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Archaeology

The precinct of the abbey is a site of the greatest archaeological significance. Not only does it preserve the buried remains of the succession of churches which have stood on this site since the Anglo-Saxon period, with the extensive ranges around the cloisters; beyond them lie the earthworks and archaeological evidence of numerous other structures and activities, ranging in date from the Roman period to the recent past.

Formal archaeological excavations started here in a very small way in the 19th century, but did not commence in earnest until 1908, when the gifted architect Frederick Bligh Bond was placed in charge of operations. Bond dug here until 1922, clearing much of the church and some of the main buildings around the cloister. Further excavations in the late 1920s and 1930s were conducted mainly by people who, like Bond, were prominent architectural historians; their work was concentrated under the nave, where the foundations of successive Anglo-Saxon stone churches lie deeply buried below Norman levelling deposits. After the war Dr CA Ralegh Radford, a distinguished West Country archaeologist with a special interest in the early Christianity of Britain, undertook work from 1951-63; he investigated parts of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The excavation of WJ (Bill) Wedlake in 1978-9 was the last major dig here.

In the recent past emphasis has changed from exploring the archaeology of the site - not all of which has been excavated - to conserving this important resource for the future, and publishing the results of earlier work. Nevertheless, small excavations have been undertaken for specific practical purposes. The uppermost archaeological deposits were excavated when the new museum building was erected in the late 1980s/early 1990s. In recent years Charles and Nancy Hollinrake have carried out a number of excavations; their work in 2007 in the cloisters showed that Saxon and Norman remains lie tantalisingly close to current ground levels.

So who knows what remains to be found here in the future?

A one-day symposium hosted by Glastonbury Abbey was held in June 2011 and explored exciting new research into the historic excavation archives 1908-1979. Click here to find out more.

Various archaeological reports can be accessed by selecting the options on the sidebar.