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Face of Anglo-Saxon teen VIP revealed with new evidence about her life

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The face of a 16-year-old woman buried near Cambridge (UK) in the 7th century with an incredibly rare gold and garnet cross (the ‘Trumpington Cross’) has been reconstructed following analysis of her skull.

The striking image is going on public display for the first time on 21st June, with new scientific evidence showing that she moved to England from Central Europe as a young girl, leading to an intriguing change in her diet.

Forensic artist Hew Morrison created the likeness using measurements of the woman’s skull and tissue depth data for Caucasian females. Without DNA analysis, Morrison could not be sure of her precise eye and hair colour, but the image offers a strong indication of her appearance shortly before she died.

Hew Morrison said: “It was interesting to see her face developing. Her left eye was slightly lower, about half a centimetre, than her right eye. This would have been quite noticeable in life.”

New “you are what you eat” isotopic analysis of the young woman’s bones and teeth conducted by bioarchaeologists Dr Sam Leggett and Dr Alice Rose, and archaeologist Dr Emma Brownlee, during PhD research at the University of Cambridge also reveals that she moved to England from somewhere near the Alps, perhaps southern Germany, sometime after she turned 7 years old.

Leggett and Rose also found that once the girl had arrived in England, the proportion of protein in her diet decreased by a small but significant amount. This change occurred close to the end of her young life, showing that the period between her migration and burial near Cambridge was tragically short.

Dr Leggett, now at the University of Edinburgh, said: “She was quite a young girl when she moved, likely from part of southern Germany, close to the Alps, to a very flat part of England. She was probably quite unwell and she travelled a long way to somewhere completely unfamiliar – even the food was different. It must have been scary.”

Previous analysis indicated that the young woman had suffered from illness but her cause of death remains unknown. She was buried in a remarkable way – lying on a carved wooden bed wearing the cross, gold pins (also on display) and fine clothing.

Hers is one of only 18 bed burials ever uncovered in the UK. Her ornate cross, combining gold and garnets (third quarter of the 7th century), is one of only five of its kind ever found in Britain and identifies her as one of England’s earliest converts to Christianity and as a member of the aristocracy if not royalty. The best known example of such a cross was found in the coffin of St Cuthbert.

In 597 AD, the pope dispatched St Augustine to England on a mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings, a process which continued for many decades.

Dr Leggett said: “She must have known that she was important and she had to carry that on her shoulders. Her isotopic results match those of two other women who were similarly buried on beds in this period in Cambridgeshire.

“So it seems that she was part of an elite group of women who probably travelled from mainland Europe, most likely Germany, in the 7th century, but they remain a bit of a mystery. Were they political brides or perhaps brides of Christ? The fact that her diet changed once she arrived in England suggests that her lifestyle may have changed quite significantly.”

Dr Sam Lucy, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon burial from Newnham College, Cambridge, who published the Anglo-Saxon excavations at Trumpington*, said:

“These are intriguing findings, and it is wonderful to see this collaborative research adding to our knowledge of this period. Combining the new isotopic results with Emma Brownlee’s research into European bed burials really does seem to suggest the movement of a small group of young elite women from a mountainous area in continental Europe to the Cambridge region in the third quarter of the seventh century.

“Southern Germany is a distinct possibility owing to the bed burial tradition known there. Given the increasingly certain association between bed burial, such cross-shaped jewellery, and early Anglo-Saxon Christianity, it is possible that their movement related to pan-European networks of elite women who were heavily involved in the early Church.”

Dr Jody Joy, the exhibition’s co-curator, said: “The story of this young woman goes to the very heart of what our exhibition is all about – new research making visible the lives of people at pivotal moments of Cambridgeshire’s history. MAA holds one of Britain’s most important collections of Early Medieval archaeology and the Trumpington bed burial is so important. It looks like it still has much more to teach us.”

In the exhibition, the ‘Trumpington Cross’ will be displayed together with the delicate gold and garnet pins connected by a gold chain, which were found near the teenager’s neck. These pins probably secured a long veil to an outer garment of fine linen. The pins would have caught the light as she moved. The burial bed’s decorative headboard will also be exhibited.

University of Cambridge

Header Image Credit : Hew Morrison ©2023

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Archaeology

Excavation of medieval shipbuilders reveals a Roman head of Mercury

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Excavations of a medieval shipbuilders has led to the discovery of a Roman settlement and a Roman head of Mercury.

The discovery was made at Smallhythe Place, a late 15th or early 16th century property managed by the National Trust near Tenterden in Kent, England.

Prior to the decline of the port and shipyard at Smallhythe during the 16th century, the local community played a crucial role in the shipbuilding industry, crafting vessels for notable figures, including members of royalty.

As part of a project funded by several UK institutions, over 60 volunteers from the National Trust participated in the excavation, along with professional archaeologists, students, and members of the Hastings Area Archaeological Research Group.

The excavation has revealed traces of a Roman settlement that was occupied between the 1st and 3rd centuries, including an incredibly rare figurine made of pipeclay that depicts the god, Mercury.

Mercury was a major god in the Roman pantheon and was associated with financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery, and thieves. He also served as the guide of souls to the underworld and was the messenger of the gods.

According to a press announcement by the National Trust: “This complete figurine probably would have depicted Mercury standing, either draped with a chlamys (a short cloak), or naked, holding a caduceus (a staff with two intertwined snakes).”

The team also unearthed thousands of artefacts, providing evidence of the evolution of Smallhythe Place from a Georgian farm to a midden dump, a shipbuilding site, and a brickworks.

The National Trust said: “To support our investigations, we received grants from the National Trust’s Inclusive Archaeology, Robert Kiln and the Roman Research Funds and from the Royal Archaeological Institute. During 2023, our project has received funding from the Society of Antiquaries and the William and Edith Oldham Charitable Trust.”

Header Image Credit : James Dobson

Sources : National Trust – Exploring Smallhythe Place: Archaeological Investigations by the River Rother

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Researchers find that Żagań-Lutnia5 is an Iron Age stronghold

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Archaeologists have conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey of Żagań-Lutnia5, revealing that the monument is an Iron Age stronghold.

Żagań-Lutnia5 was first discovered in the 1960s near the town of Żagań in western Poland, with previous studies suggesting that the monument could be associated with the Białowieża group of the Lusatian urnfield culture.

The Lusatian culture existed in the later Bronze Age and early Iron Age (1300–500 BC) in most of what is now Poland. It formed part of the Urnfield systems found from eastern France, southern Germany and Austria to Hungary, and the Nordic Bronze Age in northwestern Germany and Scandinavia.

A recent study led by Dr. Arkadiusz Michalak on behalf of the Archaeological Museum of the Middle Oder River has revealed two parallel sequences of magnetic anomalies at Żagań-Lutnia5 that represent the remnants of earthen and wooden fortifications.

The course of the fortifications were recorded in the northern, western and southern parts of the study area, however, a study of the eastern section was limited due to a sewage collector built in the 1990’s.

Exploratory excavations found four cultural layers with remains of huts and hearths, in addition to a burnt layer from the last phase of occupation that suggests a period of conflict.

According to the researchers, the monument was likely built by the same people who constructed the stronghold in Wicin and a number of verified defensive settlements within the area of the Elbe, Nysa Łużycka and Odra.

As a result of the study, Żagań-Lutnia5 has been added to the catalogue of verified Early Iron Age strongholds located in today’s Lubusz Voivodeship.

Header Image Credit : Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments

Sources : Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments – Archaeological research at the site of Żagań-Lutnia5

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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