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Durham University

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Etal: An Early Medieval Cemetery in Context

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Anglo-Saxon Northumbria is widely known from 8th-century written sources and archaeological sites, particularly those related to the establishment of Christianity in the region. Despite their fame and recent overviews of the historical development of Northumbria, the early stages of Anglian cultural expansion and the political formation of the kingdom remain poorly understood. The cemetery site at Etal, identified by the discovery of a number of early medieval brooches, provides vital evidence for this early history of post-Roman Northumberland.

‘Anglo-Saxon’ material culture is rare in Co. Durham and Northumberland, representing less than 1% of artefacts found in the North East and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Very few ‘early’ Anglian cemeteries north of the Tees have seen modern excavation. This project is thus significantly contributing to understanding society in what shortly afterwards became the most powerful early medieval kingdom in the British Isles.

This is a collaborative project bringing together the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the University of Newcastle and Durham University and is funded by the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Society for Medieval Archaeology, along with in-kind and actual contributions from the PAS and both University partners.

Rob Collins (PAS, Univ. Newcastle), working together with Sarah Semple (Durham) and Sam Turner (Newcastle), are together leading a programme of field investigation that aims to set the remarkable metalwork finds from Etal into their proper archaeological context. This is not only adding to our understanding of the development of settlement and power networks in the early medieval North East, it also honing field approaches and methods suitable to exploring the archaeological context of a wealth of new Portable Antiquity Scheme data.

A geophysical survey undertaken by Archaeological Services at Durham University provided a basis for survey and excavation in 2013 by the Etal Project team. This produced interesting results suggesting the presence of early sealed deposits and a complex of features. A short report is in progress and a further season of fieldwork is planned for 2013.