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Anglo-Saxon Grave of high-status female found with grave goods.     Source: Canterbury Trust

Anglo-Saxon Grave Found Holding Royal Treasures

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Archaeologists in Britain have found the grave of an Anglo-Saxon woman. The burial contained some precious grave goods and is helping historians to better understand one of the most important centers in medieval England and also burial practices from the era.

The extraordinary discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeology Trust (CAT). They were excavating an area on the grounds of Christ Church University, in Canterbury in the South-East of England. The grave is very close to the world-famous Abbey and Cathedral. This discovery was made at the site of a new £65 million ($80 million) building on the University campus, which is due to open in 2020. It has been described as ‘particularly significant’, by Dr. Andrew Richardson, a manager at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT), reports Kent Online.

A Treasure Trove in Anglo-Saxon Grave

During their dig archaeologists came across the skeleton of a woman who died about 500-600 AD and who was almost certainly an Anglo-Saxon. She was found with a considerable amount of grave goods. She was buried with a knife made of iron and a treasure trove of jewels. Some broken cremation urns were found nearby, and this indicated that it is a pre-Christian burial site.

Among the jewelry, the dead woman was buried with a silver Kentish disc brooch, that was inlaid with semi-precious garnet stones. This piece of jewelry is a small, but highly ornate brooch that is associated with the South-East of England. According to the website: ‘The garnets in the brooch, which was probably a gift from Kentish royalty, are thought to have been imported from Sri Lanka’.

This ornate brooch was probably a gift from the Kentish Royal Family. (Image: Canterbury Trust)

This ornate brooch was probably a gift from the Kentish Royal Family. (Image: Canterbury Trust)

A Gift From Royalty

These brooches were specially made for the Kentish monarchy and were given to those who were in the favor of the Royal Family.

On the skeleton was also found a necklace that was made of amber pendants and glass beads. There was also unearthed a belt with a buckle that was made from copper and a bracelet that was manufactured from the same metal.  On the evidence of the grave goods, it is clear that the woman was a person of high social standing and well-connected.

The necklace of amber pendants and glass beads. (Image: Canterbury Trust)

The necklace of amber pendants and glass beads. (Image: Canterbury Trust)

The Coming of Christianity to Britain

Based on the dating and the location of the grave, it seems likely that this unknown woman was, according to Kent Online, ‘a contemporary, and likely acquaintance, of the Kentish King Ethelbert and his Frankish Queen Bertha’. This royal couple are believed to have played an important role in the Christianization of this region of Britain and Bertha was later canonized by the Christian church. There are now modern statues to the king and queen in Canterbury.

The find in the university campus will provide ‘important new evidence to our understanding of life and death in Canterbury around 1,400 years ago’ stated Dr. Ellie Williams a lecturer at Christ Church University, according to Kent Online. It demonstrates that elite burials took place in Canterbury even before it became an important Christian center. Shortly after the death and burial of the woman, work began on the construction of the Christian Abbey at Canterbury.

Continuation of Pagan Practices reports that the find ‘suggests that people of high status were buried at the site before the cemetery at the Christian abbey was established’. This abbey was later the burial place of leading Christian figures such as St Augustine and members of the royal family of the Kingdom of Kent. The discovery of the grave of a high-status woman would indicate ‘that relatively high-status burial was taking place on the site in the years shortly before the establishment of the Abbey’ according to Kent Online.

This find demonstrates that there was a great deal of continuity in the burial practices of the Anglo-Saxon elite even after the coming of Christianity.  It may also show that the Early Church in England was sensitive to the traditions of the Anglo-Saxons. The bones of the deceased woman are being examined by Dr. Williams. Further investigations of the remains and artifacts, it is hoped will result in more insights about life and death in Anglo-Saxon England.

Top image: Anglo-Saxon Grave of high-status female found with grave goods.     Source: Canterbury Trust

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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