Archaeologist’s woes for ‘oldest cemetery’

SITE: Between Bury St Edmunds' Howard Estate and the B1106
SITE: Between Bury St Edmunds' Howard Estate and the B1106

An archaeologist has raised concerns about a development site in Bury St Edmunds which, he says, could contain East Anglia’s oldest cemetery.

Duncan McAndrew, a former English Heritage field monument warden, is worried a historically significant site near Fornham All Saints is at risk from Countryside Properties’ scheme for a link road and 900 new homes.

He says an ‘exceptionally large and complex multi-period archaeological site’ from Hengrave to Fornham contains three ‘significant’ features - a Neolithic double causewayed enclosure, Bronze-age linear earthwork and Roman ‘settlement’.

A section along the River Lark has Schedule Ancient Monument status and Dr McAndrew believes the development site also has archaeological significance.

He said: “The site as a whole is very large. It’s the equivalent of me digging a hole next to Stonehenge.”

Dr McAndrew believes the causewayed enclosure - ritual/religious meeting place - suggests the presence of Suffolk’s, if not East Anglia’s oldest building, which, he says, was covered in the Bronze-age by Suffolk’s, possibly East Anglia’s, oldest cemetery.

He says evidence of a crouched burial surrounded 
by cremation burials could make it ‘East Anglia’s equivalent of the Valley of the Kings’ in Egypt.

“We assume whatever’s 
buried in the middle is a king, royal figure or high priest,” he said, adding that a Roman building complex constructed later was probably a Romano-British temple with chariot-park.

He says the ‘virtually unbroken activity on the site’ for almost 6,000 years raises important questions like ‘why do human beings come to that same place to practice religion so much’ and warrants a full investigation.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said it advised that there should be archaeological evaluation at an early stage in any development 
proposals because ‘the large site spans part of the Lark Valley and has potential for archaeological remains of all periods’.

Andrew Carrington, managing director of strategic land at Countryside, said: “Extensive investigations by specialist archaeologists have been undertaken to the satisfaction of the county council and have not identified any areas on the site that can be classified as a cemetery.

“Further archaeological investigations will be undertaken as part of our due diligence in accordance with the planning permission and the final report will be published once it is complete.”