Grave 21- Gold Coins

This is a further “treasure grave” from Street House and was excavated in the first year of the cemetery excavations, 2005. Upon excavation (by Fiona) two tokens were visible and these were very black. I initially considered them to be scutiform pendants, a form of silver decoration that was found during excavations at Norton in the 1980’s (Sherlock & Welch 1992).

The pieces at Street House were associated with eight glass beads found together as if worn on a necklace. Following conservation the two “tokens” were found to be gold coins (approx 30% gold and the silver element within the pieces had tarnished). More pertinently the pieces were Iron Age coins from the Corieltavi tribe who are based in the East Midlands but their coins have a wider currency. The coins date from the early past of the first century AD and are in almost “mint” condition yet found buried in a grave of C7th date. This find is unique, whilst coins are found in saxon graves, the older examples are Roman and Iron Age coins have not been found to be adapted to form decorative pieces in this way.

Also of note is the fact that in perforating the coins for suspension with the beads the coins have a “cross” symbol and this was found to be facing inwards against the body. If this is to demonstrate christian faith is it a personal statement? A further parallel for a cross motif worn on a necklace is from the cemetery at Finglesham, Kent (Hawkes & Grainger 2006, 70). The example from Finglesham was worn with beads and the motif facing the body, worn by a child, all of these parallels are similar to the Street House example.

Further information about grave 21 will shortly be available in the forthcoming report “A Royal Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Street House, Loftus, North East Yorkshire” due to be published in the Autumn as a Tees Archaeology Monograph. Meanwhile the finds from the excavation can be seen ar Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar.

Grave 70

IN 2007 the full extent of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery was revealed with the excavation of 66 graves to the north and south of earlier areas. Amongst the more spectacular finds was a gold pendant that is unique in the north. The pendant was one of a series of objects including glass beads, potsherd, iron key set, glass fragment, a gold bicone bead, a gold cylinder and a small gold chain. This is a spectacular piece of jewellery and is dated to the third quarter of the seventh century based upon known parallels.

The pendant is 44.5mm in diameter and was decorated with red gemstones, this piece of jewellery is unparalleled in north east England although there are similar pieces in the south. This pendant is interesting because it has had a repair with a new suspension loop that has a different gold content to the rest of the piece. In attaching the new loop two gold repair strips were placed on the back, the pendant was at this time heated and this caused the rear to blister.

The amulet was a  black annular twist glass bead, broken in two. Examples are known from at least six sites including two other cemeteries (Swallowcliffe Down and Shudy Camps where there are bed burials. There were five graves that had amulets (55, 62, 67, 70 and 73) in a variety of materials including jet, glass and amber, it amy also be significant that four of the five pieces were broken.

Glass amulet from grave 70

 

Grave 43

Grave 43 at Street House is of interest being one of three graves all near a Saxon burial mound and each have items that are unique to the cemetery. Grave 43 had a Gold triangular shaped pendant, three gold wire beads, two silver wire beads, four silver bulla, two glass beads and a silver annular brooch. This is perhaps the best complete assemblage within the cemetery and the items are datable to the third quarter of the seventh century AD. The most interesting piece, the triangular pendant has archaeological parallels but not from the North. A triangular pendant was found by a metal detectorist at Bidford on Avon and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (ref PAS 266454). More interestingly, a similar pendant with a similar setting was found at Cow Low Derbyshire in the C19th. Whilst the Derbyshire example appears to be like the pendant from grave 43 in that it has an Iron Age  Colchester type 6 bead as its centre piece, the Cow Low pendant was silver not gold. A further example of this type of reuse of Iron Age beads within pendants was recorded at Sheffields Hill (Kevin Leahy pers.comm.) where the pendant and “bead” were oval rather than triangular. This reuse or acquisition of earlier items is a trait known from other Conversion Period cemeteries.

Grave 43: complete  grave group

The other two graves in this part of the cemetery are grave 42, that had the bed burial, details of which are in an earlier weblog and grave 41. Grave 41 abutted grave 42 but it had one interesting iron item at the top of the grave. The item was a tool, a small tanged gouge used in woodworking, perhaps even one of the tools used to make the Anglo-Saxon bed, this tool is illustrated below.

