Harpole Treasure reveals a