Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Ringlemere, Kent

A conservator working on a wooden bucket from one of the graves.

Project leader: Sonja Marzinzik

Department: Prehistory and Europe

Project start: 2005
End date: ongoing

Other British Museum staff:  Duygu Cleere, Fleur Shearman, Hayley Bullock, Clare Ward, Philip Kevin, Janet Ambers, Caroline Cartwright, Rebecca Stacey, Andrew Middleton and other Science Section staff

Other departments: Conservation and Scientific Research

External partners:

Canterbury Archaeological Trust, http://www.canterburytrust.co.uk/

Project funded by: The British Museum

Description:

In the course of the British Museum-led research excavations at a prehistoric site at Ringlemere, Kent, 51 Anglo-Saxon burials clustered in groups were discovered. These comprised both inhumations and cremations. The latter are very unusual for East Kent and represent the largest group of cremations there.

The cremation urns, surprisingly rich grave goods and stray finds - including glass beads and vessels, brooches, firesteels and buckles - are consistently compatible with a fifth or early sixth-century date. This is immensely important in view of the scarcity of fifth-century Anglo-Saxon material from Kent, especially from well-documented excavations.

The objects recovered come from a diverse cultural background. There are typically Anglo-Saxon brooches next to early, undoubtedly Germanic brooch and buckle forms, but also late Roman finds such as a spoon and an inscribed silver plaque.

The people from Ringlemere had far-reaching connections and seemed to be rather well-off. Some of the brooches are made from silver and there is a silver-gilt buckle. At least five glass vessels, some of them from Merovingian France or the Rhineland - where there are also good parallels for several of the brooches - have been found. A number of graves show affinity to northern Germany in burial ritual, ceramics and female costume.

Ringlemere has enormous potential to shed more light on the as yet poorly-understood arrival of Germanic settlers in the fifth century and their interaction with the local, Romano-British population, and therefore on the transition from Late Roman Britain to early Anglo-Saxon England.

 

A glass beaker during reconstruction in the conservation studio.

Objectives:

The project aims to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the Anglo-Saxons at Ringlemere, including the wider landscape setting of the site, its local, regional and trans-marine contacts and the palaeodemography and pathology of those buried here.

Research will therefore not only follow academic routes but will be closely interlinked with investigative conservation and examination in the British Museum's Conservation Studios and Science Section, and with isotope and C14 analyses carried out by specialist laboratories elsewhere.

Project objectives:

  • To analyse and contextualise both grave ritual and archaeological finds:
  • To establish a chronology for the Anglo-Saxon inhumations and cremations, employing archaeological and scientific methods, namely AMS C14 dating;
  • To investigate the interface of late-Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Germanic migrants;
  • To situate Ringlemere within the wider framework of the fifth-century North Sea littoral, establishing the nature of the site's links with the Continent and/or southern Scandinavia;
  • To gain an understanding of the local population, employing archaeological and scientific methods;
  • A collaboration with the University of Bradford's School of Life Sciences on isotope analyses is under discussion.

More information:

Publications:

S. Marzinzik, The earliest Anglo-Saxons? The burial site at Ringlemere Farm, East Kent, and early cross-Channel migration. In: S. Brookes, S. Harrington, A. Reynolds (eds.), Studies in Early Anglo-Saxon Art and Archaeology: Papers in Honour of Martin G. Welch. BAR British Series 527 (Oxford 2011), 55-61.

S. Marzinzik, But Where Did It All Come from? Production and Raw Materials in an Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Ringlemere, East Kent. Acts of the 58th International Sachsensymposium Trondheim

S. Marzinzik, ‘Excavating and early Anglo-Saxon cemetery’, in British Museum Friends Magazine (Spring/Summer 2007), p. 15

S. Needham, K. Parfitt., G. Varndell, ‘The Ringlemere Cup: Precious Cups and the Beginning of the Channel Bronze Age’, British Museum Research Publication, 163 (London, 2006)

S.Marzinzik,, ‘Early Cross-Channel contacts revisited: The Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Ringlemere, East Kent’, in Association française d'Archéologie mérovingienne, Bulletin de liaison, 30 (2006), pp. 57-8

K. Parfitt, S. Needham, ‘More important discoveries at Ringlemere Farm’, in Newsletter of the Kent Archaeological Society, no. 64 (2005), p. 13

B.Corke, ‘Excavations at Ringlemere, 2004’ in Friends of Canterbury Archaeological Trust newsletter, no. 66, (2004)  p. 11


Images (from top):

  • A conservator working on a wooden bucket from one of the graves.
  • A glass beaker during reconstruction in the conservation studio.