CAMPAIGN TRAIL: DAY 11 - 31/8/99
THE NEWS IN BRIEF
The plot thickens as the skeletons in the ditch are carefully revealed and Mark Redknap speculates on the events of their death. Elsewhere on the site, Mark Lewis separates the modern archaeology from the ancient, and Evan continues to wait for the flood of finds.
"It is time to consider the context for our burials, and speculate a little on past events! The charcoal recovered last year from ditch fill underlying burial 1 (young adult) gave a radiocarbon date of 620-775AD suggesting that the ditch was in use, slowly silting up, during the 7th and 8th centuries, and by the 9th century probably resembled a long depression, only half its original depth. The radiocarbon date for burial 1 (770-970AD) provides a timescale for the burials, which now appear to be a single event - all five being buried at the same time.
The nature of the burials is peculiar: none of the individuals were deposited with any ceremony or care, none show signs of being carefully laid out or orientated (this being dictated by the depression), and they appear to have been covered with dumps of stone and kitchen refuse. These are not the usual actions of loving relatives, and a number of questions and answers suggest themselves:
1. If they were the local residents on Christian Anglesey, why were they not buried orientated east-west, or in the local cemetery? Option 1: they were the victims of famine or disease (plague), and the social infrastructure had temporarily collapsed. Option 2: they were the inhabitants of the site, and unfortunate victims of some form of violence - buried either by the attackers who temporarily took over the site, or by members of the local population, themselves in social disarray following raiding, in order to remove a source of possible disease as rapidly as possible.
2. Could they be raiders (Vikings?). Unlikely, with the infants present, though it is possible that some of the young adults could be - but if so, they were not buried in usual Viking style.
They will no doubt be other options we should consider (perhaps you know of similar burials on other sites?), and as we carefully record the details of these burials, I hope that the most likely sequence of events will become clear. If burial 3 does really have his/her hands behind the back (see Mark Lodwick's contribution today), this will be important. Questions to resolve include - are they all male? Are they all related (members of the same family)? While it is dangerous to try to identify archaeological events with historical events, it is worth remembering that according to the Welsh annals, Anglesey was ravaged by 'Black Gentiles' or Dublin Vikings in AD855. We don't know how many raids went unrecorded. "
DR MARK REDKNAP
MARK LODWICK - DIG ORGANISER
"Bank holiday Monday began with the careful lifting of the stone rubble in the enclosure ditch above the burials. Mark and Steve gently excavated the area to expose the burials; by the end of Tuesday, we started to reveal what seems to have been a gruesome series of events. An adult burial, probabaly a male, lies immediately above a child, with its head at the feet of the adult. The adult's arms and hands may be positioned behind its back with the wrists close together, suggesting his hands were tied behind his back when he was thrown in. A particularly nasty end!
On the other side of the wall, work began, excavating some of the 'midden deposits'. We recognised this soil from two years ago, when we excavated a nearby area. The deposit consists of a very black soil, due to decaying vegetation and other domestic rubbish that was disposed of at this end of the site. It makes this area productive in finds, particularly animal bone - keeping Evan and his team busy in the finds shed.
On Tuesday, we had to say goodbye to Tim Drew, who has been a great team member, but has to tear himself away from us for a field trip to Rome. "
MARK LEWIS - WALL TRENCH SUPERVISOR
" It has been a busy period of trowelling back surfaces to examine the areas uncovered for edges of features which only show up after cleaning. Diagonal linear features and areas of modern 'coke char' have showed up cutting into the clay ridge. Plans of land drainage systems inserted since the 1920s were furnished by Roger the Farmer but they showed that none coincide with these features. It may be assumed that these stratigraphically recent features were created prior to 1920. The 'coke char' is very similar to the ash raked from steam locomotives but contains many stones that show signs that they too have undergone very high temperatures in oxidising conditions. "