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Sayer / Matth ew

: Duncan s

His and hers grave goods: many pre-Christian AngloSaxon burials contain artefacts that are broadly specific to a particular sex. At Oakington, Cambridgeshire, this 6th-century woman (above) has been laid to rest with her jewellery (and also a cow), while a shield boss can be seen in this male burial (top right). Ongoing conservation work on the boss has revealed rare traces of wood and textile.

from popular accounts of the artefacts frequently found adorning the deceased. While our view of both Anglo-Saxon grave goods and the period in general is coloured by the regal riches unearthed at Sutton Hoo, individuals of far more modest means could also receive a furnished burial. Men were typically interred with rudely functional militaria, ranging from a spear to knives, shields, and occasionally swords. Women, however, could enter the earth wearing dazzling jewellery. Fashionable female accessories can include brooches, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, buckles, belt fittings, and even in one case at Oakington a cow (CA 270). Such ostentation was anathema to the Church, which was contemptuous of worldly values and sought equality in death. Although the uniformity of early Christian rites is easily exaggerated – it took a while for the norm of burial in a shroud within an orientated grave dug in a churchyard to coalesce – there is a long pedigree of early writers, including Tertullian (c.AD 160-225), pondering best practice.

| Issue 285

When Theodore of Tarsus landed in AD 669, it appears very likely that a style of burial practice whose origins lay firmly in the pagan period was still entrenched in large tracts of England. Far less certain is when and why this distinctive rite was finally extinguished. Like most subjects of academic debate, attempts to explain the disappearance of pre-Christian traditions from Anglo-Saxon burial practices have seen various competing theories fall in and out of fashion. Discussion of this topic has been particularly heated over the last 40 years or so.

Up to the 1970s the Church was seen as the prime driver of change, with the gradual conversion of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms triggering a slow but relentless purging of an innately heathen tradition. By the 1980s and 1990s radiocarbon dates were revealing that churchyards as we understand them today were not really established until the 10th century, leaving a yawning gap between the last ‘pagan’ burials and their

The familiar f orm of the Christian churchyard did not take shape until the 10th century. The 10th- to 12th-century cemetery beside St Mary Magdalen’s chapel, outside Winchester (CA 267), shows this classic layout, with all the graves aligned the same way.


Pro ill Researc h


: Magda | current archaeology 15

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