Discovering the secrets of medieval burial practices and use of woodlands

Carefully cleaning one of the medieval coffin panels © Copyright ARS Ltd 2021
Cleaning the medieval wooden coffin panel © Copyright ARS Ltd 2021
One of the medieval wooden coffin panels © Copyright ARS Ltd 2021

One of our exciting recent discoveries could provide some fascinating insight into how medieval people might have utilised their woodlands for burial practices.

During a recent excavation, burials were uncovered and among these we found the remains of two side-panels from a wooden coffin. The wood from this coffin had been remarkably well preserved for centuries thanks to it having been immersed in ground water—which excludes oxygen and therefore stopped the wood from rotting.

Both panels were extracted carefully along with the surrounding sediment and wrapped in cling film to prevent the wood from drying out and deteriorating. Once at the lab, after being unwrapped, the sediment surrounding the wood was very carefully removed from the panels and bagged for further analysis.

Water and wooden tools, particularly blunted tooth-picks, were used to avoid making marks on the wood whilst it was being cleaned. This extra care being needed because only wafer-thin remnants of the panels (around 5mm thick) had survived the centuries. However, even with these, it is still possible to identify the species of wood used for the panels, as well as whether the wood had been sourced from a large mature tree, or a relatively young tree. All of which we are hoping can provide us with an insight not only into medieval burial practices, but also into how woodlands were utilised by the local medieval inhabitants.

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Archaeological Research Services Ltd