Nationally Important Anglo-Saxon Horse Burial Found At RAF Lakenheath

Work by the Archaeological Service at Suffolk County Council has continued on the Eriswell Anglo-Saxon cemetery at RAF Lakenheath over the last 10 weeks prior to the construction of new dormitory buildings and 140 burials have now been excavated.

The excavation, which is under the direction of Joanna Caruth and is funded by the Defence Estate Organisation (USF) at the Ministry of Defence, has recovered valuable evidence about the Anglo-Saxon population of the area in the period between AD500 and 600 as many of these pagan burials were equipped for the afterlife with spears and shields for the men and brooches, beads and other dress items for the women. In addition one particularly wealthy male burial had the full warrior weapon set of sword, shield and spear. Throughout all of the work on site close co-operation and support has been given by United States Air Force personnel which is appropriate as the previous discovery and excavation of Anglo-Saxon burials in the area under the old base hospital in 1957 was largely carried out by USAF staff.

Over the last few days a particularly large grave complex within a ring ditch, which indicates the former presence of a barrow or burial mound, has been investigated and a horse burial complete with decorative harness fittings has been discovered. This horse burial, which can be closely paralleled at the royal cemetery at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, is a major find of national importance as the harness fittings were left in place when the horse was buried in the sixth century making it possible for present day experts to reconstruct how the harness was worn by the horse. The recovery of evidence of this quality is extremely rare from Anglo-Saxon England making this one of the major archaeological discoveries in the country this year.

The horse burial with its rich array of decorated gilt bronze harness fittings also indicates the presence of a wealthy rider and while the other half of the ring ditch is partially damaged by a modern sewer pipe, archaeologists on site expect to get some evidence of the burial next to the horse when this area is examined.

It is likely that around 200 Anglo-Saxon burials will be excavated by the time site work finishes in a few weeks time and then the many finds and mass of site data will be worked on so a full published account of the site can be prepared. We also hope that the British Museum will become involved in the study of the horse and its harness fittings as this find is undoubtedly of national importance. However, where the finds from the site will eventually be displayed has yet to be decided.

Source - John Newman, Field Team, Archaeological Service, Environment & Transport Dept., Suffolk County Counil.