Around l,300 years ago, a young woman was laid to rest beside the River Alde in Suffolk. Although she was buried in one of the earliest- known Christian cemeteries in Anglo Saxon East Anglia, a box of keepsakes was placed in the grave at her feet.. Now her remains have been rediscovered by Suffolk County Council archaeologists and volunteers from the Aldeburgh and District Local History Society (ADLHS) in a three- week excavation at Barbers Point.
Corroded iron box fittings were found above the foot bones of the woman, who has been named ‘Edwina’ by the team. The straps not only bore impressions from the wood that they bound ,but also rare traces of textile- perhaps Edwina’s shroud- while their distribution suggests a casket measuring 20cm square.
Within this area was a diverse collection of artifacts, both domestic items including a spindle whorl and a possible key, and more enigmatic objects that may have held personal significance for Edwina. Among these items were a fragment of blue glass; a stone with a hole in it, perhaps a fossilized sea urchin; a small piece of amber; and a cowrie shell, originally from the Indian ocean There was also a bronze terret ring from an Iron Age harness fitting, and several iron hoops, one strung with two glass beads.
Cowrie Shell and trinkets and a duck egg Found at the Anglo Saxon Burial
Anglo Saxon Burial Excavation
Spindle Whorl found in Edwina’s box of trinkets.
Previous excavations at Barbers Point had uncovered ten Anglo-Saxon graves, but none of these contained artifacts. This, together with the burial’s east-west orientation and the fact that Iken, where St Botolph is reputed to have built his minster in AD 654, lies directly across the river from the site, led the team to conclude that this was a Christian cemetery.
The latest work, funded by the Touching the Tide project ( which recently received a three million Heritage Lottery Fund Grant ), has added to this picture, however, nine more graves were found, all interpreted as Christian, but- along with Edwina’s grave- two more included objects: a knife with another young woman, and a small bronze coin or token beside the head of a 7-8 year old child.
We have tentatively dated the cemetery to the mid 7th century, as most of our previous radiocarbon dates have been clustered around AD650-7l5; said Jezz Meridith, Project Officer for Suffolk County Council’s Archaeological Service Field Team. We feel pretty certain that it is Christian;; the cemetery was clearly within the settlement’s enclosure ditches, and Saxon Pagan cemeteries are normally away from, but in sight of, the main settlement’.
He added: ’Although we have interpreted the box artifacts as mementoes there are parallels with what are referred to as ” purse groups”, which continue into the Christian era. These often include interesting stones, amber and ancient artifacts, and are sometimes interpreted as “amulets” or ” curing stones “.