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aNgLo-saXoN bUriaLs A new chronology liss

Bay lex of A

cour tesy



G: Amanda photos above Radiocarbon dating has shed new light on the chronology of Christianisation in England. As part of this process, a chromium-based catalyst is prepared to produce benzene from acetelyne (right). Prepared vials are then loaded into a liquid scintillation spectrometer (LeFt), where a scintillant is added to the benzene. The resulting ‘counting cocktail’ fluoresces, producing a photon of light when an electron is emitted from a decaying radiocarbon atom. These flashes are detected and counted by the machine.

beLoW Excavations under way at the celebrated Mound 1 ship burial at Sutton Hoo, while dig patron Mrs Pretty (and friends) look on. Between 1938 and 1939, the site yielded a wealth of spectacular grave goods, including this gold belt buckle (iNset), now on display at the British Museum.

the Church’s popularity among the elite, influential people over large areas of England clung to the old ways. Many were still being buried with ostentatious grave goods in an identical style to their heathen forebears.

Theodore’s brief was to don the twin mantles of enforcer and organiser, allowing the church to consolidate its grip on England and make Christianity a reality for all the population. It was a task that the new archbishop pursued vigorously. Embarking on a grand tour of the English parts of Britain, Theodore held a synod at Hertford in 673 that tackled the thorny issues of territory and structure head-on. By the time of his death in September AD 690, the archbishop’s reforming zeal had paid dividends. Given a glowing write-up in the Venerable Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, Theodore is lauded as

‘the first archbishop whom the whole church in England agreed to obey’. While Theodore’s success as a church executive is undoubted, his impact on the practice of furnished burial has been less clear. The historical records are almost silent on this point, leading generations of scholars to conclude that what went on below ground was of little concern to an archbishop dedicated to forging a church structure that would endure for centuries.

Such apparent indifference could easily be explained as canny Realpolitik that acknowledged it was more pressing to bend the living than the dead to the strictures of the Church. Yet for a religion based on death, judgement, and resurrection, the omission is a curious one. Now, new research indicates that the echoing silence about funerary practice in the written record may have promoted an entirely misleading impression of its contemporary importance.

Where, O Death, is your victory?

Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are among the more dramatic sites encountered by archaeologists in Britain. They are dreaded by developers because of the price tag that accompanies any excavation, and the word ‘bling’ is rarely far excavation, and the word ‘bling’ is rarely far ines

H/ John

Mu seum


: Trustees of the photos


current archaeology |

December 2013 |


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