Take a look at the excavation of an eighth century monastery in Cookham

Work has begun on the excavation of an eighth century monastery in Cookham. It follows a smaller investigation last year, and is said to be the largest ongoing excavation of an early medieval monastery in England. Reporter Shay Bottomley and photographer Ian Longthorne were invited to the site to find out more, including how members of the public can get involved.

Shay Bottomley

shayb@baylismedia.co.uk

Excavations have begun in Cookham as archaeologists look to learn more about an eighth century monastery.

The four-week project began on Monday and seeks to build on the work conducted by archaeologists from the University of Reading last year.

During that excavation, archaeologists found a ‘lost’ Anglo-Saxon monastery which had not been used since the early medieval ages in the grounds of the paddock at Holy Trinity church.

Working with the Maidenhead Archaeological and Historical Society and the Marlow Archaeology Group, students from the university are now looking to discover more about a building which helped to drive Christianity in Cookham.

Dr Gabor Thomas, a University of Reading archaeologist who is leading the excavation, told the Advertiser that this year’s project would be on a ‘much larger scale’.

“What last year told us was that we’ve got the remains of a fairly extensive settlement that was attached to the monastery,” said Dr Thomas.

“By settlement, I mean evidence for houses, evidence for middens (the rubbish deposits that were created through daily activities), industrial processes such as iron working, so lots of different dimensions relating to the daily life within this monastic community.”

With the excavation having only just begun, Dr Thomas added that the group has a ‘generalised idea’ of what to find, although specific discoveries will only emerge over the next four weeks.

When the Advertiser toured the site on Tuesday, archaeologists were cleaning the site having dug 30-40cm into the earth the previous day.

A number of discoveries had already been made, including ninth century dress tags, coins and nuts used in medieval machinery.

“We’re already down onto the top of the early medieval archaeology, and that’s quite common for rural sites like this,” explained Dr Thomas.

“We know that when the early medieval monastic settlement went out of use, the site was abandoned, and this hasn’t seen any building activity or occupation since the end of the ninth century - there’s been no significant build-up subsequent to that, so you don’t have to go down very deep before you’re on top of early medieval archaeology.

“There’s a lot of logistics required to run an excavation on this scale. We’ve been planning this for several months with staff at the University of Reading.

“At the other end, once we close the site down at the end of the summer, there will be lots of work in the lab analysing the materials that come up, so although we only dig for a relatively short period, there’s a lot more work that happens year-round in terms of preparing and analysing.”

Members of the public are being invited to guided tours of the site from 2pm onwards on Saturday, August 13, 20 and 27. To book a slot, visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/friends-of-cookham-abbey/e-zdprkv

‘Behind-the-scenes mornings’ will also be open to the Friends of Cookham Abbey group. For a membership application form, email info@cookhamabbey.org.uk

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