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In 1997 a major archaeological dig took place on the area where the new houses are on Station Road. The finds were very significant: remains of a settlement, and a large Saxon burial site, with evidence of some 118 internments. This Saxon cemetery is an example of early Christian burials, and a rare example of the changes to the beliefs of people moving from pagan to Christian.
Apart from the cemetery the site included a Timber Hall, an animal pen, enclosure ditches and a number of dwellings including 12 ‘grubhauses’ (a dwelling dug as a pit with posts to hold roof), as shown on the right hand diagram below as black squares numbered 1 – 12 (enlarge diagram by clicking on it to see clearly). Larger dwellings were about 6 meters by 4, Among other things lead loom weights were found in several of the grubhauses indicating that weaving was a common activity. In addition a Roman coin and copper alloy hair pin were found. Pottery fragments dated the dwellings as 5/6th century. The site was occupied over a period from about the 5/6 centuries to the 8 or 9 century and not all features were there at the same time as some fell into disuse, as indeed things do today! It was never a ‘village’ as we now know it.
This map is of the Millbridge Brook Meadows walks and the housing estate (Poppyfields) with the position of the Saxon cemetery marked in pink (an area of 25 x 25 meters). click on image to enlarge and see more detail . Plans to place an information board and permanent marker in remembrance of these early residents are well advanced.
On the evening of July 6th 2017 at the Gamlingay Eco Hub GamArch, in collaboration with the Gamlingay History Society, held an open meeting at which an audience of over 50 people, including members of the Fen Edge Archaeology Group, enjoyed a presentation about the Saxons of Gamlingay and the future of the project from Quinton Carroll (Chief County Archaeologist) and Dr Sarah Inskip,, an osteoarchaeologist from Cambridge University.
Sarah is a key project worker in a new research project exploring the impact of the Black Death (the bubonic plague of 1348) on the health and life of the population. Sarah says ‘the human skeletal remains excavated in Gamlingay are pivotal to this research as they represent a community living prior to this Black Death event. This means they act as a baseline to interpret any change’. Sarah now (July 2017) has the skeleton remains in her possession and can start the process of examination to establish the age, health and possible deceases of the population in Gamlingay’s Saxon times.
With Sarah’s permission we show some of the slides in her presentation:
Slide 1 – the excavation of the whole cemetery will give us a complete picture of the health and life of the community after further examination. Slides 2/3 – the numbers of remains by sex and ages . Outliers refer to those found outside the main cemetery (2). Slide 4 – the average height of Gamlingay males and females in the cemetery compared with other sites in the area, and other periods. Note that Gamlingay men were smaller but the women generally taller! Is that still true?
The next three slides show the diseases in Gamlingay remains which are quite low compared with other locations in East Anglia. Further examination will establish details about the inhabitants life but it seems they were generally healthy.
January 2018 – Progress on the analysis of the remains is well underway by Dr Sarah Inskip and her team at Cambridge, The images show part of the team setting out remains and an example of a shin bone from a Gamlingay Saxon (right) who had rickets compared to a normal straight shin bone (left).
Latest July 2018: Following the successful presentation about the Saxon cemetery and it’s ‘residents’ last year, GamArch and the History Society were pleased to have over 40 people attend the follow up presentation at the Hub. Dr Sarah Inskip’s talk was very informative and interesting: explaining the nature of osteoarcheaology, reminding us of the changing nature of our skeletal bones as we grow, what they can tell of our personal history and, of course, sharing early findings from the research and analysis of the remains of some of skeletons. Radiocarbon dating had identified skeletons from three periods of history: – some dated from as early as 670 AD, some 701 AD – 889 AD, and others from 894 AD – 930 AD. This indicated occupation in the area for a long period. Isotope anaysis so far indicated a terrestial diet, with clear traces of animal protien. There were also clear indications of breast fed infants, as one would expect. In general health terms there was evidence of rickets, infantile scurvy, tuberculosis and arthritis. But also sufficient indications that many in the community had been physically sturdy as a result of physical labour.
Images from the presentation when Sarah has completed her analyses,
SAXON RE-INTERMENT CEREMONY
Moving, emotional, memorable. Just a few of the words used to describe the ceremony to re-inter the remains of eight Saxons on Millbridge Brook Meadows on the warm, sunny evening of 4th July 2019. A greensand boulder donated by Breedon (Potton) Quarry marks the site with a plaque commemorating the Saxon families who lived close by. Photos show the procession and graveside ceremony. Of particular importance was the involvement of five children from Poppyfields – Nora, Woody, Hayden, Reuben and Imogen and their parents as most of those re-intered were juveniles and lived and played where today’s children do. This project has taken some four years to reach this point and thanks must go to many people and organisations: to the Parish Council for providing the site, the archaeologists for releasing the remains. Rev Hilary and Rev Adrian, the Gamlingay History Society for their support, particularly David Allen and Colin Woolf for photos and video of the ceremony.
An Information Board, similar to those already on the Meadows, giving details of the Saxon environment and inhabitants from around 1300 years ago will be placed on the site. This may take some time as we are looking for funding for artwork, the physical structure and erection of the board
(Photos courtesy of Marion and Chris Tomsett and Colin Woolf)