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Cross and bed found in Anglo-Saxon grave shed new light on 'dark ages'

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Christa Jenneman
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« on: March 18, 2012, 10:53:46 pm »

Cross and bed found in Anglo-Saxon grave shed new light on 'dark ages'

Archaeologists in Cambridge thrilled to discover grave with body of young woman on a bed with an ornate gold cross


    Maev Kennedy
    The Guardian, Thursday 15 March 2012
    Article history

The gold cross found in the grave of the young Anglo-Saxon woman
The gold cross found in the grave of the young Anglo-Saxon woman. Photograph: Cambridge University

The dead are often described as sleeping, but archaeologists in Cambridgeshire have uncovered a bed on which the body of a young Anglo-Saxon woman has lain for more than 1,300 years, a regal gold and garnet cross on her breast.

Three more graves, of two younger women and an older person whose sex has not yet been identified, were found nearby.

Forensic work on the first woman's bones suggests she was about 16, with no obvious explanation for her early death. Although she was almost certainly a Christian, buried with the beautiful cross stitched into place on her gown, she was buried according to ancient pagan tradition with some treasured possessions including an iron knife and a chatelaine, a chain hanging from her belt, and some glass beads which were probably originally in a purse that has rotted away.

The field where she lay, now being developed for housing at the edge of the village of Trumpington on the outskirts of Cambridge, hid a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement. It may have been a wealthy monastic settlement more of it probably lies under the neighbouring farm and farmyard although there are no records of any church earlier than the 12th century village church which overlooks the site.

Pectoral crosses from the dawn of Christianity in England, and bed burials - where the body was laid on a real bed, now traced only by its iron supports, centuries after the timber rotted are both extremely rare.
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Christa Jenneman
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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2012, 10:56:11 pm »



Cambridge University video describing the discovery of the graves

There is only one previous record of the two together, a grave found at Ixworth in Suffolk in the 19th century. The excavation records for that find are patchy, whereas archaeologists from Cambridge university will be working for years to recover every scrap of information from the Trumpington site.

A gold and garnet pectoral cross of such quality, the most beautiful and sophisticated examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork like the contemporary jewels found in the Staffordshire Hoard or the Sutton Hoo burial, could only have been owned by a member of an aristocratic or even royal family. Only five have been found, one in the coffin of St Cuthbert. In some contemporary pieces the gems came from as far as India, and the gold from melted down coins from Constantinople.

Sam Lucy, an Anglo-Saxon expert from Newnham College Cambridge, who helped excavate the site, said the small loops on the arms of the Trumpington cross, worn shiny by rubbing against the fabric, showed the woman probably wore the cross during her short life, at a time when the Anglo-Saxon aristocrats were gradually converting to the powerful new religion.

The find sheds further light on a period once known dismissively as the dark ages, now being revealed by archaeology as a time of superb craftsmanship and complex international trade routes.

While the body of the prince who was buried at Sutton Hoo was laid in a ship under a great mound of earth, and the warrior at Prittlewell in an oak plank chamber hung with his weapons and treasures, a small group of bed burials have been discovered, all believed to be of women, all from the same region and the same late 7th century date.

Lucy said the beds may well have been the ones the women used in life, as they are all believed to be pieces of real furniture, not made specially for a funeral ceremony. At Trumpington the evidence suggests the bed was lowered first into the ground, and then the body, uncoffined, laid on it.

Scraps of textile found under the chain may reveal what she wore when she went to her grave. The same Anglo-Saxon word, leger, can mean either a bed or a grave.

"It is striking that such a young woman was of such importance to own and be buried with an object as valuable as the cross. And it's almost unnerving that there was an important Anglo-Saxon settlement so close to us of which we had absolutely no records," she said.

The fields had already yielded a wealth of iron age and earlier material but the Anglo-Saxon finds were a complete surprise. The bones and teeth are in good condition, so further scientific tests should be able to establish where the little group came from, what their diet was, and whether they are related - though it will probably always be a mystery how they ended up, so young, buried in a field in Cambridgeshire.

The cross is going through a treasure valuation and inquest process, but the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge hopes to acquire and display it.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/mar/16/cross-bed-anglo-saxon-grave?INTCMP=SRCH
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Christa Jenneman
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« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2012, 10:57:18 pm »

Final resting place: British archaeologists discover 7th-century teenager buried in her bed


By Associated Press,

LONDON — Archaeologists excavating near Cambridge have stumbled upon a rare and mysterious find: The skeleton of a 7th-century teenager buried in an ornamental bed along with a gold-and-garnet cross, an iron knife and a purse full of glass beads.

Experts say the grave is an example of an unusual Anglo-Saxon funerary practice of which very little is known. Just over a dozen of these “bed burials” have been found in Britain, and it’s one of only two in which a pectoral cross — meant to be worn over the chest — has been discovered.

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    ( University of Cambridge / Associated Press ) - In this undated image made available by the University of Cambridge in England early Friday March 16, 2012, shows a cross. Archaeologists excavating near Cambridge have stumbled upon a rare and mysterious find, the skeleton of a 7th-Century teenager buried in an ornamental bed along with a gold-and-garnet cross, an iron knife and a purse of glass beads. There is very little known about this funerary practice, which one archaeologist, Alison Dickens, said would open a window of knowledge into the transitional period when the pagan Anglo-Saxons were gradually adopting Christianity.
    ( University of Cambridge / Associated Press ) - In this undated image made available by the University of Cambridge in England early Friday, March 16, 2012, showing a buried skull. Archaeologists excavating near Cambridge have stumbled upon a rare and mysterious find, the skeleton of a 7th-Century teenager buried in an ornamental bed along with a gold-and-garnet cross, an iron knife and a purse of glass beads. There is very little known about this funerary practice, which one archaeologist, Alison Dickens, said would open a window of knowledge into the transitional period when the pagan Anglo-Saxons were gradually adopting Christianity.

( University of Cambridge / Associated Press ) - In this undated image made available by the University of Cambridge in England early Friday March 16, 2012, shows a cross. Archaeologists excavating near Cambridge have stumbled upon a rare and mysterious find, the skeleton of a 7th-Century teenager buried in an ornamental bed along with a gold-and-garnet cross, an iron knife and a purse of glass beads. There is very little known about this funerary practice, which one archaeologist, Alison Dickens, said would open a window of knowledge into the transitional period when the pagan Anglo-Saxons were gradually adopting Christianity.

One archaeologist said the burial opened a window into the transitional period when the pagan Anglo-Saxons were gradually adopting Christianity.

“We are right at the brink of the coming of Christianity back to England,” said Alison Dickens, the manager of Cambridge University’s Archaeological Unit. “What we have here is a very early adopter.”

The grave, dated between 650 and 680 A.D., was discovered about a year ago in a corner of Trumpington Meadows, a rural area just outside Cambridge that is slated for development.

Dickens said the teen’s grave was interesting because it had a mix of traditional grave goods — the knife, as well as a chain thought to hold a purse full of beads — along with a powerful symbol of Christian devotion.

The grave, she said, indicated “the beginning of the end of one belief system, and the beginning of another.”

The teenager’s jewelry — a solid gold cross about 3 1/2 centimeters (1 1/2 inches) wide, set with cut garnets — marks her out as a member of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. She was about 15, but her skeleton hasn’t yet been subjected to radiocarbon dating or isotopic analysis. Those techniques might help experts determine where and under what circumstances she grew up.

Howard Williams, a professor of archaeology at the University of Chester who is not connected to the discovery, said bed burials were very rare. He noted that they were an irregular feature of wealthy female graves in England and mainland Europe, suggesting that Anglo-Saxons may have looked across the Channel for inspiration.

“It’s part of a broader pan-European elite identity in life and in death,” he said.

Three sets of Anglo-Saxon remains were also found nearby, but it’s not clear to what degree any of the people buried there were related. As for the bed itself, there’s little left of it other than its iron fittings.

The rationale behind bed burials remains a matter of speculation.

“The word in Old English for ‘bed’ and ‘grave’ is the same because it’s ‘the place where you lie,’” Dickens said. “It is interesting that you have that association. You’re lying there — but just for a much longer time, I suppose.”
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Christa Jenneman
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« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2012, 10:58:06 pm »



http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/final-resting-place-british-archaeologists-discover-7th-century-teenager-buried-in-her-bed/2012/03/15/gIQAspAFES_story.html
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