Anglo-Saxon Warlord Burial Site Uncovered by Amateur Metal Detector Club

The remains of the warlord. (Credit: University of Reading)

(CN) — Amateur metal detectorists in Great Britain have uncovered the burial site of an Anglo-Saxon warlord which may alter the map of post-Roman Britain as we know it.

The discovery took place in southern Britain, in the mid-Thames region of Berkshire. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the gorgeous Thames valley, archeologists believe the remains must belong to someone important — because apparently hilltop property was reserved for the rich and powerful even 1,400 years ago.

A team of Archaeologists from the University of Reading along with local volunteers spent two weeks excavating the site in August. They completed a geophysical survey, test excavations and a full gravesite excavation in the hopes of turning up other valuable artifacts which may remain buried.

Dubbed the “Marlow Warlord” and standing six feet tall, quite large for his day, this individual was given the royal burial treatment. His entourage ensured that he was laid to rest with an assortment of fineries such as decorated swords, spears and scabbards, glass containers and other luxuries of the time. 

His sword ranks among the best-preserved sheathed swords from the time period found thus far — made of fine wood and leather, complete with intricately detailed bronze fittings.

“This guy would have been tall and robust compared to other men at the time, and would have been an imposing figure even today,” said Gabor Thomas, a specialist in early medieval archaeology at the University of Reading. “The nature of his burial and the site with views overlooking the Thames suggest he was a respected leader of a local tribe and had probably been a formidable warrior in his own right.”

The archaeology department at the University of Reading plans to conduct a complete analysis on the Marlow Warlord’s remains to determine his age, health, diet and geographical origins. The other objects are at the moment being conserved by Pieta Greaves of Drakon Heritage and Conservation.

“This is a great example of archaeologists and metal-detectorists working together,” said Michael Lewis, Head of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. “Especially important is the fact that the finders stopped when they realised they had discovered something significant and called in archaeological assistance. By doing so they ensure much more could be learnt about this interesting burial.”

Originally found by Sue and Mick Washington, a pair of British metal detector enthusiasts with the Maidenhead Search Society, the pagan burial site lay undisturbed for nearly a millennium and a half. Sue and Mick previously located the site on two separate occasions, finding a pair of bronze bowls which they donated to the Buckinghamshire Museum in Aylesbury.

“On two earlier visits I had received a large signal from this area which appeared to be deep iron and most likely not to be of interest,” Sue Washington said. “However, the uncertainty preyed on my mind and on my next trip I just had to investigate, and this proved to be third time lucky!”

The pair alerted the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a British group dedicated to recording the increasing number of small finds by amateur archeologists, to the burial site’s presence on the hunch that more artifacts may yet remain hidden. The PAS excavated the site and unearthed the bronze bowls, and in the process discovered a pair of iron spearheads which led them to conclude that more treasures awaited them just under the surface.

“This the first burial of its kind found in the mid-Thames basin, which is often overlooked in favour of the Upper Thames and London, ” said Thomas. “It suggests that the people living in this region may have been more important than historians previously suspected.

The early Anglo-Saxon period was a transformative time in Britain following the collapse of Roman administration around 400 AD, leaving a power vacuum just waiting to be filled.

The period saw extensive immigration from continental Europe which dramatically changed and shaped the island’s makeup going forward. A century later, in the time of the Marlow Warlord, tribal groups occupying England began vying for control in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Kent.

The University of Reading is currently crowdfunding efforts for further conservation work and hopes to put some of the finds on display at the Buckinghamshire Museum in 2021.

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