A chance discovery of what appeared to be human bones in a flower bed in 2013 led to an MSc project by Cranfield University to carry out a forensic archaeological dig in May 2014.
Whilst the presence of human remains might not be unexpected, since the garden abuts St Andrew’s church, the raised flower bed was formed from soil dug from the front of the property and some distance from the current graveyard. Thus the provenance of the bones was of interest to the OSA History Group who have been researching the church and surrounds for evidence of the mediaeval manorial complex and Saxon remains, especially the site of the Saxon graveyard.
Members of the History Group helped in the excavation, which was carried out to forensic standards, so each "find" was carefully plotted, recorded and photographed. Mounds of soil were sifted, much to the detriment of the lawn (which has now thankfully recovered)! The finds were then taken to Cranfield (Shrivenham) for detailed examination by optical microscopy and CT scanning. A representative sample will be selected for carbon dating. Soil samples were also taken for detailed analysis.
The results so far were unexpected: over 800 fragments of bone, clay pipe, metal items, etc. were found in a quite limited area, including a plastic toy soldier and a (used) tube of Primula Spread! The bones were from at least 4 individuals, of both sexes and differing ages. Evidence of hard labour, disease and malnutrition were evident. One tooth in particular had a large cavity which would have been extremely painful to the owner. A clay pipe was dated to the 18thC and was made in Marlborough. It was concluded that the soil had been backfilled into the flower bed from a position some way away from the graveyard.
Until more evidence is found it is difficult to draw any positive conclusions: did the churchyard extend beyond its current boundaries? Were these unfortunates victims of plague or civil war? Were they simply moved to create more space in the very small original churchyard? Perhaps time will reveal more information.