An exceptionally rich Anglo-Saxon cemetery was found by our archaeologists at the site of Southampton Football Club’s new Friends Provident St Mary’s Stadium.

Wessex Archaeology carried out excavations at the site of the stadium and found graves furnished with weapons, gold and fine jewellery.

Gold from Southampton - St Mary's Stadium Gold from Southampton - St Mary's Stadium Gold thread from Southampton - St Mary's Stadium

The finds date back to the late 7th century and go back to the founding of Hamwic, the Anglo-Saxon port and market that gave its name to Hampshire.

Items from about 40 graves included two glass and amber necklaces with gold pendants as centrepieces. One was decorated with the figure of a snake chasing its tail and had semi-precious stones at its centre. Another necklace contained a silver signet ring dating back to Roman times.

The finds were important as well as beautiful. They push the date of the Hamwic’s beginning back from the 8th century into the 7th, the same time as the revival of other towns in southern England such as London and Ipswich. They help overturn an idea that the 7th and 8th centuries were an economic “dark age” in England with a collapse in long-term trade.

Worked bone from Southampton - St Mary's Stadium Worked bone from Southampton - St Mary's Stadium

The excavations also revealed numerous domestic rubbish pits, with pottery and animal bone. One pit contained a knot of gold thread and another a copper spoon.

The excavation took place only under the stands of the new stadium, leaving the rest of the cemetery under what is now the football pitch undisturbed. This led Roland Smith, Wessex Archaeology’s Resources Director, to say: “It is an intriguing thought to imagine Southampton’s Premiership League footballers dancing over all this surviving Anglo-Saxon archaeology”.

Excavation of gold and garnets from Southampton - St Mary's Stadium