English: Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow. The Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow is a recreation, on the same site, of one which existed around 420-650AD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cambridge University scientists have unearthed, at Trumpington Meadows, a village near Cambridge a well-preserved 1,400-year-old grave. This contained the remains a teenage girl, probably of noble birth, laid to rest, lying on an ornamental bed, in her best clothes.
This 16-year-old Anglo Saxon girl, who met her death in unknown circumstances – her identity remaining mysterious, though she was buried wearing a gold cross. The researchers believe this to be
the burial site of one of the earliest Christians in Britain.
The grave was indicative of Christianity having established itself, not so very long after Roman monk St Augustine had been despatched – in 595 – from Rome by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English, as early as the 7th century in this part of England
It is recorded that his work began in Kent, his team of converts slowly working their way around England, and St Augustine becoming first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597. There is, say researchers, little doubt that, for a very long time, Christians and pagans co-existed, this new discovery giving good insights to life at the time.
This young woman was in fact interred according to the pagan tradition – contravening Christian beliefs – with grave goods, comprising a knife and glass beads for use in the next life. Anglo-Saxon cemeteries expert Dr Sam Lewsey referred to this as an extremely rare discovery.
That is the case because such an elaborate burial, he claims – including a valuable artefact – was a certain indication that this young woman was high-born, the gold cross certainly belonging to the highest sphere of society, and because Christian conversion only gradually filtered down to the masses.
In total, archaeologists have unearthed 13 such Anglo Saxon so-called bed burials – mostly noble women, laid to rest on wood and metal frames topped with straw mattresses, but all 7th century or later, making this a vitally important find. The 1in wide gold cross was almost certainly sewn into her clothing around the neck and worn in daily life, studded with cut garnets and dated to between 650 and 680AD.
The team believe that this noble young woman could have had an official role in the fledgling Christian church, which the Romans had tried without success to introduce 200 years before, and three further graves were discovered containing two girls in their late teens and an individual, in their 20s, gender unknown.
7th century kings and nobles were happy, because in those peaceful times, people were healthy and well-fed. Contrary to misplaced ideas, archaeology has shown that Anglo-Saxons were capable of producing stunning and intricate jewellery.
They were, too, probably mining silver and gold in England, and trading across Europe and Asia, but exactly why this young woman deserved such lavish treatment is a puzzle the research team has yet to solve.
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