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Revealing Cambridge's Augustinian Friary

last modified Jan 27, 2017 10:25 AM
Over the past three months a team from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit have been undertaking the largest excavation ever of a medieval religious house in Cambridge.

New Museums Site Image credit: CAU

Working on behalf of the University of Cambridge in advance of re-development at the New Museums site near Bene’t Street, the CAU have uncovered significant remains of the Augustinian Friary, which occupied the site between the 1280s and 1538. The team have uncovered several large buildings that formed part of the friary cloisters, including the well- preserved remains of the chapter house. Discoveries of fine architectural stonework, window glass, decorated floor tiles and ornate roof tiles all demonstrate the high quality of the friary buildings. Other finds include writing implements and book bindings that attest to the importance of literacy at the friary.


Copper-alloy buckle from one of the burials Image credit: CAU

The CAU have also excavated in the region of thirty burials; preliminary observations indicate that these are all or mainly men and are likely to be the friars who lived at the site. Some individuals were probably as young as around ten years old, indicating that they were probably novices. Many of the burials were accompanied by buckles, indicating that the friars were buried with their black leather girdles (belts) which were a distinctive element of Augustinian dress. 


Archaeologists at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit have been excavating the site of an Augustinian Friary Image credit: CAU

The skeletons will be fully analysed and will from part of the ongoing ground-breaking ‘After the plague: health and history in medieval Cambridge’ project funded by the Wellcome Trust. This project is being undertaken by the Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge and will bring together a range of scientific techniques, including: osteoarchaeology, intensive radiocarbon dating, aDNA, stable isotopes, geometric morphometrics and other analyses of a range of medieval and other cemeteries excavated in and around Cambridge.

The scale of excavations and quality of archaeological remains uncovered promises to provide numerous exciting insights into a hitherto little understood aspect of the town's past.


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