Between 1980 and 1988 excavations took place on the Middle Saxon settlement at Brandon, which is located on the edge of the fenland in the county of Suffolk.
The site occupies a raised ‘island’ of windblown sand within the floodplain of the Little Ouse and approximately 11,750 sq. metres were excavated to make way for sports fields. Prior to excavation the field was a meadow that was characterised by a series of earthworks, which included a raised enclosure tentatively identified as the site of a medieval chapel, a causeway that linked the island to the floodplain, and a series of linear features. It is a normal archaeological coincidence that the significance of the earthworks and Middle-Saxon dating of the pottery in mole hills was first recognized by archaeologists in the mid-1970s at the same time as the independent discovery by a metal detectorist of a gold plaque with an image of St John the Evangelist, possibly from the corner of an Anglo-Saxon Bible, confirmed that this was likely to be a site of particular importance.
The excavations uncovered approximately one third of the ‘island’ and exposed the evidence of a settlement which lasted from the mid 7th to the late 9th centuries. The remains of at least thirty five buildings were excavated, which included timber in many of the post-holes. Other structural features were: a raised causeway, a wooden bridge, two cemeteries and two churches. An area along the waterfront was given over to textile processing with structures linked to dyeing and bleaching, and a smithy and a possible bakery were also identified. Bulk finds from the site included 157,000 fragments of animal bone, 24,000 sherds of pottery and 416kg of slag. Smaller objects included twenty Anglo-Saxon coins, bronze pins, fragments of window and vessel glass and over 100 bone objects. Several items of personal dress were manufactured in silver or gold. There was compelling evidence for literacy with a number of objects bearing runic inscriptions, including a knife handle, silver tweezers and a gilded silver pin as well as fragments of eight glass inkwells. By carefully plotting the finds, either individually or by grid, from the buried occupation surface it has been possible to demonstrate both the casual loss of objects and the accumulation of rubbish in heaps across the site.
Following the rapid decline of the site late in the 9th century, settlement moved from the ‘island’ to the edge of the floodplain but a medieval causeway leading to an enclosure remained. The enclosure awaits excavation but trial trenches across it suggest that it contained a medieval religious building, which may have been the chapel of St Andrew that disappears from historical records for Brandon in the 13th century.
By Andrew Tester, Sue Anderson, Ian Riddler, Robert Carr
450pp, 275 illustrations; £45