Anglo-Saxon burial ground discovery

Gold found in Anglo-Saxon cemetery

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered a 1,400-year-old burial ground filled with gold jewellery and ancient artifacts at a secret location in the North-East, it was revealed last night.Experts hailed the find as one of the best examples of an Anglo- Saxon burial ground ever uncovered – and may even have been the final resting place of a king or queen.The 109-grave cemetery was discovered on land in Loftus, east Cleveland.It is arranged in a rectangular pattern and dates from the middle of the 7th Century.The cemetery, bed burial and high status objects are considered to all indicate the people buried must have connections with Anglo-Saxon royalty.The finds were unveiled at Kirkleatham Museum, in Redcar, east Cleveland, yesterday, where it is hoped they will eventually go on permanent display.An aerial photograph, showing evidence of an Iron Age site, gave archaeologist Steve Sherlock the first clues to the buried treasure.His finds include gold and silver brooches that may have connections with the kings of Northumbria.The excavations, which began in 2005 and continued under Mr Sherlock’s supervision with help from Tees Archaeology and local volunteers, working four to six weeks every summer, have covered an area the size of half a football pitch.Mr Sherlock said: “I knew the significance of the site straight away after being involved in excavating an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Norton, but I couldn’t believe it – you don’t find sites like this twice in your career.

“And it’s grown each year. The first year we found 30 graves, but I didn’t expect to find any more.

Then last year, we found another 13 and this year has been even more spectacular, finding the fantastic plan of the site, actually showing a social order.

“While human bone does not survive because of the acidic soils, a range of high status jewellery was found, including glass beads, pottery, iron knives and belt buckles. Five of the graves had gold and silver brooches and a further burial had a seax – a type of Anglo-Saxon knife.

“One burial had been placed upon a bed with the lady dressed wearing three gold brooches, one of which is unparalleled in Anglo-Saxon England. Quite who this person was we may never know, but we can say she was alive at the time St Hilda was establishing the monastery at Whitby.”

The Teesside coroner needs to conduct an inquest to confirm the treasure definition and the finds will then be valued by a panel of experts from the British Museum.

Robin Daniels, of Tees Archaeology, said: “It is the most dramatic find of Anglo Saxon material for generations.

“I was stunned – it is not the kind of site you expect to find in this part of the world. There is nothing to indicate that we should have a royal cemetery near Loftus.”

Traditionally, Anglo-Saxon royalty were always buried in the South of England and it is thought the royals buried at the Loftus site could be linked to the Kentish Princess Ethelburga, who travelled north to marry Edwin, King of Northumbria.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council’s cabinet member for culture, leisure and tourism, Councillor Sheelagh Clarke, said: “It is a great thrill for all of us – for everyone who has been involved with it. It was so poignant to see the children’s and babies’ graves. It brought home how hard life was for people in that day in age. It is quite incredible how they came to be here, but that is a million dollar question – how did a royal family come to be in Loftus?”

Further reading

British Archaeology

Sherlock, S. J. & Simmons, M, 2008, ‘The lost royal cult of Street House Yorkshire’ British Archaeology, 100 : 30-37

Sherlock, S. J. The Excavation of an Iron Age Settlement at Street House, Loftus, North East Yorkshire 2004–2006

Update: Royal jewels


Update: Loftus residents get sneaky look at Anglo-Saxon treasure

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4 comments on “Anglo-Saxon burial ground discovery

  1. High status is one thing, and that kind of stuff probably justifies the appellation—though I remember a stone cairn grave in Sussex I read about that was about that well ornamented and didn’t attract so much attention—but the inevitable slide towards `royal’ must be setting other teeth on edge as well as mine.

    Two years ago I went to an excellent paper by Chris Loveluck, who was saying that now `high-status’ goods like this have been found at so many sites along the East Coast that the term `high-status’ has effectively become meaningless and some other key is needed to identify genuinely significant social rank. He suggested a bone record that included dolphin, which is rare and was hard to get, but most sites already dug have not had the animal bone analysed, so we can’t go back…

  2. saesferd says:

    Thank you for your comments, Jonathan.
    I must admit, I baulked at putting ‘royal’ in the title and definitely not wanting to use the sensationalist ‘treasure’, I plumped for ‘high-status’ instead. However, the title is too long and only five out of 109 graves had gold or silver brooches, so the epithet hardly applied to the whole cemetery, so I’ve condensed the title.

  3. anglosaxoncsi says:

    please have a look at anglosaxoncsi.wordpress.com – this is a blog set up to record a unique project set up in kent to conserve the finds from an anglo-saxon cemetery site found in the area, thanks. This is an exciting and unique community project and although there is not many gold finds as in the stafforshire hoard we do have exciting mineral preserved organics!

    great blog by the way!

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