Science

Archaeology: Thousands of beads and brooches unearthed from Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Northamptonshire

Thousands of beads and brooches are unearthed at site of massive Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Northamptonshire along with weapons, textiles and other precious grave goods

  • Archaeologists excavated the 15 hectare construction site at Overstone Gate
  • The team found 154 Anglo-Saxon graves containing some 3,000 grave goods
  • Alongside the cemetery, the dig also revealed a settlement from the same period
  • Nearby were Bronze Age barrows and buildings and 46 prehistoric burials

Excavations of a massive Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Northamptonshire have revealed thousands of beads and brooches, along with weapons, textiles and other goods.

Experts from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) uncovered the burial site at Overstone Gate amid preparations of the 15 hectare area for construction.

Over the course of 12 months, the team identified 154 Anglo-Saxon graves, together containing nearly 3,000 treasured objects the buried took to their resting place.

This included around 2,000 individual beads, 150 brooches, 75 wrist clasps, 15 rings and 15 chatelaines — a type of decorative clasp from which chains usually hang.

The researchers also found cosmetic kits, bone combs and weapons including 40 knives, 25 spears and 15 shield bosses.

The team even found preserved pieces of textile — which normally do not survive to make it into the archaeological record — mineralised next to metal objects. 

Alongside the cemetery, the dig also revealed an Anglo-Saxon settlement of 22 structures — with another 20 buildings of the same age scattered around the site.

Also uncovered were three round barrows and four buildings from the Bronze Age, along with 46 prehistoric burials.

Excavations of a massive Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Northamptonshire have revealed thousands of beads and brooches, along with weapons, textiles and other goods. Pictured: a brooch from the Overstone Gate site, with preserved, mineralised fabric still attached 

Over the course of 12 months, the team identified 154 Anglo-Saxon graves (as pictured), together containing nearly 3,000 treasured objects the buried took to their resting place

Over the course of 12 months, the team identified 154 Anglo-Saxon graves (as pictured), together containing nearly 3,000 treasured objects the buried took to their resting place

‘The Overstone Leys site contains by far the biggest Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever found in Northamptonshire,’ said MOLA project manager Simon Markus.

‘It is rare to find both an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a cemetery in a single excavation,’ he explained.

‘Excavations will help us understand the way people lived in both the Anglo-Saxon period, around 1,500 years ago as well as the Bronze Age, nearly 4,000 years ago.’

‘The human remains will tell us about diet, health and even the origins of the people themselves whilst their buildings can teach us what their day-to-day lives were like and how they utilised the local landscape in these two different periods.’

‘We’re blown away by the findings at our site in Overstone and have enjoyed learning more about what the land was previously used for,’ said Barratt and David Wilson Homes South Midlands’ managing director, John Dillion.

‘It is amazing to think that people have been building homes on this site for around 4,000 years,’ he added.

‘We hope to continue this long-standing tradition with our new and already flourishing community.’

Recovered grave goods included around 2,000 individual beads, 150 brooches (like the one pictured), 75 wrist clasps, 15 rings and 15 chatelaines — a type of decorative clasp

Recovered grave goods included around 2,000 individual beads, 150 brooches (like the one pictured), 75 wrist clasps, 15 rings and 15 chatelaines — a type of decorative clasp

‘The true impact of developer funding for archaeological work is never more apparent than on sites like these,’ said archaeological consultant Simon Mortimer of the RPS Group, the development project’s heritage consultants.

‘These are ‘once a lifetime discoveries’ for the archaeologists on site and none of this was known about before we started on site.’

‘This is huge advance in our understanding of two key periods in the history of Northamptonshire — the Bronze Age and the Saxon periods and there is a unique story to tell which links populations across 3000 years.’

The Overstone Leys site contains by far the biggest Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever found in Northamptonshire,' said MOLA project manager Simon Markus. 'It is rare to find both an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a cemetery in a single excavation.'

The Overstone Leys site contains by far the biggest Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever found in Northamptonshire,’ said MOLA project manager Simon Markus. ‘It is rare to find both an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a cemetery in a single excavation.’

Experts from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) uncovered the burial site at Overstone Gate amid preparations of the 15 hectare area for construction

Experts from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) uncovered the burial site at Overstone Gate amid preparations of the 15 hectare area for construction

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