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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Bamburgh Bowl-Hole Anglian Cemetery: a contextual study

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


This three year contextual study of a well-excavated and preserved early Medieval cemetery, associated with the documented royal site of Bamburgh Castle, used a range of skeletal, archaeological, and scientific (stable isotope) methods of analysis to answer specific questions about early Medieval cultural contact, population movement, status relations and religious change in the 7th-8th centuries in Northern England. Specific objectives included gaining a better understanding of regional origins, relative status and quality of life of the people buried there, and to explore correlations between the cemetery archaeology, literary and historical sources related to this documented early Anglo-Saxon royal site.
The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The funding has now ended but publication continues. The Principal Investigator was Professor Charlotte Roberts, the Co-applicants were Dr. Graham Pearson, Earth Sciences, Durham University (now University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada) and Dr. Sam Lucy, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. Working on the project was post-doctoral research associate, Dr. Sarah Groves and two part-time technicians (Louisa Gidney and Scott Grainger). The project was in collaboration with the Bamburgh Research Project and Paul Gething (Project Director - Management), Graeme Young (Director of Archaeology) and Philip Wood (post-excavation Director).

Progress on the project

The project was completed in June 2010. In the first year the skeletal analysis was completed, along with a geophysical survey to establish the extent of the cemetery. In year two, the stable isotope sample preparation commenced and some stable isotopic analysis was completed, along with and an ancient DNA feasibility study at the University of Manchester. To date the whole of the skeletal assemblage has been fully analysed from an osteological perspective, and radiography of specific skeletal elements was done. The data for the 'mobility' isotopes (strontium and oxygen) and the dietary isotopes of carbon and nitrogen have been generated in our Earth Sciences Department. The grave catalogue has been completed, along with conservation and recording of artefacts found in the graves. A monograph is currently being prepared to be published by the Council of British Archaeology, along with further papers for peer reviewed journals.

Conference presentations

Annual Conference of the Society for American Archaeology, Honolulu, Hawaii 2013: invited paper: Roberts et al: Does migration in life affect your health? Stable isotope and palaeopathological analysis of people buried at early Medieval Bamburgh, Northumberland, England

Fourth International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology, Copenhagen, Denmark 2010: Groves et al: Illuminating "Dark Age" Northumbria: Mobility, diet and health in the Bowl Hole Early Medieval cemetery, Bamburgh.

Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Albuquerque, USA 2010: Roberts et al: Poster: Health, diet and mobility at the Medieval Bowl-Hole cemetery, Bamburgh, Northumberland: a contextual study of the skeletal and isotopic data

Biocultural Approaches to Early Medieval Burial Workshop, University of Sheffield 2008: Groves: Who, What, Where and Why? Using isotopic analysis to explore migration, health and identity in Early Medieval Bamburgh.

Paleopathology Association European Meeting, Copenhagen, Denmark 2008: Groves and Roberts: Strontium isotope analysis of the people buried at the Bowl-Hole cemetery, Bamburgh, Northumberland: a preliminary study of burial context and health of locals and non-locals.

International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds 2008: Groves and Roberts: Bamburgh. The Diet and Mobility of an Early Medieval Community Explored.


Festival of British Archaeology Day School, Durham 2010: Feasting or Fasting? Diet and Health in Early Medieval Northumbria. 5000 Years of Death and Disease (Groves)
Teesside Archaeological Society, Stockton 2010: The Bowl Hole Cemetery, Bamburgh: Life and Death in Early Medieval Northumberland (Groves)
Newcastle Antiquaries, Newcastle 2009: Where did people buried in the Bowl-Hole, Bamburgh originate? Some answers and a general overview of developments in recognizing migrations in bioarchaeology (2009)
Tees Archaeology Day School "Angles on the Saxons”, Stockton 2007: Bodies in the Bowl Hole - Life and Death in Anglo-Saxon Bamburgh (Groves) .
Newcastle Historical Studies Society 2008: Bodies in the Bowl Hole - Life and Death in Anglo-Saxon Bamburgh (Groves)


Groves SE, Roberts CA, Lucy S, Pearson G, Nowell G, Macpherson CG, Gröcke D, Young G 2013 Mobility histories of 7th-9th century AD people buried at Early Medieval Bamburgh, Northumberland, England. American J Physical Anthropology 151(3): 462-476
Groves, S.E. 2010 The Bowl Hole Burial Ground; A Late Anglian cemetery in Northumberland. In J. Buckberry and A. Cherryson (eds): Burial in Later Anglo-Saxon England, c.650 to 1100AD. 114 - 125. Oxbow Books
Groves, S.E. 2011 Social and Biological Status in the Bowl Hole Early Medieval burial ground, Bamburgh, Northumberland. In D Petts, S Turner (eds): Early Medieval Northumbria. Brepols


From the Department of Archaeology

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