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Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Trumpington Cross: a grave discovery

This week, the newspapers have been reporting a story about the archaeological discovery of an Anglo-Saxon burial site in a village near Cambridge. The grave, which dates from the mid 7th century, contains the body of a 16 year old woman lying on a bed of which only the fittings now remain.

A story interesting enough in itself, you might think, but what makes this doubly newsworthy is that the woman was buried with a solid gold cross at her neck. The Anglo-Saxons were pagans when they first arrived on our shores, and the spread of Christianity among them was a gradual process, so this find helps historians to date their knowledge more accurately.

Incidentally, the above facts led to a typical howler from the unreliable Yahoo! News team, who reported on the discovery of one of ‘Britain’s first Christians’, totally ignoring the early Celtic church, the Irish missionaries and their work, and even that the Romans themselves were Christianised before they left Britain centuries prior to the date of this burial!

The University of Cambridge website features a lengthy description of the excavation, along with a slideshow of related images and a video of experts discussing the finds. Michelle Ziegler’s excellent blog, Heavenfield, also explores the implications.

Once again, I’m struck by the exquisite detail of Anglo-Saxon jewellery; the cross itself is a thing of beauty. These may have been the Dark Ages, but not when it came to such intricate art and craftwork. The notion of a Saxon bed burial – described by researchers as ‘very rare’ and ‘extraordinary’ – is also a new one on me.

This find also paints an evocative picture: a young woman, possibly an early convert to Christianity in a pagan society, living close to the river Cam on the contested frontier land between Mercia and East Anglia. Was she a princess, a woman of power and status? Or perhaps a nun, living in a small commune with her fellow sisters? Was she struck down by the plague in the prime of her life?

We may never know the answers to these questions, but I hope the archaeologists are able to share more key details with us once they’ve completed their tests.


BBC News, Daily Mail


Rick said...

What a great story, Graham!