|13 June 2017
Prehistoric site uncovered around a Shrewsbury church
An archaeological dig around a Shrewsbury church (Shropshire, England) has revealed it is the earliest known sacred site that is still in use in Britain today - dating back 4,050 years. Carbon dating of a wooden post, extracted from the dig at the Church of the Holy Fathers, on Oteley Road, Sutton in February, has shown it was first placed in the ground in 2033 BCE.
The recent archaeological dig shows that the late 12th /early 13th century 10-metre long church was originally three times its current size and that it was built directly over the remains of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church and Neolithic/early Bronze Age structures. Its finds correspond directly with earlier archaeological excavations by Philip Barker and Ernie Jenks in the 1960s. Barker and Jenks discovered prehistoric burial mounds and cremations, slots for standing stones and two rows of Neolithic post holes and a ditch, known as a cursus, which they interpreted as a processional way. It was aligned east to west, extending towards the current church building.
"The current church appears to have incorporated and deliberately built over late Neolithic/early Bronze Age remains. The 15-inch section of post we found was sticking up into the Medieval foundations," said Janey Green, of Baskerville Archaeological Services. "It is an incredibly complex site and appears to have been used and re-used for religious purposes for over 4,000 years. It is well known that Christians liked to build churches over pagan sites," said Green.
"More work needs to be done but early interpretations indicate that it is the earliest known sacred site in Britain that is still in use today. The only other site of a Christian church that is known to date back to the late Neolithic period is at Cranborne Chase, in Dorset, but it is a disused Norman church," the archaeologist added. "This is a living monument. People are still worshipping here. The earliest sacred development on the site was probably a stone circle with a cursus," Green concluded.
Other significant finds from the recent dig include a carved Saxon stone, the remains of what is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon apse, a prehistoric flint and a Neolithic counting disc. Some animal burials were also found in the dig although these are still to be dated.
Edited from Shropshire Star (18 May 2017)
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