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Bamburgh Bowl-Hole Anglian Cemetery:

a contextual study 

Crouched skeleton under excavation

Aims and outcomes to date 

This three year contextual study of a well-excavated and preserved early Medieval cemetery, associated with the documented royal site of Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, England, used a range of skeletal, archaeological, and scientific (stable isotope) methods of analysis to answer specific questions about early Medieval cultural contact, population movement, status relations and religious change in the 7th-8th centuries in Northern England. Specific objectives included gaining a better understanding of regional origins, relative status and quality of life of the people buried there, and to explore correlations between the cemetery archaeology, literary and historical sources related to this documented early Anglo-Saxon royal site. 

The funding for the project has now ended but publication continues. Groves et al 2013 described the strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of these burials. The hypothesis tested was that that those buried in the Bowl Hole cemetery, Bamburgh, because of its royal status, were non-locally born. The study thus explored the origins and mobility history of people buried at the site. Over half the people buried were not locally born and raised at Bamburgh, and some came from Scandinavia and further afield. 

The Principal Investigator of the project was Professor Charlotte Roberts, the Co-applicants were Dr. Graham Pearson, Earth Sciences, Durham University (now University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada) and Dr. Sam Lucy, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. Working on the project was post-doctoral research associate, Dr. Sarah Groves and two part-time technicians (Louisa Gidney and Scott Grainger). The project was in collaboration with the Bamburgh Research Project and Paul Gething (Project Director - Management), Graeme Young (Director of Archaeology) and Philip Wood (post-excavation Director).

The project was completed in June 2010. In the first year the skeletal analysis was completed, along with a geophysical survey to establish the extent of the cemetery. In year two, the stable isotope sample preparation commenced and some stable isotopic analysis was completed, along with an ancient DNA feasibility study at the University of Manchester. To date the whole of the skeletal assemblage has been fully analysed from an osteological perspective, and radiography of specific skeletal elements was done. The data for the 'mobility' isotopes (strontium and oxygen) and the dietary isotopes of carbon and nitrogen have been generated in our Earth Sciences Department. The grave catalogue has been completed, along with conservation and recording of artefacts found in the graves. A monograph is currently being prepared to be published by Archaeopress, along with further papers for peer reviewed journals.

Following analysis, the skeletons from the Bowl Hole, Bamburgh were re-interred in the Bamburgh Church crypt.


  • AHRC (2006-2010)
  • NERC Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Dating Service
  • National Heritage Lottery Fund 355K. 

Project Partners

  • Bamburgh Research Project (Bamburgh Research Project)
  • the Bamburgh Heritage Trust
  • St. Aidan’s Parochial Church Council
  • Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership
  • Northumberland County Council

These project partners worked together to reopen the 12th century crypt to the public once again. This has included funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund (NHLF) for access improvements, interpretation, the website and the Digital Ossuary. 

Durham University is an official partner organization and Charlotte Roberts is a member of the Steering Committee.

Post-doctural Research Associate

  • Dr Sarah Groves

Key publications

  • Groves SE, Roberts CA, Lucy S, Pearson G, Nowell G, Macpherson CG, Gröcke D, Young G 2013 Mobility histories of 7th-9th century AD people buried at Early Medieval Bamburgh, Northumberland, England. American J Physical Anthropology 151(3): 462-476
  • Groves, S.E. 2010 The Bowl Hole Burial Ground; A Late Anglian cemetery in Northumberland. In J. Buckberry and A. Cherryson (eds): Burial in Later Anglo-Saxon England, c.650 to 1100AD. 114 - 125. Oxbow Books
  • Groves, S.E. 2011 Social and Biological Status in the Bowl Hole Early Medieval burial ground, Bamburgh, Northumberland. In D Petts, S Turner (eds): Early Medieval Northumbria. Brepols 

Associated activity

St Aidan's Church Crypt reburials

2019: Accessing Aidan; and the Bamburgh Bones websites.

Following reburial of the skeletons in 2016 in the crypt of St Aidan’s Church at Bamburgh, this NHLF funded outreach project tells the story of Bamburgh during the Golden Age of Northumbria and provides new opportunities to learn about Bamburgh’s Anglo-Saxon ancestry. There is now open access to the information about each skeleton buried in the Bowl Hole cemetery (Digital Ossuary), with Charlotte Roberts advising on and providing content. The Bamburgh Heritage Trust volunteers have been instrumental in developing and delivering the project, and the crypt was officially celebrated and blessed, and formally opened to visitors in November 2019.

Digital interactive screen

Data from a document called Evaluating Bamburgh Bones. Summary of Project Launch Activities April 2019-March 2020 (Williams 2020), has indicated that 125 attended the evening’s events, and as of March 2020 there had been 3000 website users and over 700 social media followers. Through a stakeholder first impressions survey, the church visitor book, and social media 100% of respondents said their first impressions of the Crypt had met or exceeded expectations and feedback describes a beautiful, welcoming, informative space. The film/ projection in the crypt is considered engaging and fitting to the setting……..there is definitely an appetite/ appreciation for the Anglo-Saxon heritage, the multi-cultural aspects of the population definitely resonates with the audience. “There is no doubt that Accessing Aidan is an exemplary project, from which many others will learn,” The Ven. Peter Robinson, Archdeacon of Lindisfarne.  


  • 2010: Festival of British Archaeology Day School, Durham: Feasting or Fasting? Diet and Health in Early Medieval Northumbria. 5000 Years of Death and Disease (Groves) 
  • 2010: Teesside Archaeological Society, Stockton: The Bowl Hole Cemetery, Bamburgh: Life and Death in Early Medieval Northumberland (Groves)
  • 2009: Newcastle Antiquaries, Newcastle: (Roberts)
  • 2007: Tees Archaeology Day School, Stockton (Groves)
  • 2008: Newcastle Historical Studies Society (Groves)

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