A 1,300-year-old gold and gemstone necklace found at the site of a new housing construction marks the tomb of a powerful woman who may have been an early Christian religious leader in Britain, archaeologists said on Tuesday.
Experts say the necklace, discovered along with other objects near Northampton in central England, was part of the most important medieval woman’s burial ever found in Britain
The woman is long gone – only a little enamel remains. But scientists say her long-buried treasure will shed light on life in 7th-century England, a time when Christianity was battling paganism for allegiance. of everyone.
Lyn Blackmore, a senior searcher at London’s Archaeological Museum, who discovered the items was “a clear statement of wealth as well as of the Christian faith”.
“She’s extremely religious, but is she a princess? Is she a nun? Is she more than a nun – an abbot? We don’t know,” Blackmore said. .
The Harpole treasure – named after the village where it was found, about 96 kilometers northwest of London – was unearthed in April by archaeologists working with property developer Vistry Group on a The residential area has many new houses.
On one of the last days of a 10-week digging process, supervisor Levente-Bence Balazs noticed something glittering in the soil. It turned out to be a rectangular gold pendant with a cross pattern, inlaid with garnets – the center part of a necklace also features a gold Roman coin pendant and a stone oval semi-precious.
“These artifacts have not seen the light of day for over 1,300 years,” Balazs said. “Becoming the first to actually see it – it’s indescribable.”
The researchers say the burial took place between AD 630 and 670, the same period as several other graves of high-ranking women that have been found across England. The tombs for high-status people were previously predominantly male, and experts say the change may reflect women’s gain in power and status in the new Christian faith. England.
The Kingdom of Mercia, where the Harpole Treasure was found, converted to Christianity in the 7th century, and the woman buried there was a believer, possibly a religious leader. A large and ornate silver cross was placed over her body in the grave. It is decorated with amazingly small, well-preserved human heads with blue glass eyes, possibly representing the apostles of Jesus Christ. Clay pots from France or Belgium were also found, containing residues of an unknown liquid.
Within a few decades, as Christianity spread more widely in Britain, the custom of burying people with their luxuries disappeared.
Simon Mortimer, RPS archeology consultant who worked on the project, said: “The burial of people with a lot of jewelry is a pagan concept, but this is clearly weighty. symbolism of Christianity, so it was a period of rapid change.”
Harpole discoveries will help fill in the gaps in knowledge of the era between the departure of the Roman occupiers of England in the 5th century and the arrival of Viking raiders nearly 400 years ago. after. Experts say it is one of the most important Saxon finds since the burial of a 7th-century ship found in the 1930s at Sutton Hoo, about 100 miles (160 km) to the south. bronze.
After the archaeologists complete their work, the plan is for the artifacts to be displayed in a local museum.
Property developers in the UK regularly consult with archaeologists as part of their planning process, and Mortimer says doing so has yielded a number of important finds .
“We’re now looking at places that we wouldn’t normally look at, and as a result, ‘we’re finding really unexpected things,'” he said.
“The scale of the wealth will change our view of the early medieval period in that region,” he added. “Historical progress has been propelled, however small, by this discovery.”