Anglo-Saxon Cemetery – A Gruesome Discovery

Anglo-Saxon Cemetery – A Gruesome Discovery

Children playing in a Norton field on an early summer’s day in 1982 got more than they bargained for when they discovered the remains of a human body.

Playing on a swing, the ground beneath their feet had worn away to reveal a skeleton. This however was not the scene of a 20th century crime but the discovery of a pagan Saxon grave of a female aged between 25 and 35.

The discovery led to a series of archaeological digs at the site which identified the burial as being over 1000 years old, with the grave goods dating from the 5th and 6th century AD.  The  archaeological investigation led to the unearthing of a large Saxon cemetery on the site which contained 120 graves. As part of the archaeological research, one of the skulls was used to reconstruct a 3D likeness of one of the Norton Saxons.

Of national importance, the Saxon cemetery at Norton has told us much about the lives of these Dark Age inhabitants of the Tees Valley. Details about the burial position of the bodies, they were aligned north to south, and  the presence of grave goods identified the cemetery as Pagan.

Ten male burials had their weapons buried with them. Five of the male burials had a spear, denoting the lowest social rank. The graves also contained bronze belt buckles, sleeve clasps and brooches, indicating that they were fully dressed when buried. Other goods recovered included: iron keys, glass and amber bead necklaces, earthenware pots, iron knives, tweezers and pins and combs made of bone.  Many of these finds are on display at Preston Hall Museum and Grounds.

Information about the findings in Norton are featured in a booklet written by Tees Archaeology and the Anglo-Saxon settlement in the Tees Valley.

Further excavations took place in 1994, and then again in 2003, when a Christian Anglo-Saxon cemetery was revealed at Bishopsmill School. This may have been the new cemetery accommodating the new traditions of the Christian faith. The 2003 excavation uncovered 83 graves and 107 individuals. One of the most significant finds was that of an iron strap found buried with one of the skeletons, which has been interpreted as a mid-Saxon chest fitting.