Archaeologists identify a very rare Anglo-Saxon burial monument, contemporary of Sutton Hoo

rare-anglo-saxon-burial-monument-slough_1King George III and Queen Charlotte at the Montem Mound. Credit: British Library online gallery

In a similar tale of mistaken identity reverting to actual historicity, archaeologists (from the University of Reading) have discovered that a 20-foot high mound in Slough, previously thought to be a part of Norman castle motte, is actually a section of a pretty rare Anglo-Saxon burial monument. Better known as the Montem Mound (in Berkshire town), the structure in question is presently surrounded by a bevy of modern landscapes including municipal areas and car parks. However historically the mound may have served as the grave monument of a very important Anglo-Saxon personality, and is dated from circa 5th – 7th century, thus corresponding to the timeline of the famous burial mounds of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.

Dr Jim Leary, the University of Reading archaeologist who led the project back in December of 2016, said –

Conventional wisdom placed the Montem Mound 500 years later, in the Norman period. But we have shown that it dates to between the 5th and 7th centuries, not long after the collapse of Roman Empire. This is a time of heroic myth and legend where archaeology fills the gaps of the historic record. This discovery will add so much more to our understanding of the people who lived in Britain at this time. It will also extend our knowledge of the history of Slough.

Interestingly enough, the researchers, in a bid to pursue the precise identification of various mound-like structures across England, have embarked on the Round Mounds project (funded by the Leverhulme Trust). To that end, the archaeologists devised a novel technique of drilling small holes into the mottes to ascertain their actual dates. According to the experts involved, this method allows them to accurately establish the historicity of the structure while at the same time causing minimal damage to the mound itself.


Reconstruction of the burial chamber inside the Anglo Saxon ship at Sutton Hoo. Source: BBC News

Pertaining to the latter scope, the Montem Mound of Slough has already been marked as a statutory Scheduled Ancient Monument, which protects it from any kind of modern incursion (in the name of development of property). As for the archaeology-based side of affairs, the technique also allowed the researchers to pinpoint how the mound belonged to the early Saxon era, and thus can be counted as one of the rare extant structures from that particular epoch. Historically, during early 7th century AD, the area was under the control of Mercia, and was probably ruled by a warlord (or sub-king) from Kent. As Dr Jim Leary added –

We tested material from all through the mound, so we are confident that it dates to the Saxon period. Given the dates of the mound, its size and dimensions, and the proximity to the known richly-furnished Saxon barrow at Taplow, it seems most likely that Montem Mound is a prestigious Saxon burial mound.

Quite intriguingly, the historians also talked about a peculiar ceremony that was practiced atop this mound by the Eton College students, from 16th century until the mid 19th century. As the University of Reading website mentions –

In recent centuries, the mound was used for Eton College’s ‘Montem’ ceremony. The ceremony was held annually from the founding of Eton College in the 16th century until the late 18th century, after which time the event was held triennially until it was abolished in 1847. The Montem festivities took various forms over the centuries, always involving a procession to the mound of school boys in fancy or military dress, and the collection and giving of ‘salt’ and money from visitors and passers-by.

In any case, the next enigmatic structure on the itinerary of the Round Mounds project relates to the Forbury Hill, in Forbury Gardens near Reading Abbey. And while there are legends and speculations of how this ‘hill’ was built as a defensive measure for the Abbey in 12th century, the archaeologists have already conducted their minimally-invasive technique (on 8th June) to unravel the mysteries of the mound.


Montem Mound pictured in 1997. Credit: Slough History Online

Source: University of Reading

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