Up close with Saxon ancestors

CHRIS BISHOP More tantalising glimpses of a 1200-year-old civilisation have emerged from the chalky soil of a Norfolk wheat field.


More tantalising glimpses of a 1200-year-old civilisation have emerged from the chalky soil of a Norfolk wheat field.

Two weeks ago, the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (Sharp) revealed it had found what appeared to be evidence of a Saxon settlement, close to an eighth century cemetery it has been excavating for 10 years.

Yesterday hundreds of visitors saw the latest finds at the project's annual open day. They include a stone kiln, five feet down in a series of trenches believed to mark the boundary of the ancient village, pieces of an impressive clay pot and further fragments of shell and bone, providing further insight into what our ancestors ate.

Sharp's Chris Mackie said so far the team had not found the Saxon church they believe would once have stood close to the cemetery.

Lack of building stone locally means it would have been made of wood, so only the post holes used for its main support timbers would have survived the centuries.

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Investigations at the so called Boneyard field, at the bottom of a hill sloping down towards the Heacham River, are almost complete.

As well as around 300 skeletons, the site has also yielded the famed Sedgeford Hoard of Saxon coins buried inside a cow horn.

"One of theories is that the coins were to pay mercenaries," said Mr Mackie. "Iron Age people were very sophisticated in their own way, they could cultivate the land and do other things, but to have their country invaded by these well-organised Romans, they must have thought they were going to be wiped out.

"Then again they could have been used in some sort of ritual, there have been four hoards found in the Heacham River Valley - one at Heacham, one here and two at Fring."

Project leaders hope to be able to move further uphill, where geophysical surveys have revealed a system of ditches and the outline of round structures which are almost certainly Saxon dwelling huts.

"The Boneyard has had its day but we've got such a fantastic area, we're only nibbling at the edges," said Mr Mackie.

Further up the hill from the Boneyard, parts of a large pot and a stone-built kiln or bread over have been unearthed.

Animal bones jut from the sides of one of an overlaying series of ditches. Predominantly pigs' jaw bones, achaeologists believe whoever lived at this end of the settlement either generally got the scrag ends to eat, or perhaps lived near a Saxon slaughterhouse.

Down the valley from the settlement, a modern day shanty town of tents and camper vans accommodates the archaeologists who have spent their summer excavating the site. In three weeks' time, work on site will finish for the summer.

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