A rare early medieval cemetery has been unearthed in Wales. While the excavations reveal information about the community here, they also raise new questions.
The cemetery is thought to date from the 6th or 7th century.
Archaeologists estimate that there are 70 graves here. 18 of them have been excavated so far.
Some of the well-preserved skeletons appeared to lie in unusual positions, while pieces of man-made tools not normally found in cemeteries were also found.
The cemetery is located on the grounds of Fonman Castle near the airport in Cardiff, the capital of the autonomous region of Wales in the United Kingdom.
An excavation team spent the past two summers carefully removing the top layer of the ground to uncover these long-gone burials.
Summer Courts, an archaeologist who studies bones at the University of Reading, emphasizes that the skeletons were found very well preserved, although they are approximately 1500 years old.
He says that the bones found give clues about the lives and occupations of the people here:
“We found very worn teeth. This may indicate that they used their teeth as tools. Perhaps they used their front teeth to make textiles, leather or baskets.”
The fact that the skeletons lie in very different positions also raises new questions.
While some of them were lying flat on their backs, as was done at that time, some were found lying on their sides or crouching with their hands and legs pulled towards their chest.
Archaeologists aren’t yet sure what this means. Had the cemetery been used over many years where burial patterns changed? Or was it meant to indicate that some people are different?
The excavation team thinks there are 70 cemeteries in the region. 18 of them are fully opened.
The objects unearthed from the graves show, in a surprising way, how different life in that period was from today.
Eating and drinking utensils and pieces of cut or burnt animal bones were found.
Also found was a small, carved nail that may have been used as a marker for scoring in a game.
The excavation team is led by early medieval archaeologist Dr. Andy Seaman states that, unlike current cemeteries, this place does not appear to have been used only to bury the dead:
“We are not considering cemeteries for any other purpose at the moment, but it was likely central to their lives.
“And they were not just places where people were buried. They were also places where society came together and held other events and social practices such as eating, drinking and festivals.”
Man-made remains discovered in the cemetery show that these people were not ordinary.
While we were digging, an excited voice said, “I found a piece of glass.”
Andy Seaman speaks with admiration about the piece, saying, “This is a piece of pottery, a cone-shaped vessel, a very thin material, a very thin glass… It is a very good invention.”
The glass is thought to be from the Bordeaux region of France. This isn’t the only imported piece, the team also found pottery in the cemetery thought to be from North Africa.
The team will conduct DNA analysis on the bones to learn more about the community.
Judging by the quality of the cemetery, the people here are thought to be of high status.
“The evidence we found here is that these people were wealthy enough to have access to high-quality imported products that could only be obtained through trade or barter networks,” says Tudur Davies from Cardiff University.
“What’s going on? Who are the people buried here?”
Artifacts unearthed from the cemetery show that the people here were high-status people.
More research is needed to determine the exact dates the cemetery was used, and DNA analysis will provide insight into the skeletons.
The cemetery will shed light on individual and social issues related to the period, about which little is known yet.
But answering questions about those who lived and died here can take a long time.