A second archaeological dig in the space of four months at Clare Castle Country Park has thrown up conclusive evidence of a Christian cemetery containing some of the earliest residents of the town.
Three sets of human remains; one a completely intact skeleton, another a skeleton without a head and with an arm lying just a few inches away and the other remains a set of bones were all found in a single trench dug where the railway station used to be.
The five-day dig was part of the Managing a Masterpiece Project, which aims to discover more about the history of the Stour Valley landscape, and involved two of its archaeologists plus four from Access Cambridge Archaeology and 21 volunteers.
A previous nine-day dig by the same team at the end of May and had unearthed two sets of human remains, a discovery that offered the first evidence of a Christian cemetery.
Following that dig further funding was provided to return and discover the extent of the cemetery, findings that were explained by the team’s leader, Dr Carenza Lewis.
She said: “There has been long-standing rumours of human remains coming from around Clare Castle and it’s the first time we’ve been able to give them some dates.”
The fact that the bodies were laid out east to west, with no personal belongings in the graves, signifies that they were Christian burials.
The unearthing of Thetfordware pottery in the trench - made between 850AD and 1100AD - also enabled archaeologists to more accurately date what they had found.
Dr Lewis said: ““The aim of the dig this time was to put in a trench quite close but a little bit away from the last one to see if - although we had two last time it could have been the lord and lady of the chappel - there was a more extensive graveyard here and to see if there were any buildings associated with it.
“If you have a graveyard you should have a church nearby.”
Although no church was found, what was revealed were the remains of a wall that cut through the graves - resulting in the head being knocked off one of the skeletons - a female.
Evidence also suggests a rubbish pit was dug between two of the graves - the most likely cause of the arm being removed from the same skeleton.
The wall, added Dr Lewis, may be to do with the castle rather than the cemetery.
She went on: “It’s been hugely successful because we’ve got three skeletons there, all laid out east to west and they are eight to ten metres from the skeletons we’ve previously found so they are definitely different people.
“There is definitely a big cemetery. There seems to be a building here too. At the moment it looks like the cemetery may be Anglo Saxon.”
It is also possible, added Dr Lewis, that the land was once owned by an Anglo-Saxon lord, but was then given to a Norman lord who went on to build a new hall over where the bodies were buried.
To watch a video of Dr Lewis speaking of the finds, go to our website at www.haverhillecho.co.uk