In March 2004, a Cumbrian metal detectorist, Peter Adams, working, with consent, on farmland, on the western edge of Cumwhitton , south-east of Carlisle, found a brooch in the ploughsoil.
This was subsequently identified as a rare Viking oval brooch of ninth- or tenth-century date. These are almost always found in pairs, and in a burial context. Peter Adams returned to the site and subsequently found a second brooch. Given the rarity of these brooches in England, the find was clearly of national importance, so funding was secured for an evaluation of the findspot, to ascertain whether they did indeed come from a grave.
This was located and found to be furnished, the grave goods including the remains of a wooden box, laid at the feet of the deceased. Several more artefacts of the same date, including part of a sword, were found in the surrounding ploughsoil by metal detecting during the evaluation, suggesting that the grave had formed part of a cemetery.
A major excavation to record this important site was then funded by English Heritage, as it was under immediate threat from plough damage.
In total, six burials were found, dating to the early tenth century, though almost no skeletal material survived as a result of the acidic nature of the soil. The cemetery comprised the graves of two women and four men, the first grave being separated from the rest by about 10 m. The group of five was carefully organised into two closely spaced rows, the central grave of the eastern row being surrounded by a shallow ditch, which suggests that it was once marked by a mound. All the graves were orientated broadly east-west, although how significant this was remains unclear, as all the burials were richly furnished, and contained a wide range of artefacts, including swords, spearheads, spurs, knives, and numerous beads and other objects.
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Voting will be open until early February, and the winners will be announced at the Current Archaeology Live! 2015 conference, held at the University of London’s Senate House on 27th-28th February.