Since 1996, SHARP has undertaken many excavations across the north-west Norfolk parish of Sedgeford exploring the incredibly rich heritage which spans over four thousand years. The project was set up without specific project designs - and continues to operate that way today - but has a broad objective of understanding human settlement and land usage within the parish. We have undertaken a wide range of excavation and research projects from an Early Bronze Age crouch-burial through to a First World War aerodrome.
Although the primary focus of the Project has been the Anglo-Saxon settlement and cemetery situated on the south side of the River Heacham, opposite the modern village of Sedgeford. Excavations of the cemetery on Boneyard Field took place from 1996 to 2007 and provided a detailed insight into the lives and lifestyle of the people that lived here. Further work into what these investigations can tell us is still being undertaken in post-excavation research by our Human Remains team.
In 2007, primary excavations at SHARP moved up the hill into Chalkpit Field to investigate the settlement itself. First in the lower eastern region of the field where the main Anglo-Saxon settlement was situated, then in 2013 excavations moved across the field to the site of an Anglo-Saxon malting house complex, wherein a number of kilns used by the people of Sedgeford in CA 379 to brew beer are located. Investigations into this internationally significant site are ongoing and are now the main focus of SHARP's excavations.
Earlier archaeological investigations of Boneyard, Sedgeford in the 1950s and 60s had previously lifted 126 skeletons from the Anglo-Saxon cemetery on Boneyard, but no comprehensive report of these bones had been published. So in SHARP’s first season in 1996, work began by revisiting the Boneyard cemetery to undertake a large-scale excavation of the site, with the aim of determining its character and chronology. That first season saw the opening of a 20m x 15m area between the backfilled trenches of previous excavations, four test pits, and an evaluation trench in the Reeddam. In the following years, a larger trench was opened into the Reeddam, as well as expanding the original Boneyard trench. By 2001, an additional trench in Boneyard was opened, both trenches were subsequently united. At its greatest extent, the Boneyard-Reeddam trenches measured 50m x 40m.
The Boneyard-Reeddam site was excavated for eleven years. During this period, SHARP excavated 291 discrete individuals, as well as copious disarticulated human bone. Our best guess is that these burials, along with those from earlier excavations, represent somewhere between a quarter and a half of the total population of the cemetery. The burials appear to follow a Christian rite, aligned west to east and not containing any grave goods. The burials fall into two types; coffined or uncoffined. Evidence for the former was found in the recovery of iron coffin-fittings and nails. Eighty coffin fittings were found during the Boneyard-Reeddam excavations, although not all of these were found within grave cuts.
The more common burial rite was uncoffined burial; the body appearing within the grave cut in a more constricted form than that of a coffined burial.
Our in-depth study of the burials suggests that the cemetery was in use for around 200 years (AD 650/725 – 850/875). The population appear to have had a hardworking life, sustained by a varied terrestrial and marine diet. All ages and sexes are represented, although young children less so. A small number of male skeletons show evidence of trauma injuries but not to any scale to suggest that this would have been a common occurrence.
Lower Chalkpit Field
The people buried in the Boneyard-Reeddam cemetery lived further up on the southern edge of the valley, in what is today Chalkpit Field. In 2007, after fieldwalking the area and undertaking an extensive magnetometer survey, we opened five evaluation trenches close to the northern boundary of the field. In a variety of ways, all trenches delivered evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement activity. Between 2008 and 2016, large open area trenches were excavated across the north of the field.
The excavations have uncovered a number of structures, dating from the early 8th century through to the early 11th century. We believe that the settlement had its origins around 700 AD at the latest. We can further speculate that some kind of central authority – secular or ecclesiastical – may have been imposing a formal layout to the site. The original settlement was surrounded by a curvilinear ditch and appears to have lacked internal plot boundaries. We do not know much about the buildings. In addition to the cemetery, the settlement also had an industrial scale cereal-processing plant, probably for malting.
Around a century later, the settlement was radically remodelled on a grid pattern, with hall-type buildings sitting inside rectilinear plots bounded by ditches. The cemetery remained in use, but the cereal-processing plant had been abandoned, and the overlying soil, which had accumulated quickly, was now being ploughed. By the start of the 10th century a high-status complex was established on the southern edge of the settlement.
In 2013, research began towards the north-eastern boundary of Chalkpit Field on a series of geophysical anomalies which had been highlighted on the earlier magnetometer survey. A 10m x 10m evaluation was opened but it was not until machining had reached a depth of 2m that archaeological features were uncovered. These features appeared as the truncated baked clay foundations of what appeared to be large oven structures, cut into the subsoil - a rare Anglo-Saxon (CA 379) malting complex. Further excavation has ascertained that the site sits within a large north-south aligned, post-glacial river valley, which runs downhill to join the Heacham River. The valley has been filled over thousands of years with numerous washed-in ploughsoils, dating back to the Iron Age.
During subsequent years, the trench has been extended to reveal a further oven features and associated clay floors. To the south of the oven features, a large clay-lined pit has been revealed. Dating from these features place them during the Middle Anglo-Saxon period. Evidence of burnt structures has been found adjacent to several of the ovens.
The excavated features are part of a malting house complex, comprising of several buildings. Our current understanding now suggests that at some time around AD 800, Sedgeford was transformed. A new grid-planned village was laid out. A large malt-processing complex was built, and an elaborate system of watercourses was constructed in the valley bottom – for barges, to power mills, and to create fisheries.
Trench 24 has developed considerably over the years and each year we gain more insight into the full extent of this site and the phasing of the various malting buildings. At the start of the 2022 season we only had 3 definite kilns, but by the end of the season we had at least 5 kilns and possibly 2 further ones yet to be identified. The 2023 season will continue excavations of the malting site and these new kilns as we hope to reveal even more about this internationally significant site.
You can see Trench 24 as it was in 2022 with our photogrammetry model below, or take a walk through the trench itself in our 3D model here.
To read our most recent updates from trench as we progress through our 2023 season, be sure to check out our blog.