Twelve Skeletons Found as Part of Archaeological Investigations in Norwich

Contrary to the name, Tombland in Norwich does not refer to tombs or burials in this high profile public space in the historic core of the city, situated in the shadow of the cathedral.  It was once a medieval marketplace and common ground, but is now at the heart of the entertainment and office district of modern Norwich. Funded by Norfolk County Council, Wardell Armstrong were commissioned to undertake an archaeological watching brief, conducted in phases as the public space was excavated to allow re-modelling and the removal of surviving Victorian public lavatories.

The investigations revealed that despite the installation of modern services and related truncation, archaeological layers remained intact and contained 12 burials with well-preserved skeletal remains. The site is located close to the location of one of the ‘lost’ churches of Norwich, St. Michael’s, which was demolished shortly after the Norman Conquest to allow for the construction of Norwich Cathedral, and it was presumed that these burials would be associated with that foundation. However, once the skeletons had been lifted, carefully cleaned and examined to identify pathological traits, age, sex and health; samples were sent to be radiocarbon dated and this provided a rather surprising result.

Ten of the skeletons were of the expected late Saxon date, but two of the burials dated from 1528 to 1795, long after the churchyard had gone out of use, and Tombland had become a marketplace and common ground. These two skeletons also exhibited traumatic head injuries (photo right) that likely contributed to their deaths, as well as skeletal traits that suggest the two young men may have been related. In conjunction with Norfolk County Council media engagement was allowed, which included coverage on ITV News Anglia (including the filming of a skeleton in our Bury St Edmunds office). The press coverage was particularly intense because the skeletons had a local interest angle, in that the two unexpectedly late skeletons that may have been murdered or executed had dates coinciding with specific events in the tumultuous history of Norwich, notably Kett’s Rebellion, an uprising against the enclosure of common land, as well as Tudor riots and Civil War Insurrections, latterly given prominence by the best-selling author of historic fiction C.J. Sansom, who entitled one of his novels ‘Tombland’.

Our client was exceptionally happy with the positive news story and public interest that arose from the archaeological investigations, and the manner in which it was channelled.

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