.

 

Jewell’s Findings

The following extract is reproduced from Medieval Archaeology 3, 1959, p. 298. Aside from the animal bone material published by Jewell’s wife Juliet Clutton Brock in Wilson’s Archaeology of Anglo- Saxon England (1976) it represents the only published material pertaining to their excavations. “SEDGEFORD (TL/711363). A small field at West Hall Farm has been known to archaeologists for some time as yielding Saxon pottery sherds. To local farm labourers it is the ‘bone field’ from the number of human bones that turned up in past ploughing. Excavation by Dr. P. Jewell revealed an extensive burial-ground at the E. end and part of a settlement-site at the W. end. The settlement-site was indicated by midden refuse and by a number of structural features. Gulleys were cut into the gravel subsoil, and so placed as to take away run-off water from the hill side. Down-slope from one of these protective gulleys a platform had been levelled out in the gravel, but no evidence could be found for any building erected there during this phase. Later, after these gulleys had silted up, new activity occurred, including the erection of a long building. A footing-trench, forming two sides of a rectangle, was uncovered - the long side running roughly E.-W. across the earlier site. This side was 50 ft. long and the trench was capped by a spread of burnt daub. A gap in the trench and daub marked the entrance to the building, and packing stones were found in the rounded expansions of the trench that flanked the entrance. Otherwise only the most tantalising traces of structure were found. Parallel to the long trench, and at a distance of 20 ft. from it, there was a line of daub fragments, but no further evidence on which to delimit the building. There was no hearth or post-holes, but a flint pavement, that may have been a hut floor, survived in parts. The position on a rather steep valley side, the porous nature of the gravel subsoil, and past tilling have resulted in this severe denudation. Amongst the finer artefacts are a carved bone comb-handle and a bone knife-handle. Whetstones are numerous and show needle scratches as well as broad wear. Sherds were extremely numerous, the dominant type being Middle-Saxon Ipswich ware, but there were some sherds of Thetford ware too.

 

In the cemetery two bronze pins were found, one well-made with faceted head and ring-and-dot decoration, the other with slightly faceted biconical head, as if in poor imitation of the former. Sherds of Ipswich ware lay below some of the skeletons, all of which were laid E.-W. and were without burial goods. There was no evidence to suggest that the cemetery was not contemporary with the settlement. Some 30 skeletons were recovered.”

 

Before SHARP’s first season in 1996, the then directors went to visit Dr. Jewell and obtained copies of much of his excavation’s paper archive, subsequently using this information to place the main Boneyard trench adjacent to the previously excavated areas. Jewell himself visited the site during the 1997 season, and, although he has since died, it has always been our intention to combine his findings with our own to create an overall archaeological picture of the Boneyard. To this end, the 2000 season saw the opening of a trench linking our excavations to Jewell’s and also the beginning of a programme to re-examine his site archive. In 2001 this link trench was superseded by the opening of the Boneyard ‘New Trench’.

 

The Cambridge Skeletons

The Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge holds over 70 partial skeletons from Sedgeford as a part of the Duckworth Collection. During the course of a week during the 2000 season we were able to identify 22 skeletons as being those excavated by Peter Jewell by matching their Roman numeral cataloguing system with that used on excavation plans showing the skeletons in situ.

 

Jewell’s plans compared well with the evidence of the skeletons themselves, as the amount of skeleton shown present was generally very accurate, although frequently ribs and hands were missing - clearly shown on the plans, we can only assume that they were not recovered during excavation, presumably as they were deemed to be of little diagnostic value. This is still essentially true, but the idea of separating articulated bones for any other reason than dire necessity is not one that is tolerated so easily today and provides an example of the change in attitudes in archaeology during the last forty years.

 

Jewell’s 22 skeletons were examined in the same way as those excavated by SHARP and their data added to the SHARP burials catalogue. Our work at Cambridge has demonstrated the value of examining the archives of previous excavations and we hope to have as much success when we examine the rest of Jewell’s excavation archive. However, the Cambridge collection also contains the partial remains of at least 50 more individuals described as coming from an excavation in Sedgeford during 1960-61 and about which we know nothing - are these individuals also a part of the Boneyard population or do they represent another site as yet unknown to SHARP?

 

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