Early Medieval Elegance

Digs & Discoveries March/April 2023

(MOLA/Andy Chopping)

A 1,300-year-old grave unearthed during construction of a housing complex in Northamptonshire has been hailed as the most significant early medieval female burial discovered in Britain. The collection of artifacts within the grave, which has been dubbed the Harpole Treasure, includes a necklace that is the most opulent of its type ever recovered. Composed of more than 30 pendants made from Roman coins, gold, glass, and semiprecious stones, the necklace has a cross-shaped gold and garnet centerpiece.

Archaeologists lifted blocks of soil from the area immediately surrounding the burial and brought them back to a laboratory for further analysis. These have yet to be fully excavated, but X-rays have revealed some of the grave’s other precious artifacts, including an ornate silver cross bearing depictions of human faces. Although few skeletal remains survive, researchers from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) believe that the objects likely belonged to a woman who died in the seventh century A.D. “The objects discovered in this burial and the sheer amount of Christian symbolism suggest she was a high-status individual,” says MOLA senior finds specialist Lyn Blackmore, “and may have been an early Christian leader.” 

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