Over the past six months, I’ve been developing and tweaking ieldran, an interactive Early Anglo-Saxon cemetery map. In this post, I’ve going to overview quickly why I developed the project, what tools I used, and where the project will be going.

In 410 C.E., the Roman Empire withdrew its administration and armies from England. Increasingly over the course of the 5th century, Germanic and Northern European tribal groups began to migrate into England.  Due to the changes in population and political structures, high levels of archaeological diversity and transformation characterize this period from the mid-5th to the early 7th centuries C.E. This diversity can be attributed varied cultural, social, economic and political interactions between the post-Roman Britons and incoming Northern European immigrants. There was a shift to furnished inhumation and cremation burials in the mid-5th century across England in areas where migrants were more prevalent. The archaeological remains of both cremation and inhumation practices are found in varying frequencies throughout England and often co-occur within the same cemetery. Better understanding of burial practices will aid in creating more nuanced interpretations of social, religious, political and economic relationships and identities in this period.

There are a number of issues facing studies of early Anglo-Saxon England burial practices. First, there are numerous cemeteries that have been excavated, but there is no simple way to locate collections and few have been digitized for online access. Second, re-use of cemetery collections is more common among digitized and known collections, causing a bias and restrictions in sampling. Finally, if a map of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries is desired, it must be re-created by the researcher.

With these issues in mind, as well as my own need for a complete map of cemeteries for my dissertation, I developed ieldran, which means ancestor in Old English. It is an online geospatial database of all excavated cemeteries from England that date from the mid-5th to early 7th centuries. The project has a map-based interface that displays excavated cemeteries from this period with information on the burials present, references to books and journals, location of museum collections, and links to other relevant digital material. Data for the project was collected by collaborator Matt Austin as part of his Masters thesis.

There are three primary features that make up ieldran. First, the map-based interface allows users to find sites and related information within specific locations by zooming and pulling the map. This framework, known as Bootleaf, is a mash-up of Twitter Bootstrap and Leaflet Maps created by Bryan McBride. Second, each site has information about the burials included, citations and references, information on the museum, and links to other related resources. Third, as the user moves around the map, the URL changes allowing specific views to be shared and referenced. This feature is provided by the plugin Leaflet Hash, created by Michael Evans.

Austin and I have three major goals for the project in the future:

  1. Add inhumation sites: currently the database only contains cemetery sites that have cremation burials. This is due to the extent of the research of myself and my collaborator, Austin. We are gathering information, and will add this new layer soon.
  2. Links to other resources: there are numerous digital resources online that relate to different early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. It is the hope to add links to these resources in the attributes of each cemetery site.
  3. Data download and data submission: these two features are probably the most important as they will allow people to gain access to the geoJSON data as well as add their own data to the project. However, these two features were beyond my own coding capabilities and will need to be added in the future.

If you have any suggestions, or would like to help with the project (or have an interest in creating something similar for a different region/period), feel free to contact me at kmeyers [at] gmail [dot] com, or @bonesdonotlie.