Bed burial

A bed burial is a type of burial in which the deceased person is buried in the ground, lying upon a bed. It is a burial custom that is particularly associated with high status women during the early Anglo-Saxon period (7th century), although excavated examples of bed burials are comparatively rare.

Anglo-Saxon bed burials

Saxon Princess Kirkleatham
Replica of the "Saxon Princess" bed burial at the Street House Anglo-Saxon cemetery

A number of early Anglo-Saxon bed burials, almost all dating to the 7th century, have been found in England, predominantly in the southern counties of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Wiltshire, but single examples have also been found in Derbyshire and North Yorkshire. The beds used in these burials were made of wood, and although none have been fully preserved, their presence can be inferred from the presence of iron fixtures and fittings, such as nails, cleats, grommets, brackets, headboard mounts and railings, that outline the rectangular shape of the bed in the grave.[1][2][3] However, in some cases it is not clear whether the iron fixtures found in a grave come from a bed or a coffin.

The majority of the Anglo-Saxon bed burials are for young women, and many of the burials include items of jewellery and other grave goods that indicate that the dead person must have been wealthy and of high status during life. The high quality of the gold jewellery found in the bed burial at Loftus in Yorkshire suggests that the occupant of the grave may have been a princess.[4] On the other hand, some of the young women buried on their beds have pectoral crosses or other Christian emblems buried with them (Ixworth,[5] Roundway Down, Swallowcliffe Down, Trumpington), which has suggested the possibility that they may have been abbesses, who in the early Anglo-Saxon period were recruited from noble families.[6]

In addition to laying the deceased on a bed, some of the bed burials exhibit other features that mark them out as special, and relate them to ship burials, such as the bed being placed in a chamber (Coddenham, Swallowcliffe Down), or a barrow being raised above the grave (Lapwing Hill, Swallowcliffe Down).[7] In at least two sites (Loftus and Trumpington), a grubenhaus (sunken floored building) has been excavated close to the bed burial, and it is possible that the deceased was laid out in the grubenhaus before burial so that mourners could pay their respects to her.[2][8]

The complex and elaborate funeral practices that must have been associated with a bed burial have been well described by archaeologist Howard Williams:

The artefacts, body and grave would have interacted to create a complex sequences of practices and performances in the funeral. We can imagine the digging of the grave, perhaps the lining of the grave with timber shorings, and perhaps a temporary shelter over the grave in the hours or days until the body is ready for burial. We then have the lowering of a bed into the grave, followed by the clothed body together with a set of discrete deposits. Each would have required persons approaching the grave and passing them down to those in the grave itself with the body. Finally, after the funeral had approached completion, the grave would have been back-filled and the mound raised.[1]

Interring the deceased on a bed suggests that sleep was seen as a metaphor for death.[1] Furthermore, the Old English word leger (modern English lair), literally meaning a "place where one lies", was used to refer to both beds and graves in Old English literature, which emphasizes the symbolic equivalence of the bed and the grave.[9]

List of Anglo-Saxon bed burials

About a dozen Anglo-Saxon bed burials, as well as several possible bed burials, have been excavated from the 19th century onwards, as listed in the table below.

Location County Coordinates Year of discovery Date Notes
Cherry Hinton, Cambridge Cambridgeshire 52°11′06″N 0°10′30″E / 52.185°N 0.175°E 1949 One bed burial among a group of nine Anglo-Saxon graves.[10]
Shrublands Quarry, Smythes Corner, Coddenham Suffolk 52°08′24″N 1°06′54″E / 52.140°N 1.115°E 2005 7th century Bed burial of a woman, in a chambered grave, with high status grave goods, including a pendant made from a gold coin with a prominent cross motif issued by the Frankish king Dagobert I (629–634), and three amethyst beads.[11]
Collingbourne Ducis Wiltshire 51°17′10″N 1°38′53″W / 51.286°N 1.648°W 2007 Second half of the 7th century Bed burial of a middle-aged woman aged about 45. The only object found in the grave was a single earthenware pot.[12]
Edix Hill, Barrington Cambridgeshire 52°07′52″N 0°00′40″E / 52.131°N 0.011°E 1989–1991 7th century Two bed burials. One of a young woman with leprosy aged 17–25, who was buried with a variety of personal effects, including a weaving sword, a knife, two silver rings, a bucket, and a box holding a key, a knife, a spindle whorl, a comb, a sea urchin fossil, and some sheep anklebones.[10][13][14]
Stanton, near Ixworth Suffolk 52°19′12″N 0°52′30″E / 52.320°N 0.875°E 1886 Mid 7th century Bed burial with high status grave goods, including a gold and garnet pectoral cross and a gold and garnet disc brooch.[15][16]
Lapwing Hill, Brushfield Derbyshire 53°14′24″N 1°45′54″W / 53.240°N 1.765°W 1850 7th century Bed burial, under a barrow, of a man buried with his weapons.[17]
Street House Anglo-Saxon cemetery, near Loftus North Yorkshire 54°33′46″N 0°51′29″W / 54.562869°N 0.858139°W 2005–2007 Mid 7th century Bed burial of a young woman, buried with a gold scutiform pendant, two cabochon garnet pendants, glass beads, pottery, iron knives, belt buckles and various other objects.[2][4][18]
Roundway Down Wiltshire 51°22′52″N 1°59′31″W / 51.381°N 1.992°W 1840 Possibly a bed burial, although the iron mounts found in the grave may be from a coffin rather than a bed. Grave goods include a gold necklace inlaid with cabochon garnets, a veil fastener with two pins and a roundel decorated with a cross, and a wood and bronze bucket.[19][20]
Shudy Camps, near Bartlow Cambridgeshire 52°03′00″N 0°21′36″E / 52.050°N 0.360°E 1933 Two, possibly three, bed burials.[10]
Swallowcliffe Down Wiltshire 51°01′30″N 2°02′13″W / 51.025°N 2.037°W 1966 Second half of the 7th century Bed burial of a young woman, constructed within a chamber built into a Bronze Age barrow. In the grave were found a large number of grave goods, including a wood and leather satchel embossed with an ornately decorated bronze and gold roundel with a cruciform design, an iron spindle, an iron pan, a bronze bucket, a silver sprinkler, two glass palm-cups, a bone comb, four silver brooches, 11 pendants from a necklace, and other items of jewellery and personal items in a box with bronze mountings.[21][22]
Trumpington, Cambridge (Trumpington bed burial) Cambridgeshire 52°10′19″N 0°06′18″E / 52.172°N 0.105°E 2011 mid 7th century Bed burial of a young woman, aged about 16, buried with a gold pectoral cross inlaid with garnets, an iron knife, a chatelaine, and some glass beads.[8][9]
Winklebury Hill, near Shaftesbury Wiltshire 50°59′42″N 2°04′12″W / 50.995°N 2.070°W 1881 Possible bed burial.[19]
Woodyates, near Salisbury Dorset 50°57′54″N 1°57′54″W / 50.965°N 1.965°W 1812 Possible bed burial, with grave goods including beads made out of gold, glass and jet.[23]

