EAA 182, 2024: The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries at RAF Lakenheath, Eriswell Parish, Suffolk, by Jo Caruth and John Hines

In 1979, a pipe trench within the military airbase RAF Lakenheath, inside the historic parish of Eriswell in Suffolk, revealed the presence of further graves of the Early Anglo-Saxon Period at a distance of around 75m from a group of burials excavated in the late 1950s and published as the cemetery of Little Eriswell. Extensive redevelopment starting in the late 1990s led to the excavation of what appears to be a remarkable group of three discrete but contemporary burial grounds in very close proximity, here labelled the West, Central and East sites — the latter including the Little Eriswell graves. It cannot be certain that the Central and East burial grounds are fully separated, but these areas differ markedly in layout and focus and in important aspects of grave furnishing. Burial began in the West site with cremations from around the middle of the 5th century. Stage 1 of cemetery use then saw all three burial grounds being used for inhumation over a period of up to a century from the second half of the 5th to the third quarter of the 6th century. In Stage 2 only the West site remained in use, for a further century; the abandonment of this site in the third quarter of the 7th century is correlated with the commencement of burial at a ‘Middle Anglo-Saxon’ cemetery c300m to the south at Lord’s Walk. The size of the burying population apparently fell between Stages 1 and 2 by as much as 80%, from a hundred or more to maybe only around 20.

The quality of the archaeological evidence allows for detailed examination and reconstruction of burial practice in terms of the structure of the graves and how the bodies were laid in them. Soil conditions create some variance in skeletal preservation, but generally good survival reveals a naturally structured community and allows for observation of its pathologies. Isotope and pioneering aDNA analyses identify an essentially local population but with one strong contender for an early, 5th-century, immigrant from across the North Sea, and indeed for cross-generational descent within the community. The grave goods illustrate social differentiation, primarily by sex and age although exceptionally richly furnished and elaborately constructed graves such as the horse and ‘warrior’ burial in G323 embody additional status differentials. A series of expert scientific analyses have been targeted at revealing how this community made use of the principal material resources available to it; how it could live and function in this topographical niche at this period. It is clearly demonstrated that there is a very solid foundation in all of the evidence from this site for continuing specialised research, not least as new techniques of analysis and research perspectives develop.

Full reference:
Jo Caruth , John Hines, 2024. 'The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries at RAF Lakenheath, Eriswell Parish, Suffolk', East Anglian Archaeology 182