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Ancient Ipswich burial ground of 1,400 bodies featured in Channel 4 show

PUBLISHED: 16:35 29 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:36 29 September 2020

L/R: The presenting team on Channel 4�s Bone Detectives television series Carla Valentine a mortuary technician, Tori Herridge a paleobiologist and Raksha Dave an archaeologist. Picture: CHANNEL 4/TERN TELEVISION

L/R: The presenting team on Channel 4�s Bone Detectives television series Carla Valentine a mortuary technician, Tori Herridge a paleobiologist and Raksha Dave an archaeologist. Picture: CHANNEL 4/TERN TELEVISION

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An ancient Ipswich burial site has been featured in the Channel 4 show Bone Detectives after revealing extraordinary insights into Anglo Saxon life.

The site during excavation, looking toward the south. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGYThe site during excavation, looking toward the south. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGY

The project began in 2012 when experts from Oxford Archaeology and Pre-Construct Archaeology began a dig at Stoke Quay on the Ipswich Waterfront.

The work was recently made the focus of the Channel 4 series, Bone Detectives, which aired last Saturday, September 26.

Episode one examined the incredible cemetery discovery where experts believe they found the first signs of a post-mortem examination.

The full research analysis has been made public for the first time in a new book ‘Excavations at Stoke Quay, Ipswich’ published by East Anglian Archaeology after eight years of analysis.

Recording of the Ipswich ware kiln following excavation of the upper chamber. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGYRecording of the Ipswich ware kiln following excavation of the upper chamber. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGY

The excavation south of the River Orwell famously unearthed a mass burial site of 1,400 bodies and the insights gleaned from the remains have opened a window into the 7th and 8th centuries.

Archaeologists found the site of the lost medieval church and cemetery of St Augustine’ as well as extensive remains of the Middle to Late Saxon settlement.

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The most incredible discovery was the skeleton of a male, at least 60 years old, which was found to have a marks to indicate a knife had opened the body up from the neck down to the base of the spine – however autopsies were not common during the Medieval period.

Archaeologists sieving the Anglo-Saxon deposits. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGYArchaeologists sieving the Anglo-Saxon deposits. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGY

The body represents the earliest physical evidence of anatomisation or dissection ever identified in the country, if researchers are correct.

The analysis also revealed more about the trading in the town, the relationship with the Frankish empire, the large population of sailors and Scandinavian influences.

Research suggests the Ipswich population was highly mobile and made up of local and non-local individuals of mixed ancestry, unlike populations in other non-port towns.

One of the authors of the book Louise Loe, head of burials at Oxford Archaeology, said the work had been a privilege and a “high point” in her career.

Recording the burials, showing the use of vertical photography. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGYRecording the burials, showing the use of vertical photography. Picture: OXFORD ARCHAEOLOGY

Richard Brown, senior project manager at Oxford Archaeology and another co-author, said: “We hope that this volume goes some way to highlighting and disseminating the rich resource of this internationally important town’s archaeology.”

To access the research, visit the Oxford Archaeology website and you can watch the Bone Detectives episode on demand for the next four weeks.

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