THE discoveries made during the excavations at the Hereford Cathedral Close could change the way archaeologists thought the Saxon town developed.

Headland Archaeology carried out the dig, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and this week launched a book called Death in the Close detailing the finds.

The project revealed a possible Saxon palace built near the cathedral between 850 and 950AD.

After the cathedral was plundered and destroyed by fire in 1055, it was rebuilt and more than 2,500 individuals were buried around the site between the 11th and 19th centuries.

Andy Boucher, co-author of the book, said: "It is quite a groundbreaking book. It does, to a degree, change the understanding of how Hereford developed.

"We always thought the area where the cathedral is, was the earliest part of the Saxon settlement."

But the large building discovered is probably no earlier that 860AD, he said, yet they have radiocarbon dates for battles on Castle Green from the 6th century.

He said digs in Berrington Street dated drying ovens to the 7th and 8th century and there have even been questions raised about whether an east-west road ran through the close.

Mr Boucher said: "It does really question how we interpret the early parts of Hereford.

"Hereford is very important as a Saxon town- archaeological interpretation has been used across the archaeological world. If the interpretation of Hereford changes, it has national implications."

They also discovered ironworking at the close, which suggests industrial activity on a large scale.

Mr Boucher said: "It’s massive – almost everywhere we look when encountering pre-Norman Conquest layers – there appears to be ironworking going on.

"The city lies in an area of turmoil with the Welsh so could all the ironworking be related to making weapons – effectively is Hereford one big arms manufacturing site?

"The finds at the cathedral close underline the extensive nature of ironworking – and because this is such a large area within the city – they indicate that there were few areas where ironworking was not taking place."

The dig also uncovered a medieval mystery of a young child between the age of eight and ten.

The body was buried under the Saxon palace- 200 years earlier than any other burial in the close.

Mr Boucher said: "It is the medieval mystery- who is this child? We can't answer it.

"What we can tell is the child suffered. They have not had a particularly happy childhood. It looks as if they suffered quite a bit from various diseases."

As reported in the Hereford Times earlier in the year- one skeleton was identified as a knight- which Durham University said was from Normandy. The university will now carry out further research into the child.

Death in the Close: a Medieval Mystery will be launched on Wednesday at Hereford Cathedral at 6pm. It is for sale in the Cathedral shop.

Any new followers of @headlandarchuk on Twitter between now and 2.30pm on Friday will be put into a hat and drawn for a free copy of the paperback.