The main aim of the Glastonbury Abbey Archaeological Archive Project was to set aside previous assumptions based on the myths and legends and to provide a rigorous reassessment of the excavation archive. Research revealed that some of the best known archaeological ‘facts’ about Glastonbury are themselves myths perpetuated by the abbey’s excavators.
The key findings are:
- New evidence for previously unknown prehistoric, Roman and sub-Roman occupation on the site of the abbey, pre-dating the earliest documented Saxon monastery at Glastonbury.
- A timber-framed building dated to c. 500 AD, associated with fragments of late Roman amphorae imported from the eastern Mediterranean, and pre-dating the Saxon monastery.
- A craft-working complex of 5 glass furnaces representing the earliest and most substantial evidence for glass-working in Saxon England. It has been radiocarbon dated to c. 700 AD.
- Several details of Radford’s interpretation of the early medieval monastery are challenged, including the existence of a pre-Christian ‘British’ cemetery, the discovery of Arthur’s grave, and the alleged Saxon cloister, supposedly the first in England.
- Re-examination of the records has confirmed evidence for the Norman and later medieval monastic ranges and revealed the exceptional scale of the abbot’s lodging, a luxurious palatial complex to the southwest of the cloister.
- There are many conservative or retrospective elements evident in the architecture of Glastonbury Abbey; this tendency seems to have been deliberate and strategic, aimed at demonstrating the antiquity of Glastonbury and its pre-eminent place in monastic history.
- The distinctive layout and development of the abbey was influenced by its origin legends; the religious and cult focus of the site was to the west of the abbey church, centred on the Lady Chapel that occupied the site of the legendary early church that was destroyed by fire in 1184.
The results from the Archive Project have been disseminated through an Open Access monograph, an online database, onsite digital resources, a popular magazine article, a new guidebook and educational resources.
See below for a selection of finds from the archaeological excavations.