Artefacts Courtesy of Hereford Museum and Art Gallery.

Descriptions of artefacts can be seen on the GALLERY page.

EXCAVATIONS AT SUTTON WALLS BY 

KATHLEEN KENYON 1948 -1951

 

Dame Kathleen Kenyon began her important excavations at Sutton Walls in 1948.  In her obituary in the Daily Telegraph in 1978 she was described as the ‘world’s finest field archaeologist’.

 

Large scale quarrying had begun at Sutton Walls in 1935 as it was recognised as a valuable source of gravel and this was accelerated during the war to build RAF Credenhill. Local archaeologists had been doing their best during that time to salvage archaeological material from quarrying operations and during the Second World War the Ministry of Works attempted to carry out rescue excavations but nothing could be accomplished because of a labour shortage.

 

In 1947 the Council for British Archaeology tried again and asked Kathleen Kenyon to undertake a major excavation of the site which continued for four years with an average of four weeks work each year. Many local people including Elizabeth Gwynne and Colin Lloyd volunteered to help and have happy memories of the dig.  Kathleen Kenyon’s work revealed life in the Iron Age and life under Roman occupation on Sutton Walls. Many of the artefacts she uncovered are now in Hereford Museum.

 

THE FAMOUS WAR CEMETERY ON SUTTON WALLS – WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

 

A macabre aspect of Dame Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations was the discovery of twenty-four skeletons near the west gate of Sutton Walls. The conclusion at the time by Kathleen Kenyon was that the bodies were those of a group of warriors killed as they defended the hill fort against the Romans.  They were all young men and many had been decapitated or had war wounds. The warriors must either have been naked, or else were stripped of everything, as not a single object was found with them. Under Roman law decapitation was the standard form of punishment for rebellion.

 

So were these men executed by the Romans?

Archaeologists are now reconsidering her conclusions. Dr Keith Ray writes in his book "The Archaeology of Herefordshire: An Exploration", that ‘the burials were all inserted into a pit dug from a level considerably higher than the Romano-British and Iron Age levels’. 

 

Dr Ray thinks it is unlikely they were warriors killed by the Romans and believes the men were buried at a later date. He offers a new interpretation: could they be part of the ‘military entourage accompanying the ill-fated late 8th century King Ethelbert’?  Were they in fact King Ethelbert’s soldiers killed by King Offa’s men at the same time they ruthlessly ambushed and murdered King Ethelbert?

 

Sutton Walls Conservation Group hope to explore this new interpretation during the work of the project.

Trench at the western end.

Elizabeth Gwynne of Marden, one of several local volunteers, digging in the trench where some of the skeletons were found.

Northern Rampart, Western end.

Aerial photograph, Sutton Walls from the South East. Date unknown but seems to be before quarrying started. Photo G.C.Dunning

Above photographs either from Miss Gwynne's scrapbook or from the Archaeological Journal " Excavations at Sutton Walls, Herefordshire, 1948 - 1951" by Kathleen Kenyon. Photographers unknown.

WHO WAS DAME KATHLEEN KENYON?

 

Dame Kathleen Kenyon was one of the greatest archaeologists of the twentieth century. She was born in 1906 and was the eldest daughter of Sir Frederic Kenyon, Director of the British Museum and a celebrated classical and Biblical scholar.  She attended Somerville College, Oxford and became the first female president of the Oxford Archaeology Society.

After graduation in 1929 her first field experience was as an assistant for the pioneering excavations in Great Zimbabwe and she then joined Sir Mortimer Wheeler on the excavations of Verulamium in St Albans.

She directed much attention to the archaeological remains of ancient Britain working at a number of sites and publishing numerous findings between 1930 and 1951.

Most of her work, however, was carried out in Palestine, in three important sites: Samaria, Jericho and Jerusalem. She introduced important new methods of excavation during the 1930s when she divided her time between digs in Palestine and England.  She flew by hydroplane to the Holy Land which took three days at that time and was known as The Great Sitt – Arabic for ‘Lady’ or ‘Madam’.

The Second World War kept her in Britain digging and helping to found the Institute of Archaeology at London University.

Her work at Sutton Walls (1948 – 1951) fitted in with her winter expeditions in the same years to excavate the Roman city of Sabratha, near Tripoli in Libya. 

In 1951 she went back to Palestine serving as Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem until 1966. Her work at Jericho over a seven year period made her world famous and changed the known early history of the area. Her reports in the Times and Telegraph were eagerly awaited.

She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1973 for her huge contribution to archaeology.  She served as principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford from 1962 to 1973.  

She never married – friends said her great loves were archaeology, dogs and gin! She died of a stroke in Wrexham in 1978 aged 72. 

Dame Kathleen Kenyon.

By Elliott & Fry.  1962.

Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery.

Dame Kathleen Kenyon.

By Bassono Ltd.,

5th September 1973.

Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery.

Sutton Walls Conservation Group (SWCG)  is a

foundation Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)

Registered Charity Number: 1175194

Registered in England and Wales.

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