Brighton in the Dark Ages

Friday 29th July was the Day of Archaeology 2011. It provided the opportunity to find out all about the world of archaeology, with 400 archaeologists blogging about their work. So, with this in mind, here’s a look at a local discovery revealing another slice of Brighton’s history.

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In 1884, during the building of St Luke’s Church hall in Exeter Street, two adult male burials were uncovered with grave goods including shield bosses and spear heads. Later, in 1893, three shield bosses and a sword unearthed in Stafford Road were presented to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. These discoveries suggested the existence of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the area.

In 1985, building works at a house off Stafford Road triggered an archaeological rescue operation when workmen uncovered more Anglo-Saxon burials. Over a Bank Holiday weekend, the remains of three skeletons were uncovered, two male and one female, all dating from around the 6th Century AD. One of the males had died aged about 30 from a serious head wound inflicted by a sword and his skull also exhibited an earlier healed head wound from which he had survived. He was buried with his shield, spear and possibly an iron knife. There is no evidence of cause of death for the other male, aged about 35-40. He was fairly tall at 5’ 11” and robust, although his dental health was poor, demonstrated by evidence of tooth loss and abscesses.

The female skeletal remains were disturbed and damaged by the workmen. However it was determined that she was aged around 40-45 when she died, comparatively old for the early Anglo-Saxon period, and also had poor dental health. She was buried with objects which were likely of most value to her including two copper alloy brooches, two copper alloy rings and a pair of copper alloy tweezers.

Life for these early Saxon settlers appears to have been relatively short-lived and sometimes pretty brutal. Suffering a violent death was not uncommon and life expectancy beyond the age of 40 appears to of been rare. The deficient dental health of two of the skeletons indicates a fairly poor diet and lack of personal hygiene, all of which would have increased vulnerability to disease. This small insight into life in Brighton during the early Anglo-Saxon period suggests it may have been at times somewhat bleak.

Andy, Volunteer Local History & Archaeology

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