We start this issue with a spectacular new discovery: an Anglo-Saxon royal burial fit to compare with Sutton Hoo. Though the body had completely rotted away, the wooden burial chamber had been preserved by sand seeping through cracks to fill the air space, leaving artefacts still hanging on walls just where they had been placed at a funeral 1400 years ago. Among some 60 grave-goods were two gold-foil crucifixes. So was this one of the first Christian kings of Essex?
Then we turn our attention to another famous burial. Working in the crypt of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, Dr Louise Scheuer stumbled upon a missing lead coffin. Recovered in 1952 and then hidden behind a pile of boxes and forgotten, she found it unexcavated and with bones and earth still inside. The name-plate on the coffin revealed the identity of the occupant: it was one of greatest figures in English literature, and Louise Scheuer was soon busy re-examining a patient whose previous doctors had pronounced him ‘hypochondriacal’.
We then leap back in time to the Palaeolithic to look at the work of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project. Were there humans in Britain before Boxgrove? Was human occupation continuous, or were there periods of abandonment and recolonisation? Most fascinating of all, was Britain unoccupied in the last warm period, the Ipswichian? Was there a mass extermination, in which it was the humans that were exterminated? These and other questions are being tackled in a five-year project involving the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and five universities.
Our fourth feature looks at new evidence for an ‘archaeologically invisible’ community: the Jews of medieval England. From the Norman Conquest to the end of the thirteenth century the Jews formed a sizeable group in English society. But where is the evidence in archaeology? Now London archaeologists are interpreting two recently discovered features as mikva’ot Jewish ritual baths.
We return to the Dark Ages for our final feature. Again the problem is a gap in the archaeological record: the Vikings. Were they a class of conquering overlords or were there large numbers of peasant settlers? Kevin Leahy has been logging metal-detected finds in Lincolnshire for decades and thinks he now knows the answer.