Saxon Special Deposits

The surreal Saxon Swamp is located in the land of Collegiate Cognitive Dissonance.

The Second World War ushered in a revival of the Anglo-Saxon Pit-Hut concept in Britain which resulted in the erection of over 3½ million Anderson Shelters that were buried 4 feet deep into the soil and then covered with at least of 15 inches of soil above the roof.

This chronological discrepancy is very strange because building pit-houses [“partially below the ground surface”] is a design that was resurrected during the 20th century to provide protection from explosive and incendiary objects that were falling out of the sky.



The Second World World also ushered in a prolonged period when Edward Thurlow Leeds could ponder [possibly whilst hunkered down in an Anderson Shelter] upon the functional design of the Anglo-Saxon Pit-Huts that were uncovered in the gravel deposits of Sutton Courtenay.

Edward Thurlow Leeds (1877-1955) was an English archaeologist and museum curator. He was Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum from 1928 to 1945.


In 1947 Edward Thurlow Leeds finally unleashed his Collegiate Cognitive Dissonance.

What was the purpose of this deep basement-room?

At the time its meaning escaped me, but the interpretation of it and its contents was made perfectly clear by later local discoveries of an earlier at Dorchester, Oxfordshire.

In 1936, 1937, and 1938, three deep pits, similarly excavated into the gravel to water-level, came to light in Messrs. Allen & Son’s gravel pit in that parish.

At the bottom of each was a well-made wooden, barrel-like structure, in one case composed of upright staves erected around a square mortised frame; access to one of the pits was provided by a stairway of slabs set in the gravel.

In these casings or barrels were found small quantities of blue clay.

The rude basket-like pen at Sutton Courtney with its large mass of clay presents an exact parallel.

In close proximity to the pits at Dorchester two kilns with remains of Roman pottery were also found, and though there was no absolute proof of any definite relation in time between them and the pits, the pits were manifestly used for the storage of pots of clay at water-level in order to keep it in fit condition for working.

A Saxon Village at Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire – Third Report
E. Thurlow Leeds
Archaeologia – Volume 92 – January 1947, pp. 79-93

Evidently, Collegiate Cognitive Dissonance was infectious in post-war Britain.

The English evidence alone was sufficient to suggest that some, if not all, of the ‘pit-dwellings at Sutton Courtenay and elsewhere served specialized functions.
The most obvious example of this specialized use is the weaving-shed.

Other industrial uses are suggested by the curiously shaped hearths and the slag and scoriae in houses such as no. VI at Sutton Courtenay, while the unused clay in nos. VII and XXI suggested to the excavator that they had been used for the manufacture of the circular clay loom-weights and pottery respectively.

Guyan in the analysis already referred to suggests that some of these ‘pit-dwellings’ were used for cooking and baking, a function which was suggested for a number of the houses at Sutton Courtenay, though the point was not considered whether they were specialized buildings for these purposes or whether the work was carried on alongside the other normal activities of an ordinary dwelling.

The attribution of specialized functions to these ‘pit-dwellings’ does not necessarily exclude the possibility that they were sometimes used for residence. It must be confessed that a critical re-examination of the evidence from Sutton Courtenay lends little support to such an hypothesis.

The Saxon House: A Review and Some Parallels – C A Ralegh Radford
Journal of The Society for Medieval Archaeology – Volume 1 – 1957

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Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford (1900-1999) was an English archaeologist and historian who pioneered the exploration of the Dark Ages of Britain and popularised his findings in many official guides and surveys for the Office of Works.

His scholarly work appeared in articles in the major British journals, such as Medieval Archaeology or the Proceedings of the British Academy and in the various Transactions of archaeological societies.

In the 21st century this Collegiate Cognitive Dissonance morphed into a broader belief in “foundation” and “termination” rituals that created Special Deposits covering animal and human remains – sometimes with vast amounts of material like the commercially viable deposits of gravel covering the Saxon Pit-Huts at Sutton Courtney.

The burial of animals, humans and ‘special’ objects in settlements of the later Germanic Iron-age and Migration Period (4th–7th centuries A.D.) in regions bordering the North Sea has long been recognized as a distinctive phenomenon.

These often occur in association with buildings, have generally been regarded as the remnants of a ritual act and are conventionally referred to as ‘foundation deposits’, implying that they were deposited during the construction of a building and were intended to protect it and its occupants.

The special deposits investigated here mostly comprise animal or human remains deposited within settlements (in pits, ditches, buildings but also graves) where deliberate and careful placement appears likely, e.g. due to the completeness and position of the deposit.

‘Special Deposits’ in Anglo-Saxon Settlements – Helena Hamerow
Medieval Archaeology, 50, 2006

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Discovered during large-scale settlement excavations, often conducted ahead of quarrying or development, such burials have received comment but they have never before been systematically studied for Anglo-Saxon England.

Living with the Dead: Human Burials in Anglo-Saxon Settlement Contexts
Clifford M. Sofield – Archaeological Journal – Volume 172 – Issue 2 – 2015

The Special Deposits containing human remains are especially problematic because the “vast majority” of Anglo-Saxon burials are found in “discrete cemeteries”.

The vast majority of known burials dated to between the fifth and ninth centuries from lowland England have been discovered in discrete cemeteries, separate and distinct from living areas.

Instead, burials in Anglo-Saxon settlement contexts have been interpreted individually: as hasty, careless, opportunistic, or surreptitious burials; as victims of ‘domestic tragedy’ ; and as deviant burials of criminals and social outcasts.

Living with the Dead: Human Burials in Anglo-Saxon Settlement Contexts
Clifford M. Sofield – Archaeological Journal – Volume 172 – Issue 2 – 2015

The “archaeological survival” of some Special Deposits is truly “remarkable”.

