Site of 'Britain's oldest hospital' uncovered
Wednesday 20 October 2010
A site which may house Britain's earliest known hospital has been uncovered by archaeologists.
Radio carbon analysis at the former Leper Hospital at St Mary Magdalen in Winchester, Hampshire, has provided a date range of AD 960-1030 for a series of burials, many exhibiting evidence of leprosy, on the site.
A number of other artefacts, pits, and postholes also relate to the same time including what appears to be a large sunken structure underneath a medieval infirmary.
Before this new claim, most historians and archaeologists thought that hospitals in the Britain only dated from after the Norman conquest of 1066.
"This is an important archaeological development," said Dr Simon Roffey from the University of Winchester which conducted the dig.
"Historically, it has always been assumed that hospitals were a post-conquest phenomena, the majority founded from the late 11th century onwards.
"However, our excavations have revealed a range of buildings and, more significantly, convincing evidence for a foundation in the 10th century.
"Our excavations at St Mary Magdalen offer an intriguing insight into a little known aspect of the history of both Winchester and England. It is undoubtedly a site of national importance."
Among the earliest known hospitals in the UK is Harbledown in Canterbury founded by Lanfranc in the 1070s, following the Norman Conquest.
Professor Nicholas Orme, a leading researcher on medieval hospitals, added: "I have only studied the documentary evidence but I could not find any such evidence for a hospital before 1066 except perhaps as an activity within a monastery or minster.
"A late Anglo-Saxon hospital would surely be a first for archaeology and indeed for history."
Winchester was the capital of England throughout a large part of the Anglo-Saxon period and after the Norman Conquest. The capital was moved to London from the Hampshire city in the 12th century.
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