Whilst looking through the archaeology, it has been amazing to see the number of objects which can be traced to a particular grave. In the past, detailed notes were not always taken in the way that archaeologists would take them today, often making it difficult to know from where exactly an object originated. I have been lucky with the finds from Bidford-on-Avon and Alveston Manor as these details have been well recorded. Even more exciting for me is the fact that by using this information, it is possible to understand more about the Anglo-Saxon peoples who lived in the Avon Valley, and understand more about their lives through their grave goods. All of the graves below date from the 6th century AD. The placing of grave goods is thought to be a pagan ritual, so we can already infer that these people were early settlers before the Christianisation of the country. Were these objects symbols of status? What was the ritual meaning behind placing these objects in the graves? There is no definitive answer, but the people of Anglo-Saxon Warwickshire obviously felt it was important to do so and probably believed in an afterlife where people would need their possessions. Some of the finds are beautifully made and must have been very expensive.
So, without further ado, let me introduce you to some of the Avon Valley locals from 1,500 years ago.....
1. Many children died before they reached adulthood and the average life expectancy was about 30 years old (Crawford, 2011). Children were obviously much cared for; this child, who was probably a girl, was buried with a miniature knife, some beads, a silver pin, a buckle attachment and a little work box in which to keep needle and thread (Bidford-on-Avon, grave 100).
2. This woman must have been quite important among her people because of the jewellery she was buried with. The great square-headed brooch in particular is one of my favourite pieces in the collection and the fact that it contains a Roman image suggests an overlap of the two peoples. A number of saucer brooches, beads, a buckle and finger ring also completed her look. Clues to how the brooches and beads were worn are also known thanks to the records that were kept during the excavations. The saucer brooches were found by the shoulders, one on each side with the beads between. The larger great square-headed brooch was found on the shoulder and perhaps held a cloak in place. The brooch has been dated to between 590 and 620 AD (Alveston Manor, grave 5).
3. Men were usually buried with weapons and often graves reveal shield bosses, knives, spearheads and ferrules. This man was no exception, but the quality of his shield boss, which would have been at the centre of a wooden shield, suggests that he might have been important within his community. He was also buried with a large copper alloy bowl placed by his head (Grave 182 Bidford).
4. This woman was buried with her jewellery and toilet set. One brooch was found on her left shoulder, the other was probably holding a cloak in place. She was also wearing a number of silver rings. Her beads are made of amber, which could have been traded from as far away as the Baltic coast (Jessup, 1974). Amber was thought to be imbued with mystic properties and have the ability to protect from illness and evil (Owen-Crocker, 2004).
She also had a small knife with a band of bronze around it which would have held the handle in place. She was buried with a toilet set with items used for grooming such as tweezers, an ear scoop and a cosmetic brush handle. Personal appearance must have been important (Bidford-on-Avon, grave 28).
Crawford, S. 2011. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Shire Publications Ltd.
Jessup, R. 1974. Anglo-Saxon Jewellery. Great Britain: Shire Publications Ltd.
Owner-Crocker, G. R. 2004. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England. Great Britain: The Boydell Press.