Oldest church found in Cambridge


25-10-2000

Remains of the oldest church ever found in Cambridge have been discovered following construction work on the software giant Microsoft's new European research headquarters.

Archaeologists discovered evidence of the Saxon place of worship along with five skeletons as workmen installed a new sewer which will service the massive West Cambridge site.



The discovery is expected to give historians a rare insight into life in the city during the Dark Ages. Alison Dickens from the University's Cambridge Archaeology Unit said: 'This could hold a big chunk of information.



'We believe it is a church and if it is then it is the first absolutely guaranteed Saxon church identified in Cambridge. It therefore becomes a candidate for the earliest church in Cambridge.



'This is a real success story because of our work with the contractors. There's a lot of construction work like this that goes on, in which important archaeology like this is lost forever.'



The ancient church, which is thought to date to around the 10th century, has been found close to the existing 11th Century Norman Church of St Giles.



The sewer work revealed post holes which showed the building was aligned exactly east to west. The precise alignment means it was almost certainly a church.



The skeletons include one of a man probably aged over 30, a boy aged between 12-14 and another of intederminate sex aged between 18 and 22. They will be removed for detailed examination in the laboratory. They are then likely to be re-buried.



The remains were found as archaeologists worked with Anglian Water contractors digging access shafts for the new sewer system which will service the West Cambridge Site. The new development is a multi million pound scheme, described as the most important in Cambridge University's 800 year history.



It will cost an estimated 350 million to build and will be home to Microsoft's new European Research Centre. Also included in the plans are a new computer laboratory and new buildings for the University's Chemistry and Mathematics departments.



The 60 hectare site is to the west of the city, close to the M11 and has the potential of becoming one of the biggest building sites in Europe. Building work is expected to continue for at least 15 years.



The new computer laboratory will use some of the latest technology including a heating system powered only by the PCs. It will cost an estimated 14 million and will house research, teaching and library facilities for 300 staff and students.



When completed, the Microsoft building will its biggest site outside its headquarters in Seattle, reinforcing Cambridge's reputation as Britain's answer to Silicon Valley.



Archaeological digs on the West Cambridge Site have previously uncovered evidence of a major Roman settlement.