A 1,300-year-old gold and gemstone necklace found on the site of a new housing development marks the grave of a powerful woman who may have been an early Christian religious leader in Britain, archaeologists said on Dec. 6.
Experts say the necklace, uncovered with other items near Northampton in central England, is part of the most significant early medieval burial of a woman ever found in the U.K.
The woman is long gone, some tooth enamel is all that remains. But scientists say her long-buried trove will shed new light on life in 7th century England, a time when Christianity was battling with paganism for people’s allegiance.
The items are “a definite statement of wealth as well as Christian faith,” said Lyn Blackmore, a senior finds specialist at Museum of London Archaeology, which made the discovery.
“She was extremely devout, but was she a princess? Was she a nun? Was she more than a nun, an abbess? … We don’t know,” Blackmore said.
The Harpole Treasure, named for the village where it was found, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of London, was unearthed in April by archaeologists working with property developer Vistry Group on a neighborhood of new houses.
On one of the last days of the 10-week dig, site supervisor Levente-Bence Balázs noticed something glinting in the dirt. It turned out to be a rectangular gold pendant with a cross motif, inlaid with garnets, the centerpiece of a necklace that also contained pendants fashioned from gold Roman coins and ovals of semiprecious stones.
“These artifacts haven’t seen daylight in more than 1,300 years,” Balázs said. “To be the first person to actually see it, it’s just indescribable.”