42 skeletons found under Aylesbury Vale building site could be more than 1,000 years old

The 42 skeletons found on a local building site may date back to Anglo Saxon times – and they could be the nation's biggest historical burial from that period.

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 3:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th January 2020, 4:34 pm

We exclusively revealed earlier this week that human skeletons, with their hands bound behind their backs, had been dug up from farmland in Buckingham set to be developed as a retirement living complex.

But the matter appeared to have been “hushed up”, with the developers remaining silent.

Today the Bucks County Council Cabinet member Bill Chapple, said it could take months to discover how old the human remains are.

Generic editorial image for illustrative purposes only. Photo: Archive

“Details such as the age and gender of those buried, their origins, health, illnesses and cause of death can take some months to undertake,” he said.

But it is understood that a small number of artefacts were also excavated, and these can be much easier to date, say experts.

Buckingham's resident historian Ed Grimsdale says the fact that the skeletons' hands were bound indicates they were prisoners who had been executed.

During Anglo Saxon times prisoners were buried together in mass graves, away from the rest of the dead. But after the Norman conquest of 1066, burials became more inclusive and prisoners were buried alongside the rest of the community.

The burial ground at West End Far

Mr Grimsdale believes one possible date could be November 13 1002, the day of the St Brice's Day massacre when hundreds of Danes were killed.

“This was ordered by the son of Alfred the Great, King Æthelred the Unready. We know that a massacre happened in Oxford and Buckingham was designated as a burh – a outpost to act as a look out and warn of invasions. Perhaps another massacre happened there," he said.

Methodology and DNA tests should be able to ascertain whether the skeletons were local victims of such a massacre, or whether they were the 'enemy' and of Scandinavian descent.

“If these skeletons do date back to Anglo Saxon times, then this burial ground would be of huge historical significance. It would be the biggest such burial found in the UK, possibly the world,” said Mr Grimsdale.

One of the graves

He, like many local people, is concerned that the matter appears to have been hushed up, and believes the town should have been informed when the skeletons were found in December, several weeks ago.

“Such secrecy in such circumstances tends to say there is something being hidden,” he said.

Another theory is that the skeletons were criminals hanged in public executions in the county town of Aylesbury.

"In those days people could be executed for stealing a few pence. One man was hanged for stealing a goat," said Mr Grimsdale.

The site is next to the cemetery

This week, people are also wondering whether a mysterious excavation in the nearby Brackley Road cemetery three years ago was linked to the skeletons.

A police forensic investigation was launched at a Buckingham cemetery in Febraury 2017 after “ unknown human remains” were found near a grave.

An investigation into the remains, believed to be part of a skull, was launched by archaeologists and part of the graveyard was sealed off as a potential crime scene.

The results of the investigation were never made public, but it was said the remains were of an archeological nature.

Mr Grimsdale said: “I'm now wondering if they came from this burial site. Perhaps somebody dug them up and decided to put them in the cemetery. It seems very strange.”

Meanwhile councillor Chapple OBE has promised the results will be presented in a report from the archaeological specialist consultant once work is complete.

"This is obviously a very important site for Buckingham, with a fascinating story, and we look forward to sharing the results once we have them," he said.

Today, Places for People, who are the developers on the site, are still failing to comment. They passed the Citizen to their London PR company called Oracle, but that company has also failed to provide a comment.