Burnham Market Anglo-Saxon cemetery


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Foundary Field and immediately to the west of Foundary Field and north of Foundary Bungalow.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Foundary Field and immediately to the west of Foundary Field and north of Foundary Bungalow.
King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)
Burnham Market
National Grid Reference:


The unexcavated buried remains of Burnham Market Anglo-Saxon cemetery, originally containing human skeletal remains of at least 438 individuals and including a prehistoric boundary ditch and ring ditch.

Reasons for Designation

The unexcavated buried remains of Burnham Market Anglo-Saxon cemetery, originally containing human skeletal remains of at least 438 individuals and including a prehistoric boundary ditch and ring ditch, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Potential: the site has considerable archaeological potential in the form of buried deposits, to provide information on the population, social and economic structure and ideology of the community that used the cemetery. * Survival: for the high level of archaeological survival shown by excavation. A further 45-62 burials are known to remain unexcavated but with potentially many more; * Rarity: for the survival of organic remains, unusually well preserved on a sandy site. * Period: cemeteries of this period offer our principal sources of archaeological evidence about the Early Anglo-Saxon period due to the rarity of rural Anglo-Saxon settlement sites; * Documentation: for the archaeological documentation available for the site in the form of excavation reports and analysis.


Beginning in the fifth century 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 patterns to have been disrupted. Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are dated to the early Anglo-Saxon period, from the fifth to the seventh centuries AD. With the conversion to Christianity in the late sixth and early seventh centuries the pagan cemeteries appear to have been abandoned in favour of new sites, some of which continue in use to the present day. Burial practices include both inhumation and cremation. Inhumations involved the placing of burials in rectangular pits in the ground, occasionally within coffins. Cremation burials involved the placing of burnt remains in containers which were then buried in small pits in the ground. The most common burial containers were pottery vessels, frequently heavily decorated, although glass and metal ones are also known. In each type of burial the human remains might be accompanied by those of animals and also grave goods, including jewellery and weaponry. In some cemeteries only one type of burial was practiced, in others both are evident. The largest cemeteries contained several thousand burials. Individual cemeteries were in use for up to 300 years. Anglo-Saxon cemeteries represent one of the key sources of archaeological evidence about the early Anglo-Saxon period providing information on population, social structure and ideology.

At Burnham Market a burial, first identified in 1992 by children excavating a hole for a BMX track, towards the western end of the area under assessment, was thought to be of Roman date based on a piece of pottery found in the fill. Based on subsequent evidence it is highly likely this burial was of Anglo-Saxon date. Evidence of a nearby settlement of this period is recorded in the Norfolk Historic Environment Record.

A watching brief and archaeological excavation were carried out by NPS Archaeology ahead of the development and construction of residential properties, retail units and a public car park at Foundary Field, North Street, Burnham Market. In 2012 thirteen trial trenches were excavated across Foundary Field and all trenches contained archaeological evidence and identified the presence of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery towards the western part of the field. The site was divided into three areas, Area A to the east, designated for residential housing, Area B designated for two retail units, and Area C as a proposed car park. All areas underwent some archaeological excavations. Within Area A the entire area was stripped, mapped and sampled revealing a series of linear features representing field systems of different periods, the majority of which seem to date to the Late Saxon post-medieval periods. Other features identified were undatable.

Area B covered part of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery known to extend to the north, east and west of the area of excavation. Male, female and juvenile burials were revealed during the excavation. Also, part of a prehistoric Middle Neolithic ring ditch was identified in the south-east of the area.

Area C covered the proposed car park and was subjected to an open excavation where more of the cemetery was revealed and numerous burials were excavated. At the most northern point a large east-west ditch was discovered and considered to be of prehistoric date. The development was completed in 2018 but part of the cemetery, revealed through trial trenching remains unexcavated.


Principal elements: the cemetery survives as a series of buried deposits including numerous inhumation burials and a large boundary ditch which appears to define the northern boundary of the cemetery. A ring ditch thought to be of Middle Neolithic date lies in the south-west corner of the site.

Description: Foundary Field is located to the north-east of the market place, to the north of North Street in Burnham Market. The site was an arable field which had become rough grassland before it was archaeologically excavated and until the subsequent development began in 2015. The River Burn lies to the north and east of the site.

A principal feature of the cemetery which was sampled but not fully excavated, is a large ditch of prehistoric date. Measuring approximately 7m wide and 3m deep and aligned east-west running across the northern edge of the area, it appears to have acted as the northern extent of the cemetery. Evidence suggests it was partially in-filled by the time the cemetery was in use but would still have been a substantial feature in the landscape and was respected by those using the cemetery although some unfurnished burials (one decapitated) had been buried within the ditch and a further two burials were on its northern edge. Further archaeological evaluation in the field to the west of Foundary Field and north of Foundary Bungalow (the western extent of the area that was assessed) revealed burials only south of the projected line of the ditch.

