A beautiful gold and garnet cross, found on the breast of a teenage girl buried lying on her own bed about 1,300 years ago, has been presented to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge.
The girl’s grave was found in 2011 by University of Cambridge archaeologists only a few miles from the museum, on land at Trumpington being developed for housing. The bed on which she lay – probably her own – had rotted into the soil centuries ago leaving only the iron supports, but the cross stitched onto the dress which became her shroud was still gleaming.
Both bed burials and Anglo-Saxon jewellery of such regal quality are exceptionally rare finds. A handful of such burials from the late 7th century have been discovered, all believed to be of women, but only one other had a cross.
The cross suggests that she was an early Christian convert, but she was buried between 650 and 680 AD in the pagan style with grave goods which were probably also treasured possessions, including gold and garnet pins, an iron knife, glass beads and a chain which probably hung from her belt. She was found among a group of burials, possibly of relatives, on a site with no previously known Anglo-Saxon connections.
Her bones suggest that she was about 16, and there was no obvious cause of death. She would certainly have been from the Anglo-Saxon elite. Gold and garnet jewellery of such quality was once associated with the women of a royal family in Kent, but pieces are now turning up along the east coast of England. A beautiful brooch was recently reported, found by a student metal detectorist in Norfolk.
The cross is thought to be worth more than £80,000, but has been presented to the museum by the landowners, Grosvenor.
Jody Joy, senior curator at the museum, described it as “a beautiful, mysterious artefact”, which would allow the museum to tell the story of the coming of Christianity to the region.
“The Trumpington Cross and other materials recovered from the dig are of international quality and significance – but with the strongest connections to Cambridge and the surrounding settlements.”
The cross and the girl’s other possessions are being put on temporary display at the museum while a permanent case is being commissioned.