Ancient skeletons unearthed at Reepham

A glimpse of mediaeval life - and death - in the heart of Norfolk has been revealed after more than 60 skeletons were found under a town centre street.

A glimpse of mediaeval life - and death - in the heart of Norfolk has been revealed after more than 60 skeletons were found under a town centre street.

Contractors charged with laying pipelines in part of Reepham, in north Norfolk, made the grim discovery as they opened a trench in the town's Church Street.

But the road's name gave some clue to the fate of the bodies.

Archaeology work carried out since the discovery last year has found that underneath Church Street there was part of an old graveyard.

Just 70cm beneath the road are possibly hundreds of skeletons, all facing east, 63 of which were partially or wholly dug up after a licence from the Coroner's office was granted.

Pete Crawley, of Norfolk Property Consultants, a trading arm of Norfolk County Council, said most of the burials dated to the medieval period - a time when people were buried in shrouds, not coffins.

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Many of the adults were found to have died aged 35 to 50 and had marks of spinal disease, possible TB and osteoarthritis. One had a broken leg.

Mr Crawley said life in Reepham, a busy market town before the 1200s, would have been hard.

“Life was hard and many of the people often got problems with arthritis and joint complaints. People died at a younger age on average.

“The skeletons seem to cover a range of ages and sexes and represent a general society, although there are more males than females.”

Unlike today, the bodies were buried according to their sex and age - women and men were separated and children had their own area of the graveyard, linked to the parish church of St Mary's.

One had a stone pillow and another had material from other dead bodies spread around the edge of it, it is not known why.

It shows how well managed medieval cemeteries were and how comfortable people were with death by having a cemetery right in the centre of a town.

“In the medieval period it was better to be seen and therefore remembered and then you could be prayed for whilst you waited in purgatory for the judgement day,” he said.

The work has also confirmed a long held belief that Church Street was a new road built over part of the graveyard between the 1500s and 1700s.

This was part of 'a pretty radical alteration' or re-planning of the town in the early post mediaeval to later mediaeval period, Mr Crawley said.

Pottery dated 30 burials to Saxon and medieval times, but Roman greyware, early Saxon pottery, including Ipswich ware and sandy ware, and mid-Saxon pottery, including Thetford ware and St Neot's ware, was also found.

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