Wood working tool from grave 41, with handle to the left.

The triangular pendant will be considered more fully in the excavation report published later this year (2012) as a Tees Archaeology Monograph. Meanwhile the Iron Age settlement at Street House is considered more fully in a Tees Archaeology Monograph No.5 Late Prehistoric Settlement in the Tees Valley and North East England by Stephen J Sherlock, cover image of Street House can be seen below.

Street House Bed

Street House Anglo-Saxon Bed

One of the most interesting features of the Street House cemetery was the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon bed in grave 42 in 2006. This bed is unique in the North of England, although beds are part of a high status female burial tradition recognised in East Anglia and Central Southern Britain. The Street House bed is like other Anglo-Saxon beds, it is thought to be made of ash and it is 1.80m long and 0.80m wide. However, the ironwork is perhaps more decorative, particularly the iron cleats affixing the planks, examples from some of the other cemeteries are less ornate. A replica of the bed at Street House has been made by wood working expert Richard Darrah for the museum display of Saxon objects from Street House, the bed and original finds can be seen at Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar.

 

A report on the reconstruction of the bed has been written by Mark Simmons and is now published in Medieval Archaeology volume 55 (2011), pp268-277. The bed and all of the ironwork associated with grave 42 will be incorporated in a full report on the Street House cemetery that is presently being prepared for publication as a Tees Archaeology Monograph.

 

This image is by David Currie based upon a photograph taken by Dave showing the bed and Anglo-Saxon tools, taken at Kirkleatham as the bed was being assembled in August 2010.

Photograph showing the bed being assembled by Richard Darrah, using replica ironwork by Hector Cole, at Kirkleatham Museum in August 2010. Filming by Neil Jackson, image by David Currie.

Street House Saxons

Gold pendant from grave 42

Street House Pendant
Brief Site History
Between 2005 and 2007 an Anglo-Saxon cemetery was excavated at Street House in North East Yorkshire. The site due north of Loftus was discovered as part of a programme of excavations researching Iron Age settlement. The excavation was led by Steve Sherlock, assisted by Teesside Archaeological Society and local residents with the active support of the landowner Mr Alan Bothroyd and his family. Whilst the excavations were researching the Later Iron Age (300BC-70AD), an Anglo-Saxon cemetery was not expected. However, the results were spectacular with evidence of human activity from the Neolithic (3,330BC), Bronze Age (2,000BC), Iron Age settlement and a late Roman estate (c. 400AD). However, it was the discovery of a large (109 graves) Anglo-Saxon cemetery that was to attract attention from around the world!
In the first year (2005) thirty graves were found and in 2006 a further thirteen graves were unearthed including a spectacular Anglo-Saxon bed burial. In four weeks over the Summer in 2007 the remainder of the site was excavated. This revealed the full plan of the cemetery and several more spectacular graves. The most intriguing thing was the graves were forming a square plan (see plate below) with the most spectacular finds in the centre.

Street House cemetery in 2007 from the NW looking across the site

The cemetery is interesting because it can be accurately dated by the high status jewellery within the grave. It dates to the second half of the seventh century AD and some finds probably date between 650-675AD. The sites from this date are sometimes termed Conversion Period cemeteries because they are at a time of change in Anglo-Saxon England in terms of religion and kingship.

The significance of this cemetery is that there are few Conversion Period sites in the North East and the finds are unsurpassed in terms of quality of manufacture. The quality of the finds, the only Anglo-Saxon bed in North East England and the location and form of the cemetery suggest the person buried on the bed was of royal descent and is an Anglo-Saxon Princess.

This site has been established to keep people informed about the finds, research relating to the site and the location of the finds. Following a coroner’s inquest in 2008 the finds have been purchased by Redcar & Cleveland Council and are now on display at Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar.

After specialist conservation, drawing and analysis of the finds a report is now being prepared relating to this exciting discovery. In the meantime a popular account of the discovery is available from the Museum at Kirkleatham. (www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk/museums).

It is proposed this web page will now be regularly updated with information about the discoveries at the Saxon cemetery and will promote the Archaeology of the area around Loftus.

Steve Sherlock