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Lakenheath’s early medieval past uncovered in new book

Details of 1,500-year-old burial grounds at a Royal Air Force base in eastern England, including that of a medieval warrior, are included in a newly published book.

The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries at RAF Lakenheath, Eriswell, Suffolk: Excavations 1997-2008 explores excavations of many human remains resulting in the discovery of four separate, but linked, burial grounds of the 5th to 8th centuries AD.


The publication is written by Jo Caruth and John Hines, with expert contributions from a number of other specialists. It is produced across two volumes, published by Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service (SCCAS) and Cotswold Archaeology, and funded by the Ministry of Defence.

Lakenheath Warrior and horse – photo courtesy Suffolk County Council

Saxon burials were first discovered at RAF Lakenheath in the 1950s, during work on the Lakenheath hospital. Among the most important finds was that of a fully-armed man buried alongside his horse adorned with a highly ornamented bridle. Dubbed, the Lakenheath Warrior, it is one of the most spectacular Suffolk finds from this period, outside of Sutton Hoo.


The book gives a detailed picture of life on the Suffolk Fen-edge in the Early Saxon period. It includes new research into glass and metal-working technologies, the sourcing of the materials of everyday life, as well as the forms of burial, the human skeletal remains, and the grave goods.

“The excavations that began at RAF Lakenheath in 1997 came to reveal a closely spaced group of burial sites, very close in date, that have delivered a wealth of archaeological data,” said authors Jo Caruth and John Hines. “In compiling this book, we were able to build upon highly professional recording and recovery in the process of excavation with a range of cutting-edge post-excavation studies, reflecting complementary expertise in the study of human remains, artefacts and features.

“The result is deep insight into the lifestyles, resources and horizons of a Fen-edge population from the 5th to 8th centuries AD, including personal connections and choices made within that community. We can follow them between and across a series of dramatic thresholds, from the earliest Anglo-Saxon settlements through the climatic crisis and pandemic plague of the 530s and 540s to the advent of Christianity and its eventual embedding in the kingdom of the East Angles.”

Discoveries from over a decade of excavations at RAF Lakenheath, detailed in the book, include:

  • 427 graves
  • 6 men buried with swords (two accompanied by horses)
  • 3 minstrels (men buried with lyres)
  • 1 man buried with a quiver of arrows
  • 8 cremation burials (four contained horse remains)
  • 96 female or juvenile graves with brooches
  • 2,500 glass beads

“This is an amazing achievement for Jo Caruth and her colleagues in our Needham Market office who have drawn upon their decades of experience and expertise in the archaeology of Suffolk,” explained Neil Holbrook, Chief Executive of Cotswold Archaeology. “The partnership with Professor Hines, a pre-eminent expert in Anglo-Saxon England, has been especially beneficial, and showcases what partnerships between local archaeologists and leading academics can achieve. The results of the Lakenheath excavation paint a fascinating story of an East Anglian community during the Anglo-Saxon period and demonstrates that they were part of a wide-ranging network of linkages and trade connections.”

Grave sites – photo courtesy Suffolk County Council

Particular attention in the book has been given to comprehensive scientific analysis of the use of material resources by the communities burying here, alongside stable-isotope and preliminary aDNA analyses, which thorough radiocarbon dating and chronological modelling give more precise context to the site.

The Lakenheath Warrior, his horse and some of the objects from the cemeteries are on loan to Mildenhall Museum where they can be viewed by the public.


The excavation finds archive will be held by Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service to allow it to be made freely available to future researchers.

“Suffolk is home to an incredibly influential past. The volume of history that has been uncovered, and now expertly documented from RAF Lakenheath, is quite breath-taking,” adds Councillor Philip Faircloth-Mutton, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Communities and Equality. “Thanks to Jo and John and all the partners involved, Suffolk County Council’s Archaeological Service has been able to capture and document details which will be read nationally and internationally.

“I’ve no doubt that this book will be a fundamental reference point for serious and informed study of the transition from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England in the East of England. It will support even more pioneering international research in a new era of cemetery archaeology from the European Early Middle Ages.”

You can get The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries at RAF Lakenheath, Eriswell Parish, Suffolk, by Jo Caruth and John Hines, from Casemate or


Top Image: Courtesy Suffolk County Council