Past People of Oxfordshire

Oxfordshire County Council Oxford Archaeology University of Oxford

Database Description

This section explains the criteria used in each entry of this database.

A brief archaeological background to the excavation at each site is given, as well as the date of the burials, minimum number of inhumations (unburnt human remains), cremated individuals, and disarticulated individuals, published and unpublished sources, and the fate of the human remains (whether reburied or retained). If known, the location of retained remains (including Museum Accession number) is given. Brief details of burial practices and osteological analysis are also presented. This database has been designed as a search tool to facilitate the location of archaeological and osteological data on specific sites and assemblages from Oxfordshire, as well as the fate of human remains, and does not constitute a comprehensive account of each burial site.

Site code, name and unique identifier

Individual burial sites are entered in the database, either under their unique Site Code, or under their unique Historic Environment Record (HER) number, which is prefixed by PRN. Burials of different time periods from a single site are entered separately, the Site Code or PRN suffixed with the abbreviation of that time period (e.g. N- Neolithic, BA- Bronze Age, IA- Iron Age, R- Roman, EM- early Medieval/ Anglo-Saxon, M- medieval, and PM- post-medieval). Such composite letters and numbers constitute the unique identifier of each entry. For example, entries ABCIN02IA, ABCIN02R and ABCIN02PM record Iron Age, Roman and post-medieval human remains found at the Regal Cinema site, Abingdon. Many burial sites were excavated on more than one occasion in the past. Where it is clear that the burials from each excavation came from the same burial ground, they are entered in a single data entry. Where association between burials from successive excavations is less clear, each excavation was entered separately. Some sites are known by more than one name. All known names have been entered to enhance identification.

National Grid Reference (NGR)

Each burial site may be mapped using their National Grid reference, and this information may be used to construct a spatial distribution across the county, which may be refined using the Query facility (see Map).

In most cases, the NGR listed here is not the precise location of the burials, but the approximate centre-point of the excavated site. The precision of the NGR varies between sites, depending on available data.

Parish and district

These entries accord with modern administrative parishes and county administrative districts.


The PRN is the unique identification number in the Historic Environment Register (HER) for Oxfordshire, administered by Ms Susan Lisk of the Oxfordshire County Council.

Date, excavators and project managers

This refers to details of the excavations in which burials were discovered.

Minimum number of individuals (MNI)

The estimated minimum number of individuals has been given separately for unburnt articulated/ in situ inhumations, cremated remains, and disarticulated bone. Description of some burials (particularly those excavated in antiquity or by non-archaeologists) is minimal, including quantification. In the absence of any more specific information, where the plural ‘burials’ or ‘skeletons’ was used, a MNI of 2 was accorded. Where ‘several’, ‘many’, or ‘a few’ burials or skeletons were mentioned, a MNI of 3 was accorded. In many such cases, the MNI is probably under-estimated. In this database, cremated remains recovered from separate archaeological features are counted as different individuals, although, conceivably, multiple bone deposits may be the scattered remains of a single individual, and not all features containing human bone constitute burials (e.g. pyre sites). However, where the osteologist had identified more than one individual in a single deposit, these were counted as two or more individuals. The same approach was taken with disarticulated bone. However, the MNI of disarticulated remains is often not calculated by the excavators and, as such, could not be entered in the database. Where the excavators or osteologists specifically mentioned disarticulated bone or charnel being present, but was not analysed, the MNI is entered as ‘not quantified’ in the database.

Date of burials

The date of unburnt inhumations, cremation deposits and disarticulated bones are entered separately. These are entered as (1) overall time period (consistent with English Heritage categories), (2) dating from archaeological evidence (e.g. artefacts, stratigraphy, spatial association and burial practices), and (3) radiocarbon dating (RC), if available. The date of many burials is not always certain. Where burials may date to more than one time period, both time periods are entered in the database. In addition, an Uncertain option is added when the dating of burials is tenuous. Where the date of the burial is completely unknown, only Uncertain is entered. Wherever known, calibrated RC dates are given to 2 sigma (95% confidence interval). If not otherwise stated, the RC date is that of the human bone.

Site and osteological reports

These entries include published and unpublished site reports, and also other reports or analysis of the site or skeletons in question.

Fate and location of the human remains

These entries describe if the human remains were retained or reburied, and, if the former, gives the institution in which they were held at the time of compilation of the database (i.e. 2014- 5). These data were obtained from holding records (largely databases) of various museums within and beyond Oxfordshire, and from information provided by museum archivists and curators. The museum accession number is given, when known. It must be stressed that the skeletal archives themselves were not checked by Past People of Oxfordshire researchers.

Biochemical research

Biochemical research on the assemblage is listed, and a citation given, if published.

Burial practices

Burial context

This entry refer to the wider archaeological context in which the burials were found (e.g. within a settlement, field system, secular or religious institution). With respect to Christian burial grounds, Consecrated and Deconsecrate C of E burial grounds refer principally to Church of England churchyards. Medieval religious institutions (e.g. priory, abbey), many of which went out of use with the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1537), have been entered separately. Where the specific type of religious house is unknown, or where the burial ground had fallen out of use before the Reformation, ‘non- C of E Christian burial ground’ is entered. This entry is also used in late Anglo-Saxon burial grounds. Pre-Christian/ pagan cemeteries are entered under ‘non-Christian burial ground’. Categorising late Roman and middle Saxon burial grounds as Christian or non-Christian is often problematic. These burial groups were entered under non-Christian burial ground, unless otherwise stated by the excavators. Non-Conformist burial ground refers to cemeteries of non- Church of England Protestant denominations. These include, amongst others, Methodists, Baptists, Anabaptists, Congregationalists, and the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Burial feature

This refers to the feature into which the burial was found (e.g. grave, ditch or pit).

