Earliest Known Christian Anglo-Saxon Burial in England Reveals its Treasures


The earliest known Christian burial of an Anglo-Saxon in England pertains to the tomb of a nobleman who lived during circa 6th-7th century AD. Archaeologists have put forth the hypothesis of how this ‘prince’ might have been a relative of King Saebert (or Sæberht), the first known East Saxon king to have converted to Christianity. And now, after 1,400-years, irrespective of the tomb occupant’s identity, researchers have assessed the opulent grave goods – that range from a gold belt buckle, intricately-crafted lyre, to painted woodworks.

Reconstruction of the Tomb

The ongoing project, partly funded by Historic England (the agency tasked with preserving English culture and history), is the continuation of the original archaeological excavations that took place way back in 2003. In an endeavor undertaken by the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), focused on a site near Prittlewell, Essex, the excavations revealed a conspicuous burial chamber. The enclosed space contained an ashwood coffin (with iron fittings) accompanied by a host of burial objects. And it was the evidence of an early Christianity-inspired burial custom that impressed the researchers, including two thin gold-foil crosses that were possibly kept on the eyes of the deceased.

Gold Coins

Talking of gold objects, the deceased also had a belt buckle made of gold that was presumably positioned around his waist and two coins clasped inside both of his palms. It should be noted however that the skeletal remnants of the nobleman are scant, with one of the major identifying factors pertaining to a few fragments of tooth enamel. Analysis of the enamel revealed how the occupant was at least older than 6-years, possibly an adult – who had a substantial height (for the 7th century period) of five feet eight inches.

Foil Crosses

Beyond the coffin itself, the tomb of the Anglo-Saxon prince also contained a folding iron stool (possibly symbolizing a gifstol – a small throne-like seat) near the head and a cauldron near the feet. A myriad other burial objects included drinking horns, cups, bottles, buckets, blue glass beakers, and a copper-alloy flagon, bedecked with medallion bits, that bears the image of St. Sergius – a 4th century Roman Christian soldier during the time of Emperor Galerius who was said to have been martyred for his faith (although the story itself may have been apocryphal). Quite intriguingly, the flagon and some spoons have Eastern Mediterranean origins while garnets found inside the tomb were sourced from India – thus alluding to the impressive trade network that connected the Eurasian landmass during the period.

Wall Hooks

Befitting the tomb of an Anglo-Saxon prince, the burial objects also included a horn-handled sword fitted inside a scabbard made from leather-wood composite, along with a spear, two shields, and even an arrow – all displayed by the southern wall. Now from the historical perspective, like many contemporary Germanic cultures, the Anglo-Saxons perceived swords as weapons of honor and prestige – with the broad-bladed, double-edged variety being the predominant form used in this part of the world. And given the high status associated with swords, many of the specimens were valued as heirlooms passed down from generation to generation.

Blue Beaker

And finally, the researchers were astounded by the first ever complete remains of an Anglo-Saxon lyre inside a tomb. The instrument while decayed due to the rigors of over a millennium was originally split and then repaired with fittings made of iron, silver, and gilded copper-alloy. Its chemical traces left in the soil also revealed how the object was made of maple.

Fragments of the Lyre.
Green Glass
Copper Flagon
Copper-Alloy Bowl
Drinking Horn
Gold Belt Buckle

Via: Live Science

All Images Copyright: MOLA

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