Hampshire Archaeology

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Buried in time – Mount Pleasant Saxon cemetery, Alton

Graves 3 and 4 - excavated in 1960

Graves 3 and 4 – excavated in 1960

Two areas of a Saxon cemetery in Alton were excavated in 1960 and 1961, with further work taking place in the 1980s and 90s. The location was Mount Pleasant Road, on the east side of a valley containing the spring which is the source of the River Wey. The excavations identified over one hundred graves, almost equally divided between inhumation and cremation burials. There was little evidence of later disturbance and many grave goods were found. Those associated with inhumations were usually found on the bottom of the grave or on any remaining bones. Most of the material can be dated to between AD 425 and 525, and some to the first half of the 7th century. In addition to Saxon items, a small number of objects were Romano-British, indicating contact with, or at least an interest in, the indigenous population.

Cremation vessel (C 12) decorated with bosses and trellis stamped circles.

Cremation vessel (C 12) decorated with bosses and trellis stamped circles.

The skeletal evidence indicated approximately equal numbers of males and females, with the women generally surviving to a greater age. A number of juveniles were also present. Sex was determined according to grave finds and by analysis of the bones. There were four sword burials (all male) and seven of the females possessed brooches.

Grave 16 - the position of sword and buckle are shown.

Grave 16 – the position of sword and buckle are shown.

One of the sword burials (Burial 16) was of a man who died aged about 28: The grave was roughly cut, but was the deepest on the site (at nearly 1m) and the head end had been hollowed out so that the longer grave goods could be accommodated. His body had been placed on its right side; his palate and left shin showed signs of disease and inflammation.

The 'Alton Buckle'

The ‘Alton Buckle’

The grave goods included the most remarkable item from the whole site. This was a jewelled silver-gilt buckle. It belongs to a ‘Kentish series’ of buckles of the late 6th to early 7th centuries. It had been mended at least twice, suggesting that this may have been one of the latest graves in the cemetery. Like the other Kentish buckles, the object had applied gold plates and filigree and included garnet decoration. At each side of the triangular plate is a birds head with curving beak and garnet body. It is possible that the man who wore such a valuable item was the head man in the district.

The buckle has a hole for a large strap and was found under the man’s left forearm while the sword, which was placed diagonally across the pelvis and legs, was possibly originally suspended from a belt. Other grave goods included a knife, two spearheads, a shield boss, silver cup rims and iron clamps. In the fill of the grave were two pieces of pottery, one from a Roman triple-fluted strap handle.

Further reading

An Anglo Saxon Cemetery at Alton, Evison (1988), Hampshire Field Club & Arch Soc, Monograph 4

Various items, including the buckle, are on display at the Curtis Museum, Alton.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.