Toggle menu

Apple Down Anglo-Saxon Cemetery

Excavations at Appledown Cemetery

In 1981 two responsible metal-detectorists gained the permission of a local farmer to explore a hilltop by Up Marden. They found some items which they thought were Saxon and decided to take them to Chichester District Museum for identification.

They had discovered one of the most important of the 1,200 cemeteries known from early Anglo-Saxon England. The cemetery has given archaeologists and historians a wealth of information about Saxon life, through looking at burial practices and how they changed from the late 5th to at least the 7th centuries AD.

Two cemetery sites were discovered. Cemetery 1 (late fifth/early sixth-seventh centuries) contained 115 burials and 64 cremations, and Cemetery 2 (seventh/early eighth century) contained just 13 burials although some of this cemetery was destroyed as a result of the construction of a reservoir. About 40 of the graves belonged to women, around another 40 were men, and 38 were infant and child burials.

Evidence from Apple Down suggests that earth mounds might have marked some burials, and that wooden posts might also have been used as grave markers. There was also evidence for roofed timber structures over some of the burials, which may have represented 'houses for the dead', both sheltering and marking the grave as a place of significance. Some graves may have been left open for a period, with corpses exposed for a period of time before being covered by soil as indicated by insect larva - this may have given people time to come and pay respects to the body, or represent a period between the beginning and completion of full funeral rites.

The inhumation burials from Cemetery 1 contained a large number of grave goods, suggesting to archaeologists that Cemetery 1 was in fact a Pagan cemetery.

Unlike Cemetery 1, Cemetery 2, the smaller of the two sites, contained only 13 burials, with virtually no accompanying grave goods and no cremations burials, thus suggesting it represents the earlier Christian successor to the community's Pagan cemetery at site 1.

The location of the settlement associated with the individuals buried at Apple Down remains a mystery. Extensive investigation was undertaken alongside and subsequent to the archaeological excavations that identified the cemetery sites, but to no avail.

Excavations at Appledown Cemetery
Saucer brooch found at Appledown Cemetery
Square-headed brooch found at Appledown Cemetery