Viking bed burials

In several Viking ship burials from Norway and Sweden, including the Oseberg ship burial (dated to 834) and Gokstad ship burial (dated to the late 9th century), the deceased had been laid out on beds. However, true bed burials, in which the bed is buried directly in the ground are not known.[24][25]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Williams 2006, p. 31
  2. ^ a b c Sherlock, Steve; Simmons, Mark (June 2008). "A seventh-century royal cemetery at Street House, north-east Yorkshire, England". Antiquity. 82 (316). ISSN 0003-598X.
  3. ^ Eagles, Bruce (1991). "G. Speake". Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine. 84: 163–164. ISSN 0262-6608.
  4. ^ a b "Anglo-saxon princess' treasure set to go on show". Redcar and Cleveland News. 4 May 2011.
  5. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 385467". PastScape. Retrieved 2013-01-22.
  6. ^ Blair 2005, p. 230
  7. ^ Lee 2007, p. 82
  8. ^ a b "Archaeology at Cambridge 2010–2011" (PDF). Cambridge University. 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-09-25.
  9. ^ a b Dickens, Alison; Lucy, Sam (16 March 2012). "Mystery of Anglo-Saxon teen buried in bed with gold cross". Retrieved 2012-03-16.
  10. ^ a b c Geake 1997, p. 147
  11. ^ Hoggett 2010, pp. 111, 124, 312
  12. ^ "The Bed Burial". Wessex Archaeology. 11 May 2008. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
  13. ^ Lee 2007, pp. 62, 82
  14. ^ Williams 2006, pp. 100–103
  15. ^ Green 1968, p. 123
  16. ^ Webster & Backhouse 1991, p. 27
  17. ^ Welch 1993, p. 89
  18. ^ "Street House, Loftus". Tees Archaeology. Archived from the original on 2011-12-19. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
  19. ^ a b Williams 2006, p. 32
  20. ^ Semple, Sarah; Williams, Howard. "Excavation on Roundway Down, North Wiltshire". Trinity College Carmarthen. Archived from the original on August 3, 2003.
  21. ^ Williams 2006, pp. 27–32
  22. ^ York 1995, pp. 174–175
  23. ^ Geake 1997, p. 151
  24. ^ Gjerset 1969, p. 34
  25. ^ Scragg 2003, p. 40


  • Blair, John (2005), The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society, Oxford University Press
  • Geake, Helen (1997), The Use of Grave-Goods in Conversion-Period England, c.600-c.850, British Archaeological Reports, ISBN 9780860549178
  • Gjerset, Knut (1969), History of the Norwegian people, AMS Press
  • Green, Charles (1968), Sutton Hoo: The Excavation of a Royal Ship-Burial, Merlin Press
  • Hoggett, Richard (2010), The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion, Boydell & Brewer, ISBN 9781843835950
  • Lee, Christina (2007), Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals, Boydell & Brewer, ISBN 9781843831426
  • Scragg, Donald G. (2003), Textual and Material Culture in Anglo-Saxon England, DS Brewer, ISBN 9780859917735
  • Webster, Leslie; Backhouse, Janet (1991), The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture, AD 600-900, British Museum, ISBN 9780802077219
  • Welch, Martin G. (1993), Discovering Anglo-Saxon England, Pennsylvania State University Press, ISBN 9780271008943
  • Williams, Howard (2006), Death And Memory in Early Medieval Britain, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521840194
  • Yorke, Barbara (1995), Wessex in the Early Middle Ages, Continuum International, ISBN 9780718518561

External links

2011 in archaeology

The year 2011 in archaeology

Collingbourne Ducis

Collingbourne Ducis is a village and civil parish on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, about 10 miles (16 km) south of Marlborough. It is one of several villages on the River Bourne which is a seasonal river, usually dry in summer. The parish includes the hamlets of Cadley and Sunton.

