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This Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Is Filled With Corpses’ Ghostly Silhouettes

All that remains of several individuals buried in a 1,400-year-old graveyard are shadowy traces of their skeletons

A newly discovered Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Oulton, England, includes more than 200 graves. (Suffolk County Council)
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Archaeologists in Suffolk, England, have discovered an Anglo-Saxon cemetery containing more than 200 graves dating back to the seventh century, reports BBC News.

Excavations took place in the town of Oulton ahead of construction of a new housing development, notes Jasper King for the Lowestoft Journal. The burial site, which includes the remains of men, women, children and infants, testifies to the existence of a small farming community.

The site is contemporaneous with and located near Sutton Hoo, a famous royal burial ground that rewrote historians’ understanding of the supposed “Dark Ages” with its trove of sophisticated treasures, according to the National Trust.

Sutton Hoo, discovered in 1939, features two cemeteries dated to the sixth and seventh centuries. Like the individuals responsible for Sutton Hoo, the community behind the cemetery in Oulton may have had ties to the Kingdom of East Anglia, per a statement.

All that remains of some of the skeletons are dark stains, or “sand silhouettes,” visible in the region’s highly acidic soil. These delicate traces of poorly preserved bones helped reveal the 1,400-year-old site’s 191 burials and 17 cremations, reports Joe Pinkstone for the Daily Mail.

One of the many "sand silhouettes" found at the Anglo-Saxon burial site in Oulton, where highly acidic soil erased nearly all traces of some interred skeletons. (Suffolk County Council)
A decorated clay pot discovered at the Anglo-Saxon burial site in Oulton. (Suffolk County Council)

“These shadows also revealed traces of the wooden coffins that some of the individuals were buried in,” says archaeologist Andrew Peachey in the statement.

According to the Journal, objects found at the site included copper-alloy brooches, wrist clasps, amber and glass beads, small iron knives, and silver pennies. Many graves contained pottery; others featured a smattering of weapons, from a sword to iron spearheads and at least one shield.

“Many of the artifacts were so fragile they had to be block lifted for micro-excavation in the labs at Norfolk Museum Service for analysis and conservation,” Peachey adds. “[T]hey were even able to recover pieces of textiles and leather,”

As the Daily Mail reports, archaeologists were hesitant to dig deeper after realizing just how fragile the Oulton finds were, but they have now fully excavated the site. Subsequent studies may reveal new details about the seventh-century agrarian community.

In the statement, a spokesperson for the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service calls the discovery “nationally significant,” adding that “it is important we oversee and record this work so that we can understand the community buried here and its connections to other finds in Oulton and the nearby settlements and cemeteries at Carlton Colville and Flixton.”

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