To the south the cemetery did not extend beyond the southern edge of the ring ditch feature. Similar examples of ring ditches of Anglo-Saxon date are recorded at Spong Hill, Norfolk and St Peters, Broadstairs, Kent. At Spong Hill the ring ditch also has a similar context on the edge of the cemetery and it is possible the example at Burnham Market is contemporary with the cemetery rather than of Middle Neolithic date as originally thought. Approximately a quarter of the ring ditch at Burnham Market remains unexcavated.

The eastern edge can be inferred from the evidence retrieved from Trench 10 (Hodges, 2016) which contained 8-9 grave cuts. The graves were only evident in the north-west half of the trench. Combined with the two burials seen in the service trench to the south of the car park, it could be suggested that the cemetery extended approximately 20m from the eastern edge of the 2015 excavations.

No western extent was seen from the evaluation and therefore the cemetery could still extend further, into the back gardens of the properties fronting onto Herrings Lane but for the purposes of scheduling the area that was assessed is defined by the western field boundary of the field to the west of Foundary Field. Within this field, nine trial trenches were open in 2016, three of which, in the southern half of the field, revealed burials and grave cuts. It indicated that the graves, understood to be part of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery, were densely positioned, but there was no evidence for a boundary or of the extent of the cemetery. The large east–west ditch recorded in Foundry Field was not seen in the evaluation trenches, but it is believed that the position of the feature corresponds to overhead cables, which were avoided by the trenches. The increased height of two or three trees in the eastern field boundary suggests they are growing in the moisture and organic rich deposits of the buried ditch and aligns perfectly with the excavated sample of the boundary ditch in Foundary Field.

Those sections of the cemetery which were fully excavated, beneath part of what is now (2018) the car park and new retail units, saw the recovery of a small quantity of material of Iron Age and Roman date associated with Early Anglo-Saxon graves. There were also significant finds of later date, extending from the late Saxon period to the late post-medieval period, unusually well preserved for a sandy site.

Such finds associated with specific individuals and groups of individuals, provide very detailed information about the cemetery population and their ideologies and beliefs. Currently 438 inhumation burials have been recorded which, at the time of reporting (Hodges, October 2016), the ratio of male to female is 1:0.6. with an age range from neonatal to 50+. Some of the individuals exhibit an unusually tall stature. This applies not only to the adults but also to the juveniles when stature and tooth eruption are compared. It is also possible to infer some indicators of possible cause of death for a small number of individuals. The presence of neonates with female burials could suggest death related to child birth for both individuals. In one incidence the female was noted to have suffered a fracture to the pelvis earlier in life which resulted in the fusing of the pelvis and may well have caused complications during child birth. Some burials showed signs of unhealed trauma suggesting violence at the time of death was potentially the cause of death.

A high number of burials are considered to be ‘deviant’ burials or burial remains of a peculiar nature or non-normative character. Within Foundary Field an unusually large number (for an Anglo-Saxon cemetery) of decapitation burials were recorded. One grave contained three individuals who had all been decapitated, others had the skulls positioned by the feet, between the knees or by the shoulders and another where the body was holding the skull in its hands. Of those burials which were not furnished a high proportion were decapitation burials.

A small number of graves exhibited evidence of staining believed to represent either coffins, linings or some form of planking. In one example where the grave was cut in a particularly sandy part of the site the evidence suggests a grave liner was supported away from the body with two large stones at either end, possibly suggesting a problem with subsidence when the grave was originally dug.

All the above data results from initial analysis and considerably more is likely to be harboured within the recovered evidence. The remaining unexcavated burials will retain equally significant and nationally important evidence relating to the cemetery, its population and the social and economic context in which they lived.

Extent of Scheduling The scheduled area is intended to include the unexcavated areas of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The unusual shape of the scheduled area results from the 'cutting-out' of the fully excavated sections of the site which do not warrant scheduling.

The scheduling begins on the western side, at the south-east corner of the rear garden associated with a property known as Larkrise. From here the line runs south following the field boundary to the rear of Rycott Cottage to the southern boundary of the field. At this point it turns to the east following the field boundary north of Foundry Bungalow (formerly known as Red Gables), before turning south to follow the east boundary of the same property to the southern tip of the access drive. From here the line follows the western boundary of the building labeled Tel Ex on the Ordnance Survey map base, northwards before turning to the east for approximately 50m. It then turns north for approximately 79m before turning west to follow the northern edge of the buried ditch which is understood to define the northern edge of the cemetery.

Exclusions All modern road, path and car park surfaces, all signage and parking pay stations are excluded from the scheduling. All buildings within the scheduled area, electricity pylons and fences are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath all these features is included.


Excavation and Watching Brief Assessment Report and Updated Project Design. Foundary Field, North Street, Burnham Market, Norfolk. Hodges, October 2016. for Fleur Developments Ltd and Hill Partnerships Ltd
Hodges, L 2016 Archaeological Evaluation, Land East of Herring's Lane, Burnham Market, Norfolk, PE31 8DW. July 2016 for Fleur Developments Ltd.


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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