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The Archaeology of Hidden Identity: The Case of a Female Burial from Lowbury Hill

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Prof A Smith , Dr Sophie Beckett , Ms Angie Bolton No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This multidisciplinary project seeks to re-interpret the remains of a women discovered in the wall of the Romano-British temple found at Lowbury Hill (Oxfordshire, earlier Berkshire) in excavations by the then University College Reading (now University of Reading) in 1913- 14. The original interpretation of her role as a ‘foundation’ deposit, then as a body inserted in a ‘robber’ trench, has been brought into question by a 1990s radio-carbon analysis that contextualised her within the early medieval period (c 550-650 CE). The nearly complete female skeleton was displayed by the early 1920s at University College Reading’s Museum of Archaeology and History, alongside the male Anglo-Saxon warrior found in the adjacent barrow. While he is now prominently displayed in the Oxfordshire Museum (Woodstock), she was later boxed, largely forgotten, and eventually stored in the Museum Resource Centre of the Oxfordshire Museums Service (OMS), where she now resides in two separate boxes. We seek an understanding of her deposition and relation to both the Romano-British temple and Anglo-Saxon barrow at Lowbury Hill. Her case is important not only for History and Archaeology but also in Gender Studies, regarding both her role in the Roman and/or  Anglo-Saxon periods and her later history as a ‘forgotten women’ overlooked in favour of her more ‘decorated’ male ‘neighbour’.

The project seeks to address the following questions:

• Does the archaeological evidence of the Lowbury female burial indicate the time, nature, and related circumstances of her deposition?

• What can we glean about the life and death of this female?

• What was her connection to the building (Romano-British temple) in which she was interred, the neighbouring barrow, and the deposition in that barrow (the Anglo-Saxon ‘warrior’)?

• How and why has her reception in academic, museum, and non-academic circles fluctuated so greatly in the last century?

• How is her story best represented to contemporary and future audiences?

A PhD student will work across the institutions represented by the supervisory team to thoroughly investigate the evidence for the interpretation of the female burial from Lowbury Hill: osteological remains at the Oxfordshire Museums Service, with technical and laboratory support from the Cranfield Forensic Institute at Cranfield University; and associated archaeological evidence and archives (OMS and Reading). We will harness our relationships also with local history groups, U3A groups, and non-traditional museum visitors (e.g. metal detector users) who are interested in the relevant site and its misunderstood archaeologies, and establish digital and physical displays of her remains and associated story among the partnered museums (Oxfordshire and/or Ure Museums).

Through the project the team will explore the ways in which the female burial from Lowbury was interpreted, reinterpreted, displayed, and eventually forgotten as a means toward understanding the ways in which archaeological material might be more clearly displayed or utilized in and beyond the OMS. The project will help the OMS and earlier ‘owners’ of the archaeological material to confront problems encountered in history of the organisations. 

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Funding Notes

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