Archaeologists have made a “dream” discovery after finding “one of the most significant early medieval female burial sites” in the UK’s history. The 7th-century grave of an elite woman was buried in Northamptonshire with a stunning array of goods, including a spectacular 30-piece necklace made of gold, garnets, and Roman coins. The find was unearthed in the Harpole area of Northamptonshire by a team of archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), along with Archaeological Consultants RPS.
The find has been dubbed the “Harpole Treasure” due to the spectacular array of goods found at the burial site, and experts are ecstatic at the “special” discovery. The skeleton itself has completely decomposed, apart from tiny fragments of tooth enamel, the first thing the experts caught a glimpse of.
Levente-Bence Balázs, the MOLA Site Supervisor, said: “When the first glints of gold started to emerge from the soil we knew this was something significant. However, we didn’t quite realise how special this was going to be.
“I was looking through a suspected rubbish pit when I saw teeth. Then two gold items appeared out of the earth and glinted at me. These artefacts haven’t seen the light of day for 1,300 years, and to be the first person to see them is indescribable.”
Dated to 630-670 AD, a stunning 30-piece necklace with items such as pendants made from Roman coins, gold, garnets, glass, and semi-precious stones, as well as gold beads.
The rectangular pendant is made of red garnets that are set in gold. It bears a cross motif that forms its centrepiece. Experts suspect that the pendant could have been one-half of a hinged clasp.
The find marks the richest necklace of its kind ever to have been found in the UK and has revealed the incredible craftsmanship of the early medieval period. Also found among the remains were two pots containing a mysterious residue that experts are set to analyse.
A decorated cross was also found buried faced down, depicting a person’s face in silver with blue glass eyes.
Mr Balázs added: “This is the most significant early medieval female burial ever discovered in Britain. It is an archaeologist’s dream to find something like this.”
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While this necklace is far more spectacular than any other necklace from the Anglo-Saxon period found in Britain before, there have been fairly similar ones unearthed in other regions of England.
For instance, the Desborough Necklace, also found in Northamptonshire, was also unearthed from a woman’s grave and at the time was described as the finest of its kind to survive from the Anglo-Saxon period in England.
The artefact was made with gold wire beads and pendants set with garnets, which experts said reflected a mixture of Mediterranean and Continental fashions.
The Harpole Treasure is now set to feature in BBC Two’s Digging for Britain, where legendary Professor Alice Roberts will take an exclusive look at the find and the ongoing conservation and analysis.