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ASSEMBLAGE

Unique ID: CAM-B4681D

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

Circumstances of discovery:

From the 29th November to the 22nd December 2006 a team from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) undertook the excavation of a small Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemetery in advance of housing development. This had been identified during an archaeological trench evaluation in May 2006, when four definite graves had been identified as probably 7th-century (Mackay and Swaysland 2006).

Grave 1 (Older juvenile, 10-12 years; F.17; Fig 7)

The grave is sub-oval in form, though it was partially truncated at one end by a field drain, and is aligned west to east. Cut [052] is 1.83m+ by 1.11m in extent and 0.24m+ deep with a steep to near vertical top break of slope leading to a moderately to gently sloping lower break of slope onto a relatively flat base. Within this grave, skeleton [051] was laid in an extended and supine position, with the arms partially flexed so that the hands rested on the pelvis; the head lay at the west end. It was accompanied by a wooden box, distinguished both by a stain and by its numerous iron fittings, which contained a matching pair of glass palm cups and a single sided composite bone comb. Around its neck was a necklace, whilst a silver pin with chain lay across the chest. From the belt were suspended an iron chatelaine and an iron knife, whilst above the head rested an iron fitting with attached chains. The cut was backfilled with [050], a relatively firm deposit of mid to pale brown sandy silty clay with a distinct orange tinge which contained occasional poorly sorted sub-angular gravel inclusions and rare residual flint and pottery fragments. Grave is dated by associated grave-goods to 2nd half of 7th century.

Details of associated silver and gold grave goods:

Necklace (SF52-60): Gold pendant: cross minus fourth arm, suspension loop in that position. Original settings for arms and centre now missing; gold pendant, D-shaped cabochon garnet setting; one gold bulla pendant; six silver bullae.

Discussion of bulla pendants (Catherine Hills)

This type of pendant is widespread across England, and has been dated most commonly to the second half of the 7th century (Geake 1997: 36). The examples from Buttermarket grave 4275 were part of a necklace which also included coins with a suggested terminus post quem of 660/680. Southampton stadium grave no. 4203 contained a necklace similar to that from Westfield, with four silver bulla pendants, a few beads and crescent shaped pendants which, though not like the cross from Ely, would nonetheless have presented a similar composition. At Winchester (Hawkes 1990), there was a more complex necklace with silver rings and glass beads as well as one gold and two silver bullae, and also three other gold pendants, two with garnet settings, similar to the gold/garnet pendant from Westfield Farm Grave 1.

Discussion of gold and garnet pendants (Catherine Hills)

Gold and garnet pendants are found in many other 7th-century burials, especially in Kent, but also East Anglia, for example Boss Hall, Ipswich where they were associated with a sceatta of c. 690 (Webster and Backhouse 1991).

The most elaborate necklace recorded is that from Desborough (Webster and Backhouse 1991, fig. 13). This is far more elaborate and complete than others mentioned here. But one feature it shares with Westfield Farm Grave 1 is the central gold cross pendant. At Desborough this is a simple gold cross, while at Ely it is a pendant which once had settings in its arms and centre, though these are now missing.

This pendant is odd in that it is missing the fourth arm but otherwise takes the shape of a "Celtic" cross like other more elaborate gold and garnet pendants such as Ixworth. Cross pendants are usually taken as indicators of the Christianity of their owner and so dated by association with historical accounts of the date of conversion of the relevant region of England. There are several weak points in this argument, but it is clear that most such pendants do belong to the 7th century, and that some, if not all of them, had an original connection with Christianity.

Silver, pin and chain (SF51).

Discussion of silver pin and chain

Silver or copper alloy pins linked by chains are known from 7th- and 8th-century burial and settlement contexts. At Harford Farm (Penn 2000), linked pins were found in grave 18, together with a workbox, pendants and coins.

Other associated grave-goods:

Glass, blue-green, two palm cups, plain with out-folded rim (SF42-43).