Dead on arrival

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In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.

Death messenger

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Death rattle

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Lazarus sign

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List of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries

Anglo-Saxon cemeteries have been found in England, Wales and Scotland. The burial sites date primarily from the fifth century to the seventh century AD, before the Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England. Later Anglo-Saxon period cemeteries have been found with graves dating from the 9th to the 11th century. Burials include both inhumation and cremation. Inhumation burials before the late seventh century when pagan funerary rituals were the norm, often consisted of rectangular graves, with coffins or were lined with stones. High status burials, often held burial furniture, predominantly burial beds. Grave goods were often placed with the body, and included jewellery, especially Anglo-Saxon brooches, weapons, tools, and household items.


Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.


A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.

For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.


An obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of the person's life and information about the upcoming funeral. In large cities and larger newspapers, obituaries are written only for people considered significant. In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.

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Pallor mortis

Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.

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Shrubland Hall Anglo-Saxon cemetery

Shrubland Hall Anglo-Saxon cemetery is a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon burial site discovered at Shrubland Hall Quarry near Coddenham, Suffolk. The cemetery contains fifty burials and a number of high-status graves including "the most complicated Anglo-Saxon bed ever found." Bed burials, in which a female body is laid out on an ornamental wooden bed, usually accompanied by jewellery, are rarely found, and are considered of national importance. Only 13 bed burials have been found to date in the UK. The bed burial was one of two graves at the cemetery which were found within wooden-lined chambers. The second chamber contained a male skeleton with grave goods including a seax, a spear, a shield, an iron-bound wooden bucket, a copper alloy bowl and a drinking horn.The site was uncovered by Suffolk County Council's Archaeology Service in 1999 during exploratory excavations prior to gravel extraction by the quarry operators. Evidence of Iron Age and Roman activity had previously been identified in the area.

Street House Anglo-Saxon cemetery

The Street House Anglo-Saxon cemetery is an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, dating to the second half of the 7th century AD, that was discovered at Street House Farm near Loftus, in the unitary authority of Redcar and Cleveland, England. Monuments dating back as far as 3300 BC are located in the vicinity of the cemetery, which was discovered after aerial photography revealed the existence of an Iron Age rectangular enclosure. The excavations, carried out between 2005 and 2007, revealed over a hundred graves dating from the 7th century AD and the remains of several buildings. An array of jewellery and other artefacts was found, including the jewels once worn by a young high-status Anglo-Saxon woman who had been buried on a bed and covered by an earth mound.

The woman's identity is unknown, but the artefacts and the layout of the cemetery are similar to finds in the east and south-east of England. There are contradictory indications of whether the occupants of the cemetery were Christian or pagan, as signs of both traditions are present. It perhaps represents a fusion of the two traditions during the "Conversion Period" when Christianity was taking hold among the Anglo-Saxons but pagan rituals had not yet been displaced, even among Christians. Archaeologists have suggested that the woman and at least some of the people buried around her may have migrated from the south, where bed burials were more common. They may all have been buried together within the space of a single generation, after which the cemetery was abandoned. The finds were acquired by Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar, in 2009 and have been on display there since 2011.


Swallowcliffe is a small village and civil parish located approximately 13 miles (21 km) west of Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. Its centre is one mile north of the A30.


Trumpington is a village and former civil parish on the outskirts of Cambridge, England, on the southwest side of the city bordering Cherry Hinton to the east, Grantchester to the west and Great Shelford and Little Shelford to the southeast. The village is an electoral ward of the City of Cambridge. The 2011 Census recorded the ward's population as 8,034.The village was a separate parish from the Anglo-Saxon era until the 20th century. In 1912 all of the land north of Long Road was transferred to Cambridge, and in 1934 most of the remaining land, including all of the village, was also given over to Cambridge. Only 382 acres (155 ha), almost uninhabited, were transferred to Haslingfield parish. The present Trumpington ward of Cambridge City Council also incorporates the Newtown area of the city, north of the historic parish boundary.

Trumpington bed burial

The Trumpington bed burial is an early Anglo-Saxon burial of a young woman, dating to the mid-7th century, that was excavated in Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, England in 2011. The burial is significant both as a rare example of a bed burial, and because of the ornate gold pectoral cross inlaid with garnets that was found in the grave.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge had hoped to acquire the pectoral cross once it had been valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee.. However, the cross was donated to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge by the property developers Grosvenor in January 2018. The cross is thought to be worth more than £80,000.

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