5. The Burials by Amanda Cardy, Juliet Cross and Margaret Bruce

5.1 Introduction

As large numbers of human burials were found during the excavation at the site in 1980-1, human bone specialist, Amanda Cardy, was included in the 1994 excavation team. She was able to identify fragile and partial remains and lift these to preserve valuable information. She also divided the human from the mammal bone, making the post-excavation process run smoothly.

0142 Rectangular dark staining indicated wooden coffins

Of the 209 discrete burials uncovered during this excavation [1980-81 and 1994], 22 (+E19) had definitely been buried in wooden coffins whilst a further 19 (+E19) contained a number of nails within the fill but there was no further evidence of a coffin (E19 had 15 which had evidence of having been coffined, either in the form of a dark outline or being surrounded by nails). Within the church and to the north and south of the church and west range (189 burials), many were badly disturbed by later medieval grave digging. In several it was possible to see lines of iron nails indicating the outline of the coffin. Wood was generally better preserved in the graveyard area (23 burials) and rectangular dark stains [Photo 0142] and grave cuts [Photo 0143] were clearly seen. It was not possible to lift and identify any of the wood, however, nor was it possible to identify individual planks which would have allowed reconstruction of a coffin. Where there was no coffin it is assumed that individuals were buried in a shroud, clothing, or in the case of friars, if any, in a habit. A number of copper alloy shroud fasteners were found both in 1980-81 and 1994.

0143 Burial SK 120 with grave cut clearly visible

It is interesting to note that the graves were often dug much larger than was absolutely necessary. The width of the grave for SK 312(=321, see plan) was dug to 0.84m whilst the coffin was only 0.38m wide. The grave cut for SK 305 (see plan) was dug to a length of 2.12m whilst the coffin was actually only 1.6m long, although the difference between the width of the grave cut and the coffin was only 6cm in this example.

The majority of burials excavated at this site took place within the church. Most were oriented with their head to the west. These burials have been divided into Phases 5a-5d but it was not always possible to find a grave cut and therefore burials within each phase are only roughly contemporary. Radiocarbon sampling of four burials suggest that the date range of the burials was from the late 14th century/early 15th century (1345-1445 AD) to the late 16th-early 17th century (1560-1660 AD).

A large number of disarticulated bones was also present among the considerable degree of overcrowding and disturbance of earlier burials by later ones. The minimum number of individuals present is 201 but it is likely that the true number is nearer 300.

Although friars, benefactors and other layfolk are known to have been buried at the Carmelite Friary , there was nothing found during the excavations to indicate which burials might have fallen into these individual groupings.


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