Old bones offer the clues

IMAGINE abandoning your village, walking away and leaving your home, memories and perhaps the only place you've ever known.Not just you. But everyone in the community – all leaving together to find a new place to settle, perhaps many miles away, somewhere with good soil to farm, fresh water nearby, a bigger town not far off to sell your wares and produce.

By Richard Cornwell

IMAGINE abandoning your village, walking away and leaving your home, memories and

perhaps the only place you've ever known.

Not just you. But everyone in the community – all leaving together to find a new place to settle, perhaps many miles away, somewhere with good soil to farm, fresh water nearby, a bigger town not far off to sell your wares and produce.


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Hundreds of years ago, such a decision was fairly common.

Changes in the landscape, disease, devastating fires, war, conflict with landlords and many other issues led to people simply collecting their possessions and either moving on together or dispersing.

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Suffolk is littered with "lost communities", places where people lived for perhaps just a short while before moving on, places where they may have settled for hundreds of years before being forced to leave.

Thorpe, Bing, Aluredestuna, Desning, Dodnash, Chickering, Stickingland, Withermarsh and many others have disappeared in the last 1,000 years.

Today there is little sign of such settlements, though aerial photography can often pinpoint where they were.

Recently the site of Brihtolvestuna was found at Warren Heath on the edge of Ipswich. Archaeologists reckon there could be a cemetery with a few hundred burials.

Workmen building new homes in Murrills Road stumbled across human bones as they dug foundation trenches.

County archaeologist Keith Wade said it is thought Brihtolvestuna was inhabited between 800 and 1200 AD. He said:"This is an important find.

"Suffolk has a number of lost villages but many of them are under ploughed fields, whereas this one is on heathland and has not been ploughed or disturbed."

Other sites known to have vanished over the centuries include Thorpe and Alston, both on the outskirts of Trimley St Martin, and Burgh, which joined to Walton, quite a large community in the 11th century when the Domesday Book was compiled and Felixstowe did not exist.

But one of the most intriguing "lost communities" is Dunas, a hamlet which grew up along Felixstowe seafront in the 16th century.

Historian Peter Wheatley believes Dunas was home to local monks who were evicted from their priory when King Henry VIII suppressed the abbeys and monasteries in 1528.

He said:"There is very little information about what happened to the monks here in the Felixstowe area, but they would have been destitute when Henry dissolved the monasteries.

"It is believed they set up a community on what is now the beach between the Spa Pavilion and Cobbold's Point.

"At that time there was more land as the coast went further out to sea, and the area was a bit like Landguard today – grass and shingle below craggy cliffs.

"It would have been a sheltered spot, and as the monks relied on fishing to survive, it would have been good for drying their nets and close to their source of food."

It is not known how long Dunas survived – or how and why it eventually became a lost community.

There is probably nothing left of it today for archaeologists to find – while at Brihtolvestuna excavation work will have to wait.

The house builders will be asked to preserve it. Over the next 12 months they will redraw part of the design of the new estate to allow the cemetery to lie undisturbed, probably allocating it as open space.

Excavation work will wait until the future when new methods and technology may allow far more to be discovered about the people who lived there.

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