Bone, single-sided comb, slightly curved back, small cu alloy ring through one end, probably for suspension (SF48).

Iron knife (SF50).

Iron fittings from box (SF28-33, 36, 44-47, 49).

Discussion:

Preliminary discussion of cemetery dating and significance

By Catherine Hills

Chronology:

All types of artefacts found at Westfield Farm are known from other burials dated to the 7th century AD. Helen Geake's (1997) seriation of finds from conversion period graves identifies five groups, A-E. Group D, distinguished clearly from preceding groups, and dated 650-720/30, includes key types found at Westfield: the humpbacked comb, bulla pendants, plain palm cups, workboxes and linked pins. On her classification then these burials are likely to belong to the later part of the 7th century. The review of dating for individual types above confirms that. However, there is perhaps some contradiction between the late 7th-century date suggested for some types, such as workboxes, and the mid 7th-century date suggested by Scull for the Buttermarket grave with two palm cups (see below). Of all artefact types, one might expect glass vessels to have been too fragile to have survived intact for many years after manufacture. It may have been that the workbox and other 'late' types were in fact being made from the mid 7th-century, and so were buried at Westfield when new: examination of the workbox for repairs, or wear etc. might help here. Alternatively, the plain palm cups may have been made later. Another possibility is that these two glass vessels were indeed valuable and may have been carefully curated. The last scenario is perhaps the most interesting, but perhaps the most simple explanation is that the central Grave 1 with the palm cups, was earlier than those which surrounded it, including Grave 2 with the workbox.

The historical context of the cemetery

It is worth attempting greater precision on the cemetery dating because of the historical accounts relating to Ely. Bede records that Aethelthryth, wife of Ecgfrith of Northumbria, left him to become a nun, and founded a monastery at Ely. This was in the 670s, and she died in 679, from a tumour on her neck which Bede says she regarded as punishment for having worn necklaces when younger. The search for a suitable sarcophagus in which to bury her led the monks to the "civitatulum... desolatum... Grantacaestir vocatur" usually taken as the first documentary reference to Cambridge (Bede IV 19).

Do the Westfield Farm burials belong to the 670s, in which case they would have been contemporary with Aethelthryth, or to the end of the 7th century, a generation after her death? In either case the burials took place close to a Christian community living on a limited area of land in the fens. We might expect members of the monastic community to have been buried near the church, which these are not (although they do lie just 650m west of the possible monastic site at St John's Farm), but given the variety of burial form and location current at the time even that cannot be ruled out. Those buried in Graves 1 and 2 were elite females, the type of women who joined nunneries founded by royalty, one of them wearing a necklace of the kind Aethelthryth blamed for her illness, and including a Christian cross pendant. One of the most intriguing aspects of this site is the youth of both of these burials: Grave 1 is currently thought to be between 10 and 12 years of age, while the ?female in Grave 2 is a little older at 15 to 17 years. The elaborate burial of young (presumably female) members of the community, while other older female and male individuals are barely furnished, or are buried unaccompanied, is something which demands exploration in the publication of this site.

Dr Sam Lucy

Post-Excavation and Publications Officer

Cambridge Archaeological Unit

13th September 2007

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Submitted for consideration as Treasure

Treasure details

Treasure case tracking number: 2007T349

Chronology

Broad period: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Early
Period from: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod to: Early
Period to: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 650
Date to: Circa AD 700

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Ms Helen Fowler
Identified by: Dr Sam Lucy
Secondary identifier: Dr Catherine Hills

Other reference numbers

Treasure case number: 2007T349

Materials and construction

Completeness: Complete

Spatial metadata

Region: Eastern (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Cambridgeshire (County)
District: East Cambridgeshire (District)
To be known as: Westfield Farm

Spatial coordinates


Grid reference source: From finder
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square.

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: CAM
Created: 4 years ago
Updated: 2 years ago

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