|Trumpington Local History Group
Archaeology of Trumpington
Meadows: 11 April 2013
|The Archaeology of Trumpington Meadows and the Discovery of the Trumpington Cross
11 April 2013, Trumpington Village Hall
Alison Dickens opened her talk by saying that the Trumpington Meadows excavation had been
one of the most interesting and exciting projects in her career. The team had started work in
2006 by identifying areas of interest. The full excavation was carried out from June 2010 to
April 2011. This was a complex landscape: there were Roman sites along the river corridor and
pre- and post-Roman sites in the land being developed for housing and it was the latter that was
the focus for the work. Before the excavation, it had been expected that the main evidence
would be Iron Age but the outcome was much more complex.
Three areas were identified for excavation:
• 'A' at the northern end of the housing development (south of Anstey Hall Farm and the
• 'B' in the centre of Phase I of the development;
• 'C' to the south west of Phase I of the development (west of the Park & Ride site and the John
Lewis building, including the subsequent location of Trumpington Meadows primary school).
Neolithic and Bronze Age
Alison Dickens said that Area C included two circular burial monuments (ring ditches), which
had been assumed to be Bronze Age but were actually much older, from the Neolithic period.
There were the remains of 3 or 4 individuals in the centre of the larger circular monument,
buried at different times in the Late Neolithic (c. 3600-2200 BC). There was an outer ditch,
Early Bronze Age, with Beaker pottery, antler picks and an arrow head. There was another
Neolithic or Bronze Age burial in area A of a young female and a male, with Beaker pottery.
|Copyright © Trumpington Local History Group, 2015. Updated 12 May 2015.
|There were over 60 participants at this
meeting, when Alison Dickens, senior
project manager at the Cambridge
Archaeological Unit, gave a talk about
the excavation at Trumpington
Meadows. This has revealed a rich and
varied landscape above the floodplain
of the River Cam, with evidence from
the Neolithic, Iron Age and Saxon
periods. The remarkable discoveries
included the burial of a young Saxon
woman, laid on a bed and wearing a
beautiful gold and garnet cross, one of
the earliest expressions of post-Roman
Christianity found in England.
Meeting report by Andrew Roberts.
|Poster: Sylvia Jones.
|Work underway on one of the Neolithic monuments excavated in 2010. Source: © Cambridge
There were Iron Age enclosures in Areas A and B, with pottery from 500-300 BC, and a burial
and a large number of Iron Age pits in Area C. There was a ditch to the east of the Neolithic
monuments, dividing them from the majority of the Iron Age pits. Although there were 1000s of
years between the construction of the monuments and the use of the pits, the monuments must
still have been visible and had significance to the Iron Age occupants. There were 760 pits,
similar to the number found when the adjacent Park & Ride site was excavated in 2001. There
were also structures which might have been granaries. The pits were arranged in groups and
were typical of those for domestic use, with the contents including pottery and animal bones and
some with human remains. There were worked tools, including some made from human femurs.
The pits were probably for grain storage: they would have been sealed and the grain would have
been preserved so that it could be eaten or used as seed. There was one burial to the west of the
ditch, in a purpose made grave placed to look towards the river, with grave goods including an
iron bangle or bracelet and a shale pendant.
Saxon and Medieval
Prior to the excavation, there had been limited evaluation of the northern area (Area A), as the
field was being used for test crops. It turned out to have remarkable evidence of two phases of
Saxon and Medieval occupation in the 6th/7th and 11th/12th centuries, the origins of the village
of Trumpington. Similar structures were found when the Waitrose site was excavated, but with
no dating evidence. The finds included a needle with Anglo-Scandinavian carving, a rare
indicator of Viking influence. The Early to Middle Saxon features found on the Trumpington
Meadows site were typical of this period, including buildings with sunken structures which could
be interpreted to be workshops or ancillary buildings, perhaps for textile making ('grubenhaus'), a
larger rectangular hall with evidence of metalworking, and deep wells.
There was a group of four 7th century graves, 3 of which were close to each other and 1 offset,
probably contemporary with the buildings. Early in its excavation, it was realised that the
southernmost grave was a rare example of a Saxon bed burial. The grave included the body of a
young girl, 14-18 year old, buried with her head to the west, in a grave which was larger than
needed for the size of her body. The surviving metalwork included iron fittings for a bed, cleats
and loops, where the loops would have suspended a mattress. There were grave goods close to
the body, including a knife, a fastener (possibly a purse or chatelaine) and a beautiful cross
which was found just below her teeth. The solid gold pectoral cross was inlaid with garnet and
designed to be stitched onto fabric, rather than suspended, and would have been worn during the
lifetime of the female. When the earth was removed from the remains of her skull, the specialists
found loose pieces of garnet from the cross and a chain with linked pins, also of the highest
quality in gold and garnet, which would have been used to fasten the cross. The garnets would
have been traded from Sri Lanka or India and would now be analysed.
|The Trumpington Cross, after cleaning. ©
Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
|Alison Dickens said that 15 bed burials have been found at 13 different sites, including in East
Anglia and the West Country. There are only four other known examples of pectoral crosses in
the UK, from Ixworth (Stanton, Suffolk), Wilton (Lakenheath, Norfolk), Holderness (East
Yorkshire) and one found in St Cuthbert's coffin, now in Durham Cathedral. The Trumpington
cross is the first to be found in an archaeological context.
The Trumpington burial was of a young girl with a cross whose body was lain on a bed. There
seemed to be two possible explanations for the burial at this location: the girl was passing through
when she died or she was meant to be here, on the edge of the new settlement. It had been
thought that burials with grave goods were not Christian, but this view was now changing. It was
probable that noble families would have been the first to convert to Christianity. It was thought
that this may be an early monastic site and the girl may be of noble blood. The cross was
currently being conserved at the Fitzwilliam Museum and would go through the treasure trove
See also the pages about a site visit in May 2011 and the discovery of the bed burial and cross,
announced in March 2012.