Great Ryburgh Cemetery

So in Great Ryburgh, Norfolk, an excavation took place to construct a bridge and flood defence system, and rapidly the interest went from the construction, to an awesome archaeological discovery. It began with just a few, which started off the archaeologists, then, in total, 81 wooden coffins made from split tree logs and 6 extremely rare plank-lined graves were uncovered, all dating to the Anglo-Saxon period.

 Wooden Anglo-Saxon coffins, the earliest ever found in Britain! This was the discovery of a lifetime, and the archaeologists working on the site got straight to work learning all they could from the evidence on site. The actual date (Anglo-Saxon) was found from the wooden coffins, using dendrochronology, the method of using tree rings to date an artefact.

 Of course, the coffins were well enough preserved to be clearly observed and dated from, but how did they not rot away? As it often is, it was all down to the soil, which in this case was very waterlogged for many years, being right next to the river Wensum, creating an environment that also preserved the skeletons inside the coffins, which also in turn led to a lot being learnt. The coffins had no grave goods inside, which was unusual… unless they were Christian graves. The archaeologists took this view, then went on to find other aspects to support the theory that the population at Great Ryburgh were Christian – the wooden grave markers, the alignment of the graves – facing the east-west, and also, the presence of a small timber structure, which is believed to be a small church or even just a local chapel.  

 Sadly, the discovery was not all good news for everyone. Originally, the owner of the site had been intending to build a fishing lake, so he called archaeologists in to do a survey of the site before he began. Upon examination, he was told that there was nothing of interest there, so the owner began to dig – which is when he found the coffins and called the archaeologists back.

 Of course, finding human remains changed everything, but by the time the site was fully excavated, the owner had ended up losing thousands of pounds, and nearly became so broke as to lose his house. Thankfully he made a comeback – but if only the site had been properly examined the first time, the owner would not have had such a drastic setback!

Until next time, examine your sites properly,

And Stay curious!