In one highly unusual case at Wharram Percy, North Yorkshire, an infant had apparently been carefully laid on the ground surface in the centre of a back-filled ditch, close to a sunken-featured building and the partly butchered remains of a sheep.

The infant apparently placed on the ground surface at Wharram Percy has already been noted.

How unusual the practice was of exposing bodies in this way is unclear, but certainly the archaeological survival of such remains is remarkable.

‘Special Deposits’ in Anglo-Saxon Settlements – Helena Hamerow
Medieval Archaeology, 50, 2006

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Whilst other Special Deposits display very “unusual traits”.

Several of the human burials also exhibited unusual traits.

The position of Human Burial 2 from Cheddar suggested to the excavator a ‘hasty burial’: ‘The left arm was sharply bent at the elbow; the right arm was under the torso, slightly bent at the elbow with the right hand under the left radius’.

An adult male buried in, or abutting, a SFB at Sutton Courtenay (House X) was covered with ‘a blanket of clay’.

Another burial at Sutton Courtenay was deposited in a large pit nearly two metres in diameter. In it, the body of an adult female lay at a sharp angle, head downwards, with ‘arms half-outstretched . . . towards the remains . . . of an infant . . . Behind the woman’s head and over the body of the child there was a layer about six inches thick of earth and gravel which must have been stamped hard . . . Behind the woman’s head were three animal skulls, two oxen and a horse’.

‘Special Deposits’ in Anglo-Saxon Settlements – Helena Hamerow
Medieval Archaeology, 50, 2006

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Evidently, acute Collegiate Cognitive Dissonance prevents Special Deposits being associated with other “distinctive phenomenon” found “bordering the North Sea”.

In 2008 James Tristan Morris produced an analysis of Associated Bone Groups aka “special animal deposits” aka “animal burials”.

In recent years, zooarchaeology has started to move beyond purely economic interpretations towards a social zooarchaeology.

In particular, these ‘social’ interpretations have often concentrated upon Associated Bone Groups (ABGs), also referred to as ‘special animal deposits’ or ‘animal burials’, rather than upon the disarticulated and fragmented faunal remains more commonly recovered from archaeological sites.

Previous studies of these ABG deposits have largely been limited to a single period and a small sample of sites.

The majority of studies have also been concentrated on the Wessex region and have not examined in detail the osteological composition of these deposits.

The purpose of this thesis is to move beyond these limitations.

Therefore, it investigates the nature of ABGs from the Neolithic to the Medieval period for the contrasting regions of southern England and Yorkshire. This has been achieved by collecting detailed information for ABGs from publicly available sources and analysing it utilising modern database technology.

Overall, data from 2,062 ABGs have been collected, 1,863 from the southern England region and 199 from Yorkshire.

Re-examining associated bone groups from southern England and Yorkshire
James Tristan Morris – Bournemouth University – 2008

Click to access Morris,%20J.%202008.%20Re-examining%20associated%20bone%20groups%20from%20southern%20England%20and%20Yorkshire%20c.4000BC%20to%20AD1550.%20Unpublished%20PhD%20Bournemouth%20University.pdf

One of the more surprising results from this analysis is that Associated Bone Groups are predominantly associated with Romano-British sites.

Although the majority of previous literature concerns Iron Age deposits, in fact the largest proportion of ABGs from both regions comes from Romano-British sites.

Furthermore, their nature is highly variable within and between periods and regions.

Re-examining associated bone groups from southern England and Yorkshire
James Tristan Morris – Bournemouth University – 2008

In a subsequent paper James Morris questioned whether Anglo-Saxon deposits are really “special”.

BUILDING ON HAMEROW’S previous study in Medieval Archaeology 50, the interpretation of Anglo-Saxon ‘special deposits’, primarily of animal bone and pottery, from England are discussed.

By examining their composition and the variable nature of depositional practices, we question why these deposits are considered ‘special’.

What’s So Special? A Reinterpretation of Anglo-Saxon ‘Special Deposits’
James Morris And Ben Jervis – Medieval Archaeology – 55 – 2011

The numbers from this analysis of Anglo-Saxon Special Deposits highlights their very special nature as the time-line advances towards the Heinsohn Horizon [circa 914 CE].

The sharp increase in the number of Anglo-Saxon Special Deposits suggests:

1) The Anglo-Saxons were contemporaries of the Romans.
2) There was a dramatic increase in Special Events in the 2nd half of the 1st millennium.
3) The 2nd half of the 1st millennium represents a very significant inflection point in the curve of Special Events.


The data also supports the view that a Trepidation reversal occurred towards the end of the first millennium A.D. and Trepidation has been gently oscillating since that event.

The data suggests the 1st millennium reversal occurred between 880 and 890 A.D.


A re-analysis of the historic eclipse data [as shown above] suggests the eclipse data is contiguous when 700 years is removed from the First Millennium time-line.

Similar results were obtained when George Dodwell’s Obliquity of the Ecliptic data was re-analysed by removing 700 years from the First Millennium time-line.



Gallery | This entry was posted in Arabian Horizon, Astrophysics, Catastrophism, Dendrochronology, Geology, Heinsohn Horizon, History, Radiocarbon Dating, Vitrified Hill Forts. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Saxon Special Deposits

  1. Pits dug into gravels are assumed because I will bet a lot of bricks that these gravels are Pleistocene of age, and hence theoretically such material could not have inundated existing dwellings since all human habitation occurred well after the Pleistocene event.

  2. malagabay says:

    It looks like that’s the general rationale… but still digging.

  3. Pingback: The Pit Huts of London | MalagaBay

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