Remains of Saxon town discovered

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The Independent Online
A PREVIOUSLY unknown Anglo-Saxon town which owed its existence to a princess famous for her virginity has been discovered by archaeologists near Ely, in Cambridgeshire.

Excavations suggest that at its peak it covered 60 acres and had a population of up to 400.

The site, a mile from Ely town centre, probably developed due to an East Anglian princess called Aethelthryth, later known as Saint Etheldreda or Saint Audrey. Famous for preserving her virginity, despite being married twice, she was championed by one of the country's leading churchmen - much to the annoyance of her second husband. She went on to become a nun and to found an abbey around which the town probably developed.

Investigations show that the town was founded in the late 7th century, reached a peak in the 10th and 11th centuries, shrank to village proportions in the 12th century as medieval Ely developed, and disappeared in the early 15th century. Over recent months an archaeological team, directed by Richard Mortimer and Roddy Regan of Cambridge University archaeological unit, unearthed at least four substantial long houses and 35,000 Anglo- Saxon artefacts - pottery shards, spindle whirls, nails and knives. They also found thousands of sheep, cattle and pig bones, and the remains of 30 dogs and cats.

Mr Mortimer said the site was of "national importance" because it provided a rare opportunity to examine how an Anglo-Saxon town came into existence, flourished and declined.

The find came as archaeologists examined the site prior to its development for housing.From the Fifties to the Seventies, developers built on 75 per cent of the lost town and the current housing development will cover a further 15 per cent.