Record Details

NHER Number:2586
Type of record:Monument
Name:Early Bronze Age inhumation with jet beads and copper alloy awl

Summary

A skeleton was discovered by workmen in 1931 while widening and deepening a drainage ditch in Southery Fen. The skeleton was removed by the workmen but was described as having lain face-down within the peat, with one arm across the face and the other arm extended. A bracelet comprised of eight jet beads was said to have been found in situ on the extended arm, and T.C. Lethbridge later recovered a bronze pin or awl during examination of the trench. The finds were dated to the Early Bronze Age and the human remains were examined by R.U. Sayce, who determined that the skeleton was likely of a young adult woman.
Since its discovery, this inhumation has become known as 'Nancy' or the 'Southery Fen Woman.' The Fen Clay transgression at Feltwell Common has now been securely dated to 2700-2300BC, and four other inhumations recorded in the immediate vicinity have been radiocarbon dated (see NHER 2542, NHER 2550, and NHER 2585), all resulting dates falling within the Early Bronze Age. These inhumations appear to be associated with an area of dense Early Bronze Age occupation on the slightly higher and drier hillocks and islands on the edge of the fens. It has been suggested that the placement of bodies in the fen may represent a more wide-spread form of contemporary treatment of the dead which would rarely survive in any recognizable form in dry land deposits. Alternatively, the placement of bodies in wet places may have formed part of a longer and more diverse tradition of deposition which includes flint and metal objects as well as human remains.

Images - none

Location

Grid Reference:TL 6300 9425
Map Sheet:TL69SW
Parish:SOUTHERY, WEST NORFOLK, NORFOLK

Full description

1931. Casual Find.
A skeleton was discovered by workmen while widening and deepening a drainage ditch in Southery Fen. The skeleton was removed by the workmen, but the trench was examined by T.C. Lethbridge. The skeleton is described as having lain on a 5.0-7.6 cm (2-3 inch) layer of compressed sedges which laid directly on natural clay and was covered by approximately 53 cm (1 foot 9 inches) of peat. It was also noted that it lay only approximately 25.6m (28 yards) from a former waterway visible in the trench section (identified by G. Fowler) and at the time of discovery it was conjectured that the individual had been drowned in a flood.
The skeleton was described as laying face-down, with one arm across the face and the other arm extended. A bracelet comprised of eight jet beads was said to have been found in situ on the extended arm, and T.C. Lethbridge later recovered a bronze pin or awl during examination of the trench. These finds were dated to the Early Bronze Age. The skull was examined by R.U. Sayce, who determined that the skeleton was likely of a young adult woman.
The skeletal remains and other finds are held by the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography.
See (S1) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 03 March 2009.

Sometime prior to 1940. Pollen Analysis.
Sir Harry Godwin determined that the burial had lain near the base of the Upper Peat, just above the Fen Clay. Pollen samples were collected from within 92cm (3 feet) of the location of the inhumation as well as from undisturbed peat. The resulting pollen spectrum was found to be comparable with samples taken from the Upper Peat at Shippea Hill (Cambridgeshire).
See (S3) and (S4) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 03 March 2009.

1979.
The finds and skeletal remains were viewed by A. Lawson (NAU). CUMAE 31.898, collection refered to as 'Southery'.
The slide (S5) of the finds associated with the inhumation may have been taken at this time.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 03 March 2009.

Ordnance Survey card quoting (S1) a little freely, states found in peat 0.6m (2ft) above clay, dug up by ditchers, perhaps brought there by flooding of Old Run. However Ordnance Survey states that the awl was found by Lethbridge on 8 September 1931 some 25m (28yds) from skeleton, which seems to contradict published account in (S1).
E. Rose (NAU) 15 January 1985.

1992. Documentary Research and Radiocarbondating.
This inhumation is now commonly known as 'Nancy' or the 'Southery Fen Lady'. At the time of discovery it was believed that the Fen Clay in which the skeleton was deposited underlaid Early Bronze Age deposits, and the finds associated with the inhumation confirmed that other human remains previously found at a similar horizon (such as Shippea Hill man discovered in Cambridgeshire in 1913 - S2) were likley contemporary with these Early Bronze Age deposits. Since this time, the Fen Clay transgression at Feltwell Common has been securely dated to 2700-2300BC (S6). Four other inhumations recorded in the immediate vicinity of this 1931 find believed to be contemporary but previously less securely dated have now been radiocarbon dated (see NHER 2542, NHER 2550, and NHER 2585), all dates falling within the Early Bronze Age.
These inhumations appear to be associated with an area of dense Early Bronze Age occupation on the slightly higher and drier hillocks and islands on the edge of the fen basin in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk and extending northwards into the Norfolk parishes of Hockwold-cum-Wilton, Feltwell and Methwold. It has been suggested that the placement of bodies in the fen may represent a more wide-spread form of contemporary treatment of the dead which would rarely survive in any recognizable form in dry land deposits. Alternatively, the placement of bodies in wet places may have formed part of a longer and more diverse tradition of deposition which includes flint and metal objects as well as human remains.
See (S7) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 March 2009.

A summary of this find and similar inhumations has now been published in (S8).
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 March 2009.

Monument Types

  • FINDSPOT (Early Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 1501 BC)
  • INHUMATION (Early Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 1501 BC)

Associated Finds

  • AWL? (Early Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 1501 BC)
  • BEAD (Early Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 1501 BC)
  • BRACELET (Early Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 1501 BC)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Early Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 1501 BC)
  • PIN? (Early Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 1501 BC)

Protected Status - none

Sources and further reading

---Archive: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Bronze Age. Methwold.
---Slide: Various. Slide.
<S1>Article in serial: Lethbridge, T. C., Fowler, G. and Sayce, R. U. 1931. A Skeleton of the Early Bronze Age found in the Fens. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia. Vol VI Pt IV pp 362-364.
<S2>Article in serial: 1933. Antiquaries' Journal. Vol XIII, p 179. p 179.
<S3>Article in serial: Godwin, H.. 1940. Studies of the post-glacial history of British vegetation. III. Fenland pollen diagrams. IV. Post-glacial changes of the relative land and sea-level in the English Fenland.. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. B230, pp 239-303. Zone VIId, Pp 273, 281.
<S4>Monograph: Godwin, H.. 1978. Fenland: its Ancient Past and Uncertain Future.. 65.
<S5>Slide: Lawson, A. ?. 1979?. NHER 2586 Slide 1. Finds from inhumation discovered by workmen at Southery Fen, Southery, 1931..
<S6>Article in serial: Waller, M.. 1988. The Fenland Project's environmental programme.. Antiquity. Vol 62, pp 336-43. p 337.
<S7>Article in serial: Healy, F. & Housley, R. A.. 1992. Nancy was not alone: human skeletons of the Early Bronze Age from the Norfolk peat fen.. Antiquity. Vol 66, No 253, pp 948-55.
<S8>Monograph: Healy, F.. 1996. The Fenland Project, No.11: the Wissey Embayment: Evidence for pre-Iron Age Occupation.. East Anglian Archaeology. Vol 78. p 30.

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