Unveiling hidden mysteries: The Anglo-Saxon Harpole Treasure uncovers further secrets as an exceptional medieval silver cross is discovered.

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
July 9, 2023
The garnet is the first part of a medieval silver cross to be revealed by archaeologists

A large garnet has been found at the centre of a “unique” silver cross uncovered by archaeologists at an ancient burial site.

It is the latest discovery at Harpole, near Northampton, where a 1,300-year-old grave, thought to be of a woman of high status, has been uncovered.

The Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) said items, including jewellery, were “once in a lifetime” finds.

The cross has been recovered, but is still encased in earth.

Last month, archaeologists revealed they had found a gold necklace dating back to 630-670 AD, the Anglo-Saxon period, which they described as the richest of its type ever uncovered in Britain.

It consisted of at least 30 pendants and beads made of Roman coins, gold, garnets, glass and semi-precious stones.

Mola has named the findings the “Harpole Treasure”.

The 1,300-year-old necklace was found in an early medieval burial site in Northamptonshire
The necklace is made up of 30 pendants and beads made from Roman coins, gold and semi-precious stones

The burial also contained two decorated pots and a shallow copper dish.

X-rays made of blocks of soil lifted from the grave revealed an elaborately decorated cross, featuring depictions of human faces cast in silver.

The large and ornate piece has led Mola conservators to believe the woman may have been an early Christian leader.

Speaking about the findings, Paul Thompson, Mola project manager, said: “Suddenly we had a rubbish pit that turned into a burial beyond burials.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience to be working on something like this.”

While X-rays revealed the shape of a cross, it could be some time before the entire item can be seen, due to the slow, delicate process of removing all the earth from it.

A Mola spokeswoman said: “We haven’t excavated it from its block yet, so there are lots of questions we can’t answer. All we really know is the shape and that it is big and contains silver.”

Based on the X-rays taken several months ago, archaeologists knew it had a garnet at its centre.

“The central garnet is the first part of the cross we’ve reached,” she said.

Documenting the garnet find on Facebook, Mola wrote: “This size cross in this kind of burial is unique and makes us think the grave may have belonged to an early Christian leader.

“We can’t wait to see what else there is to find.”

Part of the X-ray of the cross shows the central garnet
The size of the unearthed cross can be seen in this full X-ray image

A skeleton found within the burial had fully decomposed leaving only tiny fragments of tooth enamel.

However, the grave finds suggested it was of a very devout high-status woman such as an abbess, royalty, or perhaps both, archaeologists said.

They added: “The combination of the incredible necklace and other grave goods means this is one of the most spectacular female early medieval burials ever discovered in the UK.”