December means the conclusion of the #OAat50 highlights series. This was a great year and a great opportunity to revisit some of our favourites and most special sites or finds form 50 amazing years of archaeology. So, the last month needed to be something special! We started with a visit to Norton Abbey in Cheshire, which produces fascinating insights into the both the people who lived and died there during its very long history. Then we travelled to Essex where the OA team found the remains of a rare and extremely fascinating Neolithic monument, a causewayed enclosure. Finally, our 50th highlight was a discovery that made the news in the UK but also abroad: a mass grave by the Dorset Ridgeway. The post-excavation research revealed the decapitated individuals buried there originated from Scandinavia, writing an unexpected chapter in early medieval history. 

From priory to family seat

For the first #OAat50 highlight of December we visit Norton Priory in Cheshire.

The Augustinian Priory of St Mary was moved from its original site at Runcorn, to Norton, in 1134 by William fitz William, the Norman Baron of Halton, Cheshire. Despite a major fire in 1236 it grew in size and stature and was granted Abbey status in 1391. Indeed, its Abbot was a senior and much respected member of the Augustinian order.

The Romanesque doorway giving access to the west range at the Norton Abbey museum.

A Neolithic monument in Essex

This #OAat50 highlight is a causewayed enclosure, one of only 80 in the whole of the UK. During the summer of 2018 a team from OA's Cambridge office excavated a previously unknown Neolithic causewayed enclosure on land off Gilden Way, Harlow. It was located in a setting that included a possible Neolithic longhouse 450m to the east suggesting that there may have been settlement not too far from the monument. Although causewayed enclosures are still a rare archaeological monument type within Britain, this was located only about 2km from another example at Sawbridgeworth.

A refitting process with all the pottery from the site was carried out togetehr with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, revealing new information about the site and its use. Watch the video at the link below.

An image from the process to refit the pottery fragments found at the site.

A gruesome end for a group of Vikings

The site featured in this #OAat50 needs no introduction as one of the most dramatic discoveries made in Britain in recent years: around 50 skeletons in a disused roman quarry pit on Ridgeway Hill, Weymouth.

All of the skeletons had been decapitated, their heads placed in a pile located at one edge of the grave, and their bodies thrown into the pit. Analysis proved them to be a mass grave of executed Vikings, dating to the early 10th to early 11th century. Chemical study of their bones and teeth suggested that the men were a disparate group, with many originating from Scandinavia and north-eastern Europe. 

An image of the mass grave during excavation.