A High-Status Anglo-Saxon Settlement at Flixborough, Lincolnshire

By Loveluck, C. P. | Antiquity, March 1998 | Go to article overview

A High-Status Anglo-Saxon Settlement at Flixborough, Lincolnshire


Loveluck, C. P., Antiquity


Excavations at Flixborough, Lincolnshire (1989-91) revealed an important Anglo-Saxon settlement. Here the various interpretations are discussed, ranging from monastic to 'magnate'.

Between 1989 and 1991, excavations at Flixborough on the south bank of the Humber estuary, near Scunthorpe, revealed exceptional remains of a predominantly Middle to Late Saxon settlement [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. The finds included the complete or partial foundations of over 30 buildings, boundaries and other structural features, together with an extremely rich collection of artefacts and a vast quantity of animal bones. Despite the fact that it was not possible to uncover the full extent of the settlement, the range and quality of the evidence from the site provides a much-needed opportunity to establish archaeological criteria for defining the nature and character of high-status Mid to Late Saxon settlements, both within the area of the Humber estuary and more widely in England.

Finds from the Anglo-Saxon settlement at Flixborough were first discovered in 1933, when Derrick Riley unearthed fired clay annular loom weights, animal bones and pottery, although he thought that the artefacts suggested a RomanoBritish settlement (Riley's unpublished notebook). The site was identified as dating from the Anglo-Saxon period during an archaeological evaluation by Mr Kevin Leahy (Keeper of Archaeology, Scunthorpe Museum), in advance of sand quarrying in 1988. Eleven badly preserved inhumation graves were uncovered. None of the burials were furnished with grave-goods, although iron fittings indicate that one of the interred individuals had been placed in a wooden coffin. A geophysical survey was subsequently carried out to the north of the graves but the results were inconclusive. Further evaluation by trial trenching was then undertaken as a control exercise by the Humberside Archaeology Unit (now the Humber Archaeology Partnership). This resulted in the discovery of substantial, well-preserved Anglo-Saxon settlement remains. As a consequence of these finds, English Heritage funded the excavation of a sample of the probable Anglo-Saxon settlement area, with a view to defining the character, date and importance of the site. The settlement evidence dated mainly from the 7th to loth centuries AD, but additional indications suggest that the area in the immediate vicinity of the excavations acted as a continuous focus of settlement from the Roman period to the High Middle Ages. The account below provides an interim summary of the nature of the archaeological remains from the site, based on a preliminary assessment of their importance and some early results of a detailed post-excavation analysis and publication programme, funded by English Heritage (Loveluck 1996).

Character of the settlement remains and the occupation sequence

The main focus of Anglo-Saxon occupation was situated on the summit of a windblown sand spur, overlooking the floodplain of the River Trent, 8 km south of the Humber estuary. The sand spur had built up against the Lincolnshire liassic escarpment, which lies immediately to the east of the Flixborough excavations. FIGURE 2 gives an indication of the local topography viewed from the remains of a 13th-century church (All Saints), located on the escarpment overlooking the site. The foundations of at least 3O buildings were uncovered, in most cases constructed on long-lived building plots, superimposed over their demolished predecessors [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]. Periodically, however, the use of the excavated area for habitation was interspersed by major phases of dumping, associated with refuse accumulation and deliberate raising of the ground level for construction purposes, by filling a large hollow in the central area of the site. The cyclical exploitation of the spur for housing and dumping has provided unprecedented stratified deposits from a Middle to Late Saxon rural settlement. The refuse and demolition deposits, in particular, have yielded exceptional collections of artefacts and animal bones, both in regard to their quality, quantity and excellent state of preservation. …

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