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Lecture Report – Archaeological Research on the Early Mediaeval River Thames

On 6th December Archaeologist Dr Gabor Thomas of Reading University gave the Henley Archaeological & Historical Group an insight into recent archaeological research on the Early Mediaeval River Thames, and specifically the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon monastery at Cookham.

He concentrated on the Middle Thames – from roughly the Goring Gap to the tidal Thames – and more specifically on the Maidenhead loop. After the departure of the Romans, in the 5th and 6th centuries, the river was a conduit for immigration. In the following two centuries it was a corridor of Christianisation between two emergent kingdoms and at the end of the Anglo-Saxon era, it became an arena for royal power in a unified state.

Early immigrants along the Thames were primarily Saxons, who left ornate burials in Dorchester. Also from this period was the so-called ‘Marlow warlord’, excavated by Dr Thomas in 2020 – a rich burial of a tall, muscular middle-aged man in a ‘sentinel burial’ overlooking enemy territory.

During the Christianisation period, 16 (identified) monasteries were established between Eynsham and Kingston. The monastery at Cookham was in existence by the mid-8th century and in 798AD Queen Cynethryth, the widow of Offa, (on the pictured coin) was confirmed as its abbess. Excavations in 2021-2 revealed burials confirming the date, but concentrated on the riverfront infrastructure of the monastery, built using recycled Roman building material. Finds included ornate metal dress accessories, coins, tools associated with textile manufacture and carpentry, and even window glass