The Bowl Hole Cemetery: Part Two

Today we continue the blog thread: The Bowl Hole Cemetery. This post does contain images of human remains.

What we found.

From 1998 to 2007 the Bamburgh Research Project excavated over 100 skeletons from the Bowl Hole Cemetery. These include remains of men, women, adolescents and infants.

Students excavating grave cuts within the burial ground. Note the different alignments.

The remains were found in a variety of positions, including crouched and supine (on the back).

Crouched burial under excavation
Supine burial under excavation.

We also have different alignments and even some cist burials (a cist is a burial that uses stones to line the grave edge). This type of variety is very common in earlier Anglo-Saxon burial grounds.

First cist burial found at the Bowl Hole

Amongst the burials we have also found associated features, such as linear ditches packed with crushed shell. The exact function of these features is not entirely clear but they are not unexpected, as it is quite common to find evidence of mortuary activity such as post holes, areas of burning and mortuary monuments, such as mounds. Furthermore, we have had limited finds from the actual graves themselves including knives and buckles, plus a few animal bones around the heads. We have also had a number of finds from outside the graves, including this amazing bone comb.

Anglo-Saxon bone comb

The lack of grave goods and the composition of the burials indicate that this site is what is known as a ‘final phase’ burial ground. This refers to the intermediary phase between pagan and Christian burial practices around the 7-8th century AD.

Once the skeletons have been carefully excavated they are recorded. This process is very similar to excavating other archaeological features. We fill out a skeleton sheet which records things like alignment, size of the grave cut, associated finds and which bones are present. We draw the grave cut and skeleton in-situ, take photographs and survey the grave using the level and/or total station.

Grave cuts being photographed by one of the former directors, Phil Wood.
Example of photographic recording.

Part of the planned cemetery

Once we have completed the recording process the skeleton is carefully lifted from the grave. The human remains are then cleaned ready for scientific analysis.

Students cleaning the remains from the bowl hole.

Follow the link for a short film about the Bowl Hole excavation

In the next post I will discuss what the scientific analysis has told us about the people who were buried here some 1400 years ago. I will also introduce you to an old BRP student, Dr. Sarah Groves, and her on-going research.

3 thoughts on “The Bowl Hole Cemetery: Part Two

  1. I located your website while researching my family line. I am a direct descendant of this family.(Percy/Pearce/Pierce) I am interested in the graves you have located. Do you know if any of them are marked in any way with any kind of identification? This is most interesting, thank you for sharing.

    • Dear Shelvonne,

      These graves are are approx. 1300 years old and as such there is no surviving surface features including grave markers. The Early Medieval period in England is a time when individuals did not have surnames in the way we use them in modern times, so you will find it very difficult to take your family tree back into this period.


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