Wallingford Museum reburies hundreds of skeletons from Saxon and medieval Britain

By Ben Miller | 20 December 2013

The remains of around 500 medieval and Saxon residents of an Oxfordshire town have been reburied in a formal ceremony

A photo of a grey grave showing skeletal remains next to a measuring stick
This tomb was one of a number made of local stone in the early levels of the cemetery where hundreds of skeletons were found in Wallingford© Northamptonshire Archaeology, courtesy Wallingford Museum
A decade after being exhumed beneath a supermarket development, the skeletal remains of around 500 of the earliest residents of Wallingford, in Oxfordshire, have been reburied in a “deeply moving" ceremony arranged by the town’s museum and local archaeologists.

A photo of several grey sacks at the bottom of a deep grave among soil and earth
The earliest burials dated to around 980© Iain Soden
Father David O’Sullivan recited the Lord’s Prayer after a service in Latin and English, uniting a congregation which included the Mayor and High Steward of the town and Iain Soden, the archaeologist who carried out the excavations.

The earliest bodies were originally buried in the churchyard of St Martin’s during the late 10th century fortification of King Alfred, with the latest from the 14th century, when the church fell out of use.

Scientists are now preparing to reveal the results of examinations on the remains, which were dug up by Northamptonshire Archaeology as part of preparations for a new branch of Waitrose between 2003 and 2004.

“Arranging the burial of this many bones was quite a challenge,” said Judy Dewey, the curator at the Wallingford Museum, whose organisers worked with The Wallingford Historical and Archaeological Society.

A photo of a vicar in a black and gold robe reading from a prayer book in a garden
Father David O'Sullivan, of St John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, led a service where attendees were given details about the burials© Iain Soden
“We were very grateful for the freely-given advice and assistance of the local undertaker, Howard Chadwick, who guided the proceedings and provided a beautiful floral wreath to mark the two graves.

“Even the grave-diggers chose to attend the unusual ceremony. After the service everyone reassembled at the museum for refreshments, kindly provided by Waitrose, and the chance of a first look at some of the objects found during the excavations.

“Two-hundred-and-eleven of the skeletons excavated were almost complete, but other bones represented more than 300 individuals whose burials were previously disturbed, mainly by later graves.”

Dewey says the bones have provided new insights into burial practices, signs of disease, accidents and causes of death from the period, helping the expansion of an extensive archaeological archive for the town.

The archive will also record finds from dozens of Garden Test Pits being investigated by the Historical and Archaeological Society as part of the first ever Urban Test Pitting research project, led by experts from Leicester and Exeter Universities.

A full exhibition on the bones will be held when the museum opens for its 2014 season on March 1.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a vicar in a black and gold robe dropping remains into an earth grave
The ceremony was open to the public and members of the media© Iain Soden
An overhead photo of two archaeologists digging skulls out of a brown soil pit
Working under former shops, early stages of the excavation were carried out under temporary lighting© Northamptonshire Archaeology, courtesy Wallingford Museum
A photo of a building demolished on an urban street under a blue sky
The demolition site at St Martin's Street in 2003 - the street is named after the original church© Judy Dewey
A photo of a white shell-like archaeological discovery looking overhead onto grassland
A shell pilgrim badge was found around the neck of one of the earliest burials© Northamptonshire Archaeology, courtesy Wallingford Museum
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Latest comment: >Make a comment
What a waste to time this rebuttal rubbish, smacks if the stupidity that gets unique artefacts and remains returned to ignorant morons.....anyway who says they were all Christian? It is not as if they could possibly be upset, they have been dead a while, so why not keep the remains for proper scientific study?
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