Body position

This refers to the position in which the deceased was laid out for burial. In this database, a combination of the following terms was used:

  • Supine- laid out on the back, front of the body facing upwards
  • Prone- face down, such that the back, or dorsum, of the body is uppermost
  • Left or right side- laid out lateral on that side downwards
  • Extended- laid out with the lower limb/legs extended (i.e. not bent/flexed at the hip or knee)
  • Semi-flexed- with the lower limb/legs slightly bent at the knee and hip joint
  • Flexed- with the lower limb/legs bent such that the knee is level with the hip joint
  • Tightly flexed- with the legs flexed or brought up above the level of the hip joint (towards the chest region)
  • Crouched- a term commonly used to denote the flexed lower limb/legs position, often not the extent of the flexion. This term was used if used by the excavators, where no pictorial evidence of the burial was available.
  • Upright- positioned with the torso upright (e.g. when sat up against the edge of a pit). The lower limb/legs may be flexed, crossed or straight.
  • Haphazard- when the body appeared to have been laid in the burial feature with little care- with little formal arrangement of the limbs, or trunk, often resulting in a contorted body position.
  • Unknown- body position is not recorded or known (e.g. if disturbed before it was recorded).

Post-mortem body manipulation (unburnt)

This category refers to ritualised post-mortem manipulation of the corpse or skeleton, as a component of a multi-stage funerary rite. This may involve defleshing, decapitation and/or dismemberment of the fleshed corpse; dismemberment and selection of still articulated body parts of partially decomposed body parts, selection and incorporation of isolated skeletonised elements into other features (e.g. a ditch or pit), through to the working of skeletal parts (particularly skull) into amulets or for display purposes. Trepanation may well fall into this category in some instances, but all trepanations in this databases have been listed under Medical and dental interventions.

Body orientation

This refers to the orientation of the inhumation with respect to the cardinal points of the compass. Where known, the direction of the head is expressed first (e.g. in a west-east burial, the head lies to the west, and the feet to the east; in an east-west burial, the head is towards the east and the feet towards the west). Although this convention is not consistently adhered to by excavators, the excavator’s description, nevertheless, was used, unless the orientation could be determined by site drawings or photographs.

Body container

This refers to the container in which the human remains were buried (e.g. coffin, cist, urn). Additional features within the grave (e.g. earmuff, pillow or packing stones, and charcoal) were also included under this category.

Grave good categories

Grave goods refer to offerings specifically placed within the grave to accompany the deceased. Broad categories of grave goods are entered here (e.g. ‘personal adornment’, ‘weaponry’).

Grave goods

Specific grave goods are listed here. More unusual grave goods are entered as ‘other’ and are described under Burial practice comments.

Pyre goods

Pyre goods are items of dress worn by the deceased when placed on the pyre, or offerings placed on the pyre at the time of cremation. Pyre goods are distinct from grave goods in showing evidence of exposure to high temperatures (e.g. melting or burning). They are usually found amongst, or adhering to the cremated bone.

Cremation deposits urned

This entry distinguishes between urned and unurned cremation burials.

Cremation deposits truncation

Many cremation deposits are shallow and are truncated by ploughing or mechanical stripping of the topsoil and sub-soil during excavation. Whether or not a cremation deposit has been truncated, and therefore is incomplete, or whether the whole deposit is represented is fundamental to osteological interpretation. This entry distinguishes between truncated and complete deposits.

Burial practice comments

Additional details and descriptions of burial practices are entered here.

Osteological analysis

This section of the database includes the name of the osteologist and estimated year of human bone analysis. It outlines the general bone preservation, MNI, basic age and sex distributions, male and female stature, and the presence or absence of skeletal and dental traumatic and pathological lesions.

General bone preservation

This is an assessment of the overall cortical bone preservation of the whole skeletal assemblage, based on McKinley’s scale (see Institute of Archaeology Paper 11).

Total MNI

This refers to the total minimum number of individuals- the sum of the MNI of all inhumed, cremated and disarticulated individuals from that site of that time period.

Age and sex

The total number of adult males and females, adults of unknown sex, and subadults, and individuals of unknown or unrecorded age and sex are listed. These categories represent the biological sex, wherever stated, rather than the gender ascribed from grave goods. Male and female categories include those individuals in which biological sex was clear, and those where some ambiguity existed (probable or possible male and female). Sex estimates of subadult remains were not included in these sex categories, as today no reliable macroscopic sexing method of immature remains has been demonstrated. Subadult refers to biologically immature individuals, who have not completed longitudinal growth (c. 16 years in females, and c. 18 years in males). This category includes foetuses, newborns/ neonates, infants, children and adolescents.


The average male and female stature and stature ranges are given in centimetres.

Skeletal and dental trauma and pathology

Pathological conditions are divided into commonly used categories: trauma, periostitis, infection, metabolic disease, joint disease, neoplastic disease, congenital/ developmental anomalies, dental disease, and dental and medical interventions (such as trepanation, amputation, dental fillings and prostheses, surgical treatment, and evidence of dissection/ autopsy). More specific pathological conditions were listed if one or more than one individual in the skeletal assemblage demonstrated skeletal changes indicative of that condition (e.g. tuberculosis, gout, caries).