Harpole Treasure Reveals Medieval Garnet on ‘Unique’ Cross

Garnet is the first part of a medieval silver cross revealed by archaeologists

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

This is the latest find at Harpole, near Northampton, where a 1,300-year-old grave believed to be that of a high-ranking woman has been discovered.

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

The cross was recovered, but it is still buried in the ground.

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

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

Mola named the finds “Harpole’s treasure”.

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

X-rays taken from blocks of earth lifted from the tomb revealed an elaborately decorated cross, with depictions of human faces cast in silver.

The large ornate room led restorers at Mola to believe that the woman may have been an early Christian leader.

Speaking of the findings, Paul Thompson, Mola Project Manager, said: “Suddenly we had a garbage pit that turned into a burial beyond burials.

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

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

X-ray of a cross found in Northamptonshire

Part of the x-ray of the cross shows the central garnet

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

From x-rays taken several months ago, archaeologists knew there was a garnet in its center.

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

X-ray image of a cross

The size of the unearthed cross can be seen in this full x-ray image

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

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

Harpole's funeral reconstruction

An artist’s impression shows what the high-ranking woman’s grave may have looked like

A skeleton found in the burial had completely decomposed, leaving only tiny fragments of tooth enamel.

However, finds at the tomb suggest it was a very pious woman of high status, such as an abbess, royalty or possibly both, archaeologists said.

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

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