St Ebbas herself was an enigmatic figure. The chapel site, situated on a precarious promontory, is certainly not the only one named after this Anglo Saxon princess. Ebbas conversion to Christianity seems to have led to the foundation of a number of sites along the coast of Northumberland and to a lot more churches and chapels named after her all over the country.
Having completed the background work at the site and with the help of English Heritage, a strategy was formulated to clarify the nature of the chapel building and any additional structures and to investigate areas that had shown evidence of burials. It was these burials that remained in the most danger, situated as they were directly along the coastal path so beloved of dog walkers.
Much of archaeology in modern Britain is concerned with finding a balance between the needs of developers and the general public and the need to protect the finite archaeological remains of our country for future generations. It was with this in mind that the team set about the geophysical survey and some carefully placed trenches that would allow us to assess any ingoing damage to the archaeology.
As work progressed the site began to reveal its secrets. Not only was the main building complex a lot more complicated than we had anticipated, but burials began to appear all over the site. As we had anticipated, the public pathway was the site of a number of adult burials, many of which had been damaged and had lost parts of the skeleton to time and the thousands of footsteps of visitors. In some cases these skeletonswere only centimetres below the surface. Our osteologist (bone expert) Jackie Mckinley was becoming concerned.
Then the site threw up a surprise. Away from the pathway and erosion that was worrying our team, we discovered a number of separate burials. These changed the atmosphere on site considerably as they were all the burials of babies and very small children. We had all been so concerned with the potential damage being caused to the site and what we could do to help that we had almost forgotten that we were dealing with people. The children's cemetery brought us all back down to earth.
As our work progressed our friends from English Heritage came to visit the site and make an assessment on the management issues we had all been concerned to address. It was clear that the site was suffering damage and would continue to do so unless something was done to protect the fragile archaeology under the public pathways. Thankfully, with the work Time Team were able to do on-site, English Heritage were able to secure the means to create a raised walkway above the archaeology so that the rest of the cemetery at this extraordinary site could rest in peace far into the future.