The building of Esso House at Ashtead in 1985 provided archaeologists with the chance to excavate a site that had first revealed Saxon bones nearly 60 years earlier. The initial dig produced a total of about 35 burials and further examination of the site in 1989 revealed twelve more. Dating from the late 6th and early 7th centuries both normal early Saxon burials and those of execution victims were found.

The normal burials were generally laid out east–west and the graves were probably marked on the surface by a slight mound, while the bodies either lay on their backs or in a foetal position.

The generally modest quantity and character of the grave goods and an absence of cremation burial suggests the influence of Christianity. What may seem surprising is that at least four of the adults were over 45 years old. The cemetery itself has been interpreted as being a fairly small burial ground serving just a few families.

The execution victims were probably buried in the late Saxon or early Norman periods and in some cases later burials disturbed earlier ones. The burials themselves are shallow and the bodies, some of which had their hands tied behind their backs in preparation for hanging, are placed casually.

Artist’s impression showing the funeral of a girl aged about seven,
possibly the daughter of the local lord.

Saxon burial from Ashtead with spearhead and knife (image SCAU)

Saxon burial from Ashtead with spearhead and knife (image SCAU)

 

Three of the burials were accompanied by socketed iron spearheads while others had iron knives. Perhaps the spearheads signified a warrior class but, since every adult Saxon male was potentially a warrior, they are more likely to be an indicator of status.

Skeleton with beads (image SCAU)

The skeleton of a girl aged about seven, possibly the daughter of the local lord, was found with a necklace which included amethysts and glass beads that were manufactured in the Rhineland

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