Above image modified from NordNordWest [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In the previous post (The First Anglians Part I), I referred to excavation reports from Caistor St Edmund, as published in 1973. Here, I mainly refer to a book that was recommended to the landscape history, The Origins of Norfolk by Tom Williamson, MUP 1993.
Williamson refers to local Pagan Saxon cemeteries, that largely date to the 5th to 7th centuries AD. He tells us that a large number of these cemeteries have been found in Norfolk, with many of the earlier cemeteries containing decorated urns of the cremated dead.
I recently visited one of these cemeteries, the infamous Spong Hill, near to North Elmham, Norfolk:
The book reports that:
Catherine Hills, moreover, has shown that the burial practices employed at the largest Norfolk cemetery yet excavated, at Spong Hill near North Elmham, are so close to those practised in parts of northern Europe that they surely must represent the graves of people of Continental origin or descent. More than this, she has demonstrated that the cemetery's closest parallels are with the Anglian, rather than with the Saxon, areas of the Continent. Hills compared the burials at Spong Hill with those at Suderbrarup and Bordesholm in Schleswig-Holstein, and at Westerwanna in Lower Saxony. The range of grave-goods found at all the sites was similar, but the closest similarities were consistently between Spong and the Schleswig sites. Thus for example 'The most characteristic late fourth to fifth century burials at Suderbrarup seem to be those which contain sets of miniatures with combs, in pots which either have no decoration or a horizontal/vertical bossed and grooved design. Very similar burials occur at Spong Hill' (Hills, forthcoming).
The Anglian affinities were not entirely clear-cut. In particular, the Spong pottery urns, with their use of stamped ornament, showed closest affinities with those from the Westerwanna cemetery.
It's not clear cut is it? I think that what we see in East Anglia, is a general migration from the area of northern Germany and Jutland. Perhaps even further afield, from Frisia, and from tribes further to the south - a Norfolk inhumation suggests Allemani, a place name (Swaffham) suggests Suevvi. However, culturally, that area of what is now Northern Germany, including Schleswig-Holstein, appears to have given lead in identity.
I currently feel that late 5th / early 6th century AD East Anglia, although with this Anglian bias, was a pretty multicultural area, with many people the descendants of Angles, but also from other tribes scattered from Frisia to Jutland - and also often sharing local Romano-British ancestry. During the 6th Century, as new elites emerged, they claimed heroic ancestry from the Angles of Schleswig-Holstein. It may, or may not have been true. The East Anglian Royal family actually claimed dual ancestry - to be descended both from Woden, and from Julius Caesar! (That might suggest some lingering Romano-British identity in the emerging kingdom). However, it was 7th century cool to be associated with Beowulf adventurers of the North Sea.
The Spong Hill Man. Norwich Castle Museum.