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Anglo-Saxon origins investigated by isotopic analysis of burials from Berinsfield, Oxfordshire, UK

Hughes, S.S.; Millard, A.R.; Lucy, S.J.; Chenery, C.A.; Evans, J.; Nowell, G.; Pearson, D.G.


S.S. Hughes

S.J. Lucy

C.A. Chenery

J. Evans

D.G. Pearson


The early fifth century transition from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England is a poorly understood period in British history. Historical narratives describe a brutal conquest by Anglo-Saxon invaders with nearly complete replacement of the indigenous population, but aspects of the archaeological record contradict this interpretation leading to competing hypotheses. Rather than replacement, a smaller group of Germanic immigrants may have settled in England as part of the social, religious, and political turmoil happening in western Europe at this time (Dark, 2000; Henig, 2002; Higham, 1992) or rapid acculturation with little contribution from Germanic immigrants may have occurred in the vacuum of Roman abandonment. As the number of Anglo-Saxon immigrants arriving in Britain is one of the focal issues of this debate, strontium and oxygen isotopic ratios, with their ability to identify immigrants in a burial population, offer a technique to test competing hypotheses. We employ oxygen and strontium isotope ratios in tooth enamel to identify the number of continental immigrants in a sample of 19 individuals from the early Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Wally Corner, Berinsfield in the Upper Thames Valley, Oxfordshire, UK. Local variation in bio-available strontium isotope ratios is established using faunal remains from the site and by sampling soils on geological formations within 8 km of the site. The oxygen isotope results show a homogeneous sample that is slightly enriched when calibrated to local meteoric water. One individual with a significantly depleted value may be a continental immigrant. Three others are strontium outliers. With only 5.3% of the sample originating from Europe, the isotopic data support the hypothesis of acculturation. In addition, the isotopic data shows no temporal patterning, although females show a statistically significant enrichment in the oxygen isotope ratio.


Hughes, S., Millard, A., Lucy, S., Chenery, C., Evans, J., Nowell, G., & Pearson, D. (2014). Anglo-Saxon origins investigated by isotopic analysis of burials from Berinsfield, Oxfordshire, UK. Journal of Archaeological Science, 42, 81-92.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 22, 2013
Online Publication Date Nov 6, 2013
Publication Date Feb 1, 2014
Deposit Date Apr 18, 2012
Journal Journal of Archaeological Science
Print ISSN 0305-4403
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 42
Pages 81-92
Keywords Oxygen isotopes, Strontium isotopes, Bio-available strontium, Acculturation hypothesis, Anglo-Saxon invasion.
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