The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Edix Hill, next to Orwell village

Extracts from CBA Research Report 112, 1998

Tim Malim and John Hines

The Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Edix Hill (Barrington A), Cambridgeshire - reproduced with the authors' permission


Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Edix Hill, next to Orwell village' page
Barrington has been a familiar name in Anglo-Saxon archaeology since the discovery of its cemeteries in the 19th century. In 1987 the site of Barrington A (Edix Hill) was rediscovered by a metal-detector user. Approximately 50% of the cemetery was investigated as part of the ensuing excavations which recovered skeletal remains of 149 individuals buried in 115 graves from a burial ground which had been used over 150 years during the 6th and 7th centuries. The community appears to have been neither especially rich nor poor, and it is this apparent normality that makes the cemetery population a particularly interesting one to study. Costume groups suggest a community of mixed cultural affinities. In the 7th century a few high status individuals were more evident, including the occupants of two rare 'bed-burials'. The human bone was exceptionally well preserved and has allowed a detailed study of the population buried at Edix Hill to be undertaken.
Photo:Some of the Anglo-Saxon graves

Some of the Anglo-Saxon graves

Standard analysis of sex, age and stature has revealed equal numbers of women and men, some living to more than 45 years of age, with children and adolescents also represented. They were a relatively healthy and robust community, but cases of cancer and leprosy can be identified, as well as battle wounds. The combination of several sets of data suggest that links can be drawn between related individuals within the cemetery.

Photo:The Edix Hill burial site during excavations

The Edix Hill burial site during excavations


Location and Geology

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Edix Hill, next to Orwell village' page
Edix Hill is located on the western edge of Barrington parish, close to the parish and village of Orwell. The cemetery is situated on a chalk knoll largely surrounded by lower lying Gault Clay. Rounded pebbles abound on the site, derived not from human action but from stones eroded from Boulder Clay. Excavation revealed other geological activity: river gravels and Cambridge Greensand. Edix Hill lies on the northern side of a wide river valley and flood plain for the River Rhee (which flows east and northwards to drain into the fenland basin and The Wash).


At the time that it was first brought to public notice in the 19th century, the cemetery at Edix Hill was being extensively damaged by drainage works and coprolite digging and was partially investigated by antiquarians. When it was relocated in 1987, evidence of plough damage and a threat from metal-detecting led to its partial excavation by Cambridgeshire County Council's Archaeological Field Unit during three seasons from 1989 to 1991. This campaign of investigation uncovered approximately half of the surviving cemetery and established a date range for it from 500 AD through to the early 7th century. An estimated number of at least 300 burials for the site over a period of about 150 years suggests the cemetery served a community of approximately 50 to 65 people.

The Graves

Bones from 149 individuals were found in 115 graves (one of which may be late Iron Age rather than Anglo-Saxon), and the good state of preservation revealed a healthy population with optimum growth and a number of long-lived individuals. A complete cross-section of the population appears to be represented, with infants, children, adolescents, and all ages of adults present, and equal numbers of males and females. The people were robust and osteoarthritis was endemic, suggestive of considerable manual labour and an outdoor lifestyle. Pathologies included many dental problems after about 40 years old, whilst diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy, and various cancers have been detected.

Photo:Drawing of a Bed-Burial by Caroline Malim

Drawing of a Bed-Burial by Caroline Malim

One barrow mound, nine grave marker posts, 26 wooden grave structures, and two bed-burials were identified, as well as an area of disturbed graves attributable to 19th century activity. There was a great variety in the orientation and alignment of graves, perhaps influenced by the contours of Edix Hill and the direction of Iron Age ditches. Spatial patterning reveals a notable percentage of high status burials on the highest part of the site but only a faint indication of zoning by chronology, age, or gender. However, archaeological and osteological data strongly support the inference of burials clustering in family groups, including multiple burials in the same grave location found in eighteen instances.

The Finds

Photo:Frontispiece from the CBA Report

Frontispiece from the CBA Report

Costume accessories such as jewellery show a material culture of mixed origin with both Anglian and Saxon traditions apparent, and some Kentish influences. A total of four distinct costume groups have been identified by comparing the findings at Edix Hill with other cemeteries in the eastern region. Status differential between richer and poorer furnished graves show a tendency for the most pronounced display of high status to occur for women between 25 and 35 years old and men between 18 and 35. A total of two 7th century bed-burials were found on the highest part of the site, one beneath a tumulus. In one of these a young woman with leprosy was found with an iron-bound wooden bucket at her feet, a casket on her lap, and a weaving batten made from a cut-down sword beside her.

About half of the male burials were found to have had weapons accompanying them. Of these the majority were between 18 and 35 and had both spear and shield, whereas adolescents buried with weapons were found only with spears. This suggests that the social maturity amongst the male population was reached between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, and that men older than 35 were less frequently equipped with such visual signs of status.

Photo:Objects from graves 13A and 13B

Objects from graves 13A and 13B

Both the design and ferrous technology of the spears and knives have been shown to be of very mixed quality – some may have even been more for show purposes than actual use.

The Council for British Archaeology no longer has copies of Research Report No.112 but suggests that public lending libraries may hold or be able to obtain copies.

You may contact the Council for British Archaeology at St Mary's House, 66 Bootham, York, YO30 7BZ. Tel:01904 671417

A Google search will reveal the results of further investigations regarding the items found at the cemetery and on its place in the social life of that time. For a start, go to

There are other more detailed researches on the web. One such is OrganicMaterialAssociatedwithMetalworkfromtheAnglo-SaxonCemetryatEdixHillBarringtonCambridgeshire.

This page was added by Martin Grigor on 25/06/2013.

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