Ancient Monuments

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Watchfield Anglo-Saxon cemetery

A Scheduled Monument in Watchfield, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.6155 / 51°36'55"N

Longitude: -1.6415 / 1°38'29"W

OS Eastings: 424915.7879

OS Northings: 190806.903

OS Grid: SU249908

Mapcode National: GBR 5W5.RSL

Mapcode Global: VHC0R.HNKD

Entry Name: Watchfield Anglo-Saxon cemetery

Scheduled Date: 16 July 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010755

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20602

County: Oxfordshire

Civil Parish: Watchfield

Built-Up Area: Watchfield

Traditional County: Berkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Shrivenham with Watchfield and Bourton

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The Anglo-Saxon cemetery is situated 500m north-east of Watchfield on a low
north-south ridge. It extends about 50m south and 60m north of the bypass.
The monument therefore comprises two areas separated by the bypass.
The cemetery consists of extended and cremation burials of Anglo-Saxon type,
as discovered during the course of building the bypass in 1983. Excavations
revealed a total of 43 inhumations, 7 of which were juveniles, 2 infants and
the rest adults. The graves vary in depth, some shallow and damaged by later
ploughing but some well below the level of the ridge and furrow. The remains
are close to the surface to the north of the site but the digging of test
trenches revealed deeper deposits to the south-east. All the cut graves were
orientated north-south except the two infant burials which were lying
east-west. Two complete urned burials and the remains of other urns reveal
that the cemetery is of `mixed' type with both cremation and inhumation rites
represented. A variety of grave goods has been found at the site which
demonstrate a late 5th and 6th century date for the burials. A magnometer
survey carried out in 1985 to the north and south of the site showed that it
was part of a larger complex of archaeological features extending over at
least 3 hectares. The density of the graves excavated and the distribution of
human bone finds would suggest that there were originally c.360 graves of
which up to half survive unexcavated.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Beginning in the fifth century AD, there is evidence from distinctive burials
and cemeteries, new settlements, and new forms of pottery and metalwork, of
the immigration into Britain of settlers from northern Europe, bringing with
them new religious beliefs. The Roman towns appear to have gone into rapid
decline and the old rural settlement pattern to have been disrupted. Although
some Roman settlements and cemeteries continued in use, the native Britons
rapidly adopted many of the cultural practices of the new settlers and it soon
becomes difficult to distinguish them in the archaeological record. So-called
Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are dated to the early Anglo-Saxon period, from the
fifth to the seventh centuries AD. With the conversion to Christianity during
the late sixth and seventh centuries AD, these pagan cemeteries appear to have
been abandoned in favour of new sites, some of which have continued in use up
to the present day. Burial practices included both inhumation and cremation.
Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemeteries consist predominantly of inhumation burials
which were placed in rectangular pits in the ground, occasionally within
coffins. The bodies were normally accompanied by a range of grave goods,
including jewellery and weaponry. The cemeteries vary in size, the largest
containing several hundred burials. Around 1000 inhumation cemeteries have
been recorded in England. They represent one of our principal sources of
archaeological evidence about the Early Anglo-Saxon period, providing
information on population, social structure and ideology. All surviving
examples, other than those which have been heavily disturbed, are considered
worthy of protection.

The cemetery at Watchfield shows a range of burial types with a rich diversity
of grave goods. As such it provides important information on the variety of
beliefs and social organisation amongst early Anglo-Saxon communities in the
fifth and sixth centuries.

Source: Historic England

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