Priory Orchard Collection

I am the curator of the Priory orchard skeletal collection at the University of Roehampton

Copyright Surrey County Archaeological Unit (part of Surrey County Council)

The Priory Orchard osteological collection includes all the remains excavated in 2012–2015 from the Priory Orchard cemetery site in Godalming, Surrey. The cemetery was in use between c. 850–1200 CE. Most radiocarbon dates, however, are earlier than the mid 11th century CE and the overall evidence suggests that most burials are Late Anglo-Saxon. The cemetery was abandoned around the year 1200 CE and became the orchard of the priory, remaining untouched until construction of affordable housing started on the site in 2014.

As a rare example of a large rural cemetery of this age, the remains have exceptional research value; since 2019, they form the bulk of the permanent osteological collection at the University of Roehampton, of which I am the curator. Researchers and graduate students interested in accessing the collection for their research can find additional information and the relevant forms here. Roehampton students interested in volunteering for summertime work on the collection should get in touch via email (Lia.Betti@roehampton.ac.uk, see more info here).

On-going study on the collection

One of the skeletons from the Priory Orchard cemetery.

Since the summer of 2015, I have been offering an osteology workshop to Life Sciences students at Roehampton that are interested in volunteering their time to clean and study the skeletons. It has been lovely to get to know my students better over long summer days in the lab, and they have been invaluable in helping prepare the collection for future research. They are too many to thank individually here, but their names are on the skeletons’ information recording sheets, available to future researchers that want to consult them.

As of January 2020 BC (before Covid), we have cleaned and studied (i.e. recording of present bones, preservation, sex, age-at-death, stature, obvious pathologies) 197 articulated burials out of about 300. These include 14 children and 183 adults, of which 56 females and 87 males (others undetermined).

In addition to the burials, we have studied the remains of about 320 disarticulated individuals from disturbed burials, whose bones were often reinterred inside or near the burial that disturbed them. We expect this number to increase to around 500 individuals by the end of our study.

We have found signs of pathologies in 62 individuals. While we have not yet done a full palaeopathological study of the collection, there is evidence of head trauma caused by sharp objects in several individuals (potentially related to warfare) and unset fractures of the limbs (indicating lack of medical attention), as well as various diseases.

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