The discovery of spectacular gold jewellery in a mid-7th century cemetery on land near Redcar,Teesside, is being hailed as ‘the most dramatic find of Anglo-Saxon material for generations’ by Tees Archaeology Officer Robin Daniels. The quality of the jewellery, along with associated weapons and clothing, suggests that this is a royal burial site. If so, it is the only known Anglo-Saxon royal burial site in the north of England.
The site was discovered by freelance archaeologist Steve Sherlock who found it through studying aerial photographs. Working for six weeks every summer, the site has been excavated under Steve Sherlock’s supervision using volunteers and local archaeologists. Some 109 graves have been found an area the size of half a football pitch, and while bone preservation is very poor because of the acidic nature of the soils, a number of grave goods has been found, including jewellery, 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 sword’, Steve Sherlock said, while one lady had been placed upon a bed with three gold brooches, one of which is ‘unparalleled’ in Anglo-Saxon England but comparable in style to finds from Sutton Hoo, with garnets set in gold filigree. Preliminary analysis of the finest of the three brooches suggests it was made with Merovingian gold, indicating possible Continental links. The other brooches are all thought to have originated in Kent.
Such high status objects are being interpreted as evidence of connections with Anglo-Saxon royalty. ‘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,’ Steve Sherlock said. There might also be a link to the Kentish Princess Ethelburga, who travelled north to marry Edwin, King of Northumbria, in AD 625, though Ethelburga herself is thought to be buried at Lyming, near Canterbury, where she established a nunnery.
At the other end of the country, builders working on new classrooms at Twyford School, near Winchester, have discovered a cemetery of similar date: archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology recovered 19 burials, laid out in shallow graves cut into the chalk, accompanied by grave goods including knives, shield bosses, and disc brooches, which appear to date the cemetery to the 6th -7th century. Paul McCulloch, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology, said, ‘The first time Twyford is mentioned in historical sources is in the 7th century. We think the burials may date right back to this time’.