(AFP) – Laid to rest in her best clothes and lying on an ornamental bed, she was probably of noble blood. Quite how the 16-year-old Anglo Saxon girl died and who she was remain a mystery. But she was buried wearing a gold cross – suggesting she was one of Britain’s earliest Christians.
1,400-year-old grave has been discovered by Cambridge University scientists, who described the find as ‘astonishing’.The burial site at Trumpington Meadows, a village near Cambridge, indicates Christianity had already taken root in the area as early as the middle of the 7th century.
The skeleton and Christian cross as they were found in Trumpington Meadows, Cambs – a site which has been confirmed as one of the UK’s earliest Christian burial sites
It was not long after St Augustine, a monk in Rome, was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English in the year 595.
Starting in Kent, his team of 40 missionaries slowly worked their way around the country and he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury two years later.
But progress is thought to have been slow and sometimes difficult, and Christians and pagans co-existed for many decades.
The new find gives an insight into this transition period as she was also buried with a knife and glass beads to use in the next life – a pagan tradition of ‘grave goods’ which goes against Christian beliefs.
Scientists have discovered the remains of one of Britain’s first ever Christians after unearthing a rare 1,400 year old Anglo-Saxon burial site
Dr Sam Lewsey, an expert in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, said: ‘This is an excessively rare discovery. It is the most amazing find I have ever encountered.
‘Christian conversion began at the top and percolated down. To be buried in this elaborate way, with such a valuable artefact, tells us that this girl was probably nobility or even royalty. This cross is the kind of material culture that was in circulation at the highest sphere of society.’
The grave is one of 13 Anglo Saxon ‘bed burials’ to be discovered. Usually reserved for noble women, they involved being laid to rest on a wood and metal frame topped with a straw mattress. Such burials are not found after the 7th century.
The girl’s inch-wide gold cross, studded with cut garnets, has been dated to between 650 and 680AD.
Pulling cross from the ground. The grave of a teenage girl from the 7th century AD has startled archaeologists
It was probably sewn into her clothing around the neck and may have been worn in her daily life. Four graves were found at the site, the others containing an individual in their 20s whose gender is unknown, and two girls in their late teens, who had no religious signs.
It raises the question of whether the woman buried with the cross had an official role in the fledgling Christian church.
Researchers will be doing tests on the bones to establish how the girl died, what her diet may have been and what medical condition she was in. Alison Dickens, who led the excavation for the University’s archaeological unit, said it was a ‘truly astonishing discovery’.
She added: ‘If and how she relates to the other three graves is a key aspect of our investigation – whether they are family, for example, as such a small set of graves is unusual, even before we get to the bed and cross.
‘The mysteries of who she was, why she was here, and why her grave merited such lavish treatment have certainly captured our imagination.’
NOTE from R2 Seeing these fantastic pictures & knowing all about this if fine, But I feel we should leave this young girl to rest in peace & not lift we out where her mum & dad laid her to rest all that time ago..