The Guardian has a really interesting story (“Cross and bed found in Anglo-Saxon grave shed new light on ‘dark ages’“) about how Cambridge archaeologists are thrilled by their recent discovery of a 7th century grave with body of young woman on a bed with an ornate gold cross:
The dead are often described as sleeping, but archaeologists in Cambridgeshire have uncovered a bed on which the body of a young Anglo-Saxon woman has lain for more than 1,300 years, a regal gold and garnet cross on her breast.
Forensic work on the first woman’s bones suggests she was about 16, with no obvious explanation for her early death. Although she was almost certainly a Christian, buried with the beautiful cross stitched into place on her gown, she was buried according to ancient pagan tradition with some treasured possessions including an iron knife and a chatelaine, a chain hanging from her belt, and some glass beads which were probably originally in a purse that has rotted away.
The story has many details about the modern use of the land where the young woman laid and we learn that it may have been a wealthy monastic settlement back in the day. There are no records of any church being on that land prior to the 12th century village church that was there.
I do wish there were a few more details:
Pectoral crosses from the dawn of Christianity in England, and bed burials – where the body was laid on a real bed, now traced only by its iron supports, centuries after the timber rotted – are both extremely rare.
There are many technical details shared about both the pectoral cross and the bed — we learn about the metalwork and stones and how rarely they have been found. One was found in the coffin of St. Cuthbert. I could have used more information, if we have it, of the significance of bed burials or the pectoral cross.
We’re told that all the bed burials that have been found have been from the same late 7th century date and that:
Lucy said the beds may well have been the ones the women used in life, as they are all believed to be pieces of real furniture, not made specially for a funeral ceremony. At Trumpington the evidence suggests the bed was lowered first into the ground, and then the body, uncoffined, laid on it.
It’s a great story and a fascinating read, but perhaps it would have been wise to include quotes about the religious significance of the find as well. If you’re interested in those details, the University of Cambridge itself has an interesting story with some additional background.