Age-old skeletons were unearthed at the Holy Trinity Church in Hildersham, a town in England’s Cambridgeshire region. The mass grave dating from Anglo-Saxon times was discovered by laborers who were building toilet facilities next to a medieval church.
The remains of several children were found
Works began in March 2015 to provide for disabled people to the toilet facilities at the church. After just two weeks, the workmen discovered at least 40 skeletons buried only a foot and a half below the surface of the chalky soil. Two of the skeletons were children.
Over the course of the next year, the church paid archaeologists £20,000 to take a look at 19 skeletons that date from the 9th Century or 10th Century. This would mean that the skeletons at the site predate the church itself by several hundred years.
According to local historian Andrew Westwood-Bate (60), "We expected to discover some bones while digging but this was completely unexpected. The Victorians did a lot of work here and there are underground pipes brushing past the graves, but amazingly nothing had disturbed them." He also serves as church-warden at Holy Trinity Church.
Since the discovery, the church vestry decided to relocate the remains to a newly prepared grave overlooking a nearby meadow where the erstwhile villagers would have lived at that period, 1000 years ago. Skeletons and bones were carefully removed and cleaned before being transferred to funeral directors. The exhumation and reburial were conducted privately and is being revealed now as the church prepares to erect a headstone on the new grave.
The shallow Anglo-Saxon burials were made in the chalky soil of the region
Westwood-Bate said, "The discovery of the children was one of the most moving moments of the excavation. The graves were dug into the chalk and bodies laid directly in the cavity. When they were removed the bones were all put in bags and placed in a grave together. We gave them a proper funeral, again at 8 a.m. because we didn't want to draw any attention to ourselves. It was very moving and they have been laid to rest looking over the meadow where they would have lived when they were alive."
Casts were made of some of the graves
It is thought the graves belong to villagers who lived outside the walls of what was probably an Anglo-Saxon church. Westwood-Bate says that skeletons are Anglo-Saxon, although Cambridge University Archaeological Unit experts who examined the site dated the bones to the 11th or 12th century, after the Norman conquest of 1066.
Reburial of the remains was conducted by local undertakers
The new headstone will be erected before the end of April. It will read: "This headstone marks the grave of 32 Anglo-Saxon skeletons excavated by the University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit during the building of the North Porch in 2015. The Anglo-Saxon burial ground pre-dates the present church, itself over 900 years old. The archaeological team found the remains of bodies shrouded and laid in individual graves cut from the chalk."
Once the Anglo-Saxon skeletons were removed and examined, they were reburied
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