‘Perfect Skeletons’ In ‘Anglo-Saxon Cemetery’ Part Of Significant Holy Island Discovery

by 29lab 26-05-2023

Complete skeletons have been found among what is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery unearthed on Holy Island in Northumberland.

The graves were uncovered as part of excavations at Sanctuary Close, alongside the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, and revealed unusual eating habits of days gone by.

Bones from seals were found among those of other animals among food waste.

“They are hunting seals and making the most of the resources available to them,” said David Petts, associate professor of archaeology at Durham University, who led the dig.

The investigation has located what is believed to be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery linked to the monastery on Holy island.

It is thought that those buried on the site are the population who would have worked on the monastery land, were tenants, or pilgrims who had journeyed to the island.

The dig is the second on Holy Island in recent weeks. The first, run by the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership, discovered an early church on The Heugh, a ridge which overlooks the Sanctuary Close area.

The latest excavations have been organised by Dig Ventures, which crowdfunds archaeological projects, and Durham University.

Last year a dig on the site uncovered bone fragments which have now been dated to the 8th century.

This year’s excavations have revealed graves containing two complete skeletons, which have been taken to Durham University for research into aspects such as diet, health, and where the individuals came from.

After the research is complete, they will be returned to Holy Island.

“Clearly, there are more graves on the site,” said David.

A charnel pit containing bones was also found. These are likely to have been turned up by later ploughing and gathered together and placed in the pit.

David believes the cemetery was for the community living around the monastery.

He said:” In an age where there were no towns, Lindisfarne with its big monastery would have been one of the larger population centres in northern Britain.”

Members of the nobility would also have donated to the monastery in the expectation of being buried on what was a sacred site.