Archaeologists in the U.K. have revealed new details of the earliest Christian royal burial ever found in Britain, which they compared to the famous King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
In 2003, road workers in the village of Prittlewell in southern England accidentally uncovered the 1,400-year-old Anglo-Saxon tomb, which was then excavated by archaeologists. “They discovered an astonishingly well-preserved burial chamber adorned with rare and precious objects; however, many of the burial chamber’s secrets lay concealed beneath centuries of earth and corrosion and have only been revealed now,” explained in a statement the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), which led the research.
The discoveries include a gold buckle, which indicates a high-status burial, possibly a prince. Two small gold-foil crosses found at the head of the coffin suggest a Christian burial. “The position of the two gold coins suggests that he may have held one in each hand,” explains MOLA.
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Other finds include a 1,400-year-old painted box, which is described as the only surviving example of early Anglo-Saxon painted woodwork, and the remains of a long-lost lyre, an ancient musical instrument. “This is the first time the complete form of an Anglo-Saxon lyre has been recorded,” explained MOLA. “The wooden lyre had almost entirely decayed save for a soil stain within which fragments of wood and metal fittings were preserved in their original positions.”
Intriguingly, two of the fittings in the lyre are almandines, minerals that are likely from the Indian sub-continent or Sri Lanka, according to experts. At some point in its life, the lyre had also been broken in two and put back together using iron, gilded copper alloy repair fittings, according to experts
Gleaming glassware and an elaborate water vessel from the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps Syria, have also been excavated from the site.
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“This is a really rich burial. It’s a statement, it’s a theatrical statement being made about the family, about this person,” said Liz Barham, a senior conservator at Museum of London Archaeology who worked on the dig.
Sophie Jackson, director of research and engagement at Museum of London Archaeology, said the discovery is “our equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb.” While the identity of its occupant is unknown, locals have nicknamed him the “Prittlewell Prince.”
Fragments of tooth enamel – the only human remains uncovered – revealed he was over 6 years old, and the size of the coffin suggests he was about 5 foot, 8 inches (1.73 meters) tall.
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Jackson said the “best guess” is that it was Seaxa, brother of King Saebert, the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity.
She said the burial came at a time when Christianity was vying in Britain with older pagan beliefs.
“They would have been just on the transition between having pagan burials with all your gear, but also having these crosses,” she said.
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The Anglo-Saxons were descendants of Germanic tribes who gradually invaded England by sea starting in the fifth century, after the collapse of the Roman Empire. They came to rule the country until the Norman conquest in 1066.
Other U.K. sites offer a fascinating glimpse into the country’s rich history. A missing piece of Stonehenge has been returned 60 years after it went missing during an archaeological excavation.
Workers preparing to lay new water pipes in southern England also recently discovered a gruesome ancient burial site. Some 26 human skeletons from the Iron Age and Roman periods were found at the site in Childrey Warren, Oxfordshire, some of which are believed to be ritual burials.
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In Scotland, a 14-year-old schoolboy helped uncover long-lost medieval stone carvings in a church graveyard. The stones were previously thought to have been accidentally destroyed when a neighboring shipyard building was demolished in the 1970s.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers