Ancient Jewelry Discovered by Archeologists in England

A 1,300-year-old necklace offers new insights into the spread of Christianity in medieval Europe and the role of elite women.

ancient necklace found on construction site

In April of 2022, a centuries-old necklace and other artifacts were dug up at an early Anglo-Saxon burial site in England. The necklace likely belonged to a devout medieval woman of high social standing. More importantly, historians argue the team unknowingly uncovered perhaps the most significant female burial site from this period in Britain.

How the Dig Unfolded

A team of archeologists at the Museum of London Archeology was completing a dig on behalf of Vista. The construction company was looking to use the land to build a housing complex. During the dig, the team at MOLA came across a pit in the soil and then observed some gold.

“When the first glints of gold started to emerge from the soil, we knew this was something significant. However, we didn’t quite realize how special this was going to be,” said MOLA Site Supervisor Levente-Bence Balázs. The unearthed artifacts would soon become known as the “Harpole Treasure” after a nearby village.

Artifacts Found

Historic artifacts found in a burial site in England
Credit: Museum of London Archaeology

“It wasn’t just one or two items. That would have been incredible in its own,” Paul Thompson, who managed the excavation, told The Washington Post. “We have here the only complete example of this type of necklace excavated in modern archaeological standards.”

In addition to all the pieces of the necklace, the following artifacts were also found at the burial site:

  • Two decorated pots
  • A shallow copper dish

With the help of X-ray technology, archaeologists could also identify a second decorated cross buried deeper in the soil. This cross features at least four human faces cast in silver and arranged around the crucifix, which is a highly unusual detail.

Details of the 1,300-Year-old Necklace

ancient necklace found on construction site
Credit: Museum of London Archaeology

The necklace’s centerpiece is a pendant with a cross made of red garnets, which is thought to have originally been part of a hinged clasp before being repurposed as jewelry. The remaining necklace, which dates back between 630 and 670 AD, contains 30 trinkets, including:

  • Four garnets set in gold
  • Five glass pendants
  • Eight Roman gold coins
  • 12 beads

While similar pendants have been discovered in female burials from around this time period, the “Harpole Treasure” necklace is unique because of its incredible variety of pendants.

Significance of the Necklace

The significance of the necklace lies in its potential to provide new information about the spread of early Christianity in medieval Europe. The jewel also offers insight into the role played by elite women in shaping England’s Christian identity. Although the identity of the woman buried with the necklace is unknown, it is believed that she was either an abbess or a member of Saxon royalty.

The necklace is currently being held at the Museum of London Archaeology for further study and to undergo legal proceedings concerning the Treasure Act. It is unknown if or when the necklace and other artifacts will be displayed to the public. Stay tuned!

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