Washington, April 12 : Archaeologists have excavated a seventh century grave from the center of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in England, which has revealed a woman's jewelry-draped body, leading scientists to believe that she might have lead a pagan cult.
According to a report in Discovery News, the jewelry, which was found in a grave in Yorkshire, included a large shield-shaped pendant, the layout and location of the cemetery as well as excavated weaponry, such as knives and a fine langseax (a single-edged Anglo-Saxon sword).
These findings have lead scientists to believe that the woman found in the grave might have been a member of royalty, who led a pagan cult at a time when Christianity was just starting to take root in the region.
"I believe it is a cult because of the arrangement of graves, the short period of the cemetery's use and the bed burial and burial mound that is almost in the center of the very regular cemetery," archaeologist Stephen Sherlock, who directed the project, told Discovery News.
"The whole focus of the cemetery is based upon the bed burial. It is our view that this was erected first and the other graves were dug around it," he added.
Remains of a sunken-floored building, possibly used as a mortuary chapel where the body might have been laid to rest prior to her funeral, exist near the cemetery's entrance. A roundhouse and the burial mound also stand within the square.
The bed burial itself consists of a wooden bed held together, and decorated with, iron.
Artifacts within the grave included two gemstone pendants, gold and glass beads, a jet pin or hairpiece, and the shield pendant that was unique for the time, according to Sherlock and colleague Mark Simmons.
Mounted by a central blue gemstone, the piece has scalloped-shaped carving with 11 separate lobes and a scalloped lower edge. Small red gems resting on gold foil, which would have reflected light when the piece was worn, surround the central stone.
Although the site's acidic soil eroded the woman's remains, the age of the cemetery and its location provide clues to her identity.
According to Sherlock, "likely suspects" include Ethelburga, the wife of King Edwin of Northumbria, who converted to Christianity and was made a saint. Other possibilities are Eanflaed, the wife of King Oswiu, or Oswiu's daughter, Aelflaed.
"Her bed burial is stridently pagan, a sort of rare, female equivalent of ship burials, as she is laid out on a vehicle to deliver her to the afterworld," said archaeologist Mike Pitts.