Archaeologists uncovered gold and gemstone treasures from the grave of “the most significant” medieval woman’s burial ever found in the U.K., experts said.
In preparation for the construction of a housing development in Northamptonshire, archaeologists excavated a “completely unremarkable” area, the Museum of London Archaeology said in a Dec. 7 news release. The “unremarkable” area, however, contained a very remarkable find.
Museum of London Archaeology site supervisor, Levente-Bence Baláz, said “When the first glints of gold started to emerge from the soil we knew this was something significant. However, we didn’t quite realize how special this was going to be.”
The excavation unearthed a woman’s burial site containing gold and gemstone pendants of a necklace, archaeologists said. Named the Harpole treasure, the necklace dated back 1,300 years to an early medieval period between 630 and 670 A.D.
The “astonishing” necklace is “the richest of its type ever uncovered” in the U.K., the release said. Archaeologists found 30 pendants and beads made of “Roman coins, gold, garnets, glass and semi-precious stones.”
The centerpiece of the necklace is a rectangular pendant with an intricate cross design, photos show. Deep red garnets set in gold form the main design with smaller gold spirals forming the backdrop.
Archaeologists are still excavating another “large ornate cross” found in the woman’s grave, the release said. This cross had silver-cast human faces at the end of two arms, X-ray photos show.
Excavations also unearthed two decorated pots and a smaller copper dish, the release said. Except for tiny fragments of tooth enamel, the skeleton has fully decomposed. Archaeologists speculated about what the necklace and grave may have looked like originally, photos show.
Experts believe the grave belonged to an elite, high status woman based on the treasures found there, the museum said. The cross motifs may indicate the woman was a leader of the early Christian church. Alternatively, she may have been royalty — or both.
“This find is truly a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” RPS Archaeology Consultant Simon Mortimer said in the release, “the sort of thing you read about in textbooks and not something you expect to see coming out of the ground in front of you.”
Researchers will continue studying the grave and its treasures, looking for any remaining organic material or residues that will shed light onto how the items were used, the release said.
Northamptonshire is about 70 miles northwest of London.