A stunning necklace of gold and precious stones has been found in a 1,300-year-old female burial in the UK

Archaeologists from London’s Museum of Archeology (MOLA) have discovered a stunning 1,300-year-old necklace in Northamptonshire. The discovery came during excavations carried out prior to the construction of a residential development for the Vistry Group supported by archaeological consultancy RPS.

This necklace, dating from between AD 630 and 670, is the richest of its kind ever discovered in Britain, with at least 30 stunning pendants and beads made of Roman coins, gold, agate, glass and semi-precious stones.

It was found as part of a high-ranking female tomb containing other interesting grave goods that are still under investigation. The collection of finds has been called “Harpole’s Treasure”, after the local parish.

Reconstruction of Harpole Cemetery | Photo by MOLA/Hugh Gatt

Experts believe it is the largest female tomb ever discovered in Britain. Levente-Bence Balázs, deposit supervisor at MOLA and head of the five-person team that made the discovery, says: When sparkles of gold started appearing on Earth, we knew it was something big. However, we didn’t realize how special it would be. We are fortunate to be able to use modern methods of analyzing the finds and the burial surrounding them to gain much deeper insight into this person’s life and last rites..

The rectangular cross pendant forms the central part of the necklace and is the largest and most intricate element. Made of garnet inlaid with gold, MOLA specialists believe it was originally a half-hinged lock before it was reintroduced.

necklace | Photo by MOLA/Hugh Gatt

The burial also contained two decorated vessels and a shallow copper plate. However, x-rays of earth blocks removed from the tomb revealed another baffling discovery: a stunning, elaborately decorated crucifix, with unusual depictions of human faces cast in silver.

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The earthen blocks are being carefully excavated by MOLA restoration officials, but this large ornate piece indicates that the woman may have been an early Christian leader. However, the combination of funerary goods suggests that this was a woman of high status, such as an abbess, royalty, or possibly both.

The MOLA curators do a meticulous job of examining and preserving the finds. This includes identifying and recording organic remains within the burial and on the surface of the artifacts. It is possible that the deceased was placed on a bed inside the tomb and remnants of soft furniture were found.

Some parts of the necklace | Photo by MOLA/Andy Chopping

The analysis can also discover remains that show how artifacts were used in life or in burial rituals. There was another burial nearby, but it does not contain any graves of high rank, and it was not possible to date it with certainty. Archaeologists have searched the entire site and are confident that nothing else can be found.

Similar necklaces from this period have been discovered in other parts of England, but none as ornate as the Harpole. The closest resemblance is the Desborough necklace, which was found in Northamptonshire in 1860 and is now in the collections of the British Museum.

Daniel Oliver, Regional Technical Director for Vestry West Midlands, says: Vestry is pleased to confirm that these artifacts of international importance will be donated to the nation and any entitlement to the Treasury has been waived. We are well aware of the legacy we leave among the communities we build.

A human face cast in silver is in the element of the cross | Amazing Photos

Liz Mordo, Archaeological Adviser to Northamptonshire Council concludes: This is an exciting find that will shed great light on the importance of Northamptonshire in Saxon times. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of archeology in the planning and development process..


Sources

Archeology Museum in London | RPS group

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