Watchfield Anglo-Saxon cemetery


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1010755

Date first listed: 16-Jul-1992


Ordnance survey map of Watchfield Anglo-Saxon cemetery
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Oxfordshire

District: Vale of White Horse (District Authority)

Parish: Watchfield

National Grid Reference: SU 24916 90808, SU 24941 90717


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Beginning in the fifth century AD, there is evidence from distinctive burials and cemeteries, new settlements, and new forms of pottery and metalwork, of the immigration into Britain of settlers from northern Europe, bringing with them new religious beliefs. The Roman towns appear to have gone into rapid decline and the old rural settlement pattern to have been disrupted. Although some Roman settlements and cemeteries continued in use, the native Britons rapidly adopted many of the cultural practices of the new settlers and it soon becomes difficult to distinguish them in the archaeological record. So-called Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are dated to the early Anglo-Saxon period, from the fifth to the seventh centuries AD. With the conversion to Christianity during the late sixth and seventh centuries AD, these pagan cemeteries appear to have been abandoned in favour of new sites, some of which have continued in use up to the present day. Burial practices included both inhumation and cremation. Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemeteries consist predominantly of inhumation burials which were placed in rectangular pits in the ground, occasionally within coffins. The bodies were normally accompanied by a range of grave goods, including jewellery and weaponry. The cemeteries vary in size, the largest containing several hundred burials. Around 1000 inhumation cemeteries have been recorded in England. They represent one of our principal sources of archaeological evidence about the Early Anglo-Saxon period, providing information on population, social structure and ideology. All surviving examples, other than those which have been heavily disturbed, are considered worthy of protection.

The cemetery at Watchfield shows a range of burial types with a rich diversity of grave goods. As such it provides important information on the variety of beliefs and social organisation amongst early Anglo-Saxon communities in the fifth and sixth centuries.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The Anglo-Saxon cemetery is situated 500m north-east of Watchfield on a low north-south ridge. It extends about 50m south and 60m north of the bypass. The monument therefore comprises two areas separated by the bypass. The cemetery consists of extended and cremation burials of Anglo-Saxon type, as discovered during the course of building the bypass in 1983. Excavations revealed a total of 43 inhumations, 7 of which were juveniles, 2 infants and the rest adults. The graves vary in depth, some shallow and damaged by later ploughing but some well below the level of the ridge and furrow. The remains are close to the surface to the north of the site but the digging of test trenches revealed deeper deposits to the south-east. All the cut graves were orientated north-south except the two infant burials which were lying east-west. Two complete urned burials and the remains of other urns reveal that the cemetery is of `mixed' type with both cremation and inhumation rites represented. A variety of grave goods has been found at the site which demonstrate a late 5th and 6th century date for the burials. A magnometer survey carried out in 1985 to the north and south of the site showed that it was part of a larger complex of archaeological features extending over at least 3 hectares. The density of the graves excavated and the distribution of human bone finds would suggest that there were originally c.360 graves of which up to half survive unexcavated.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 20602

Legacy System: RSM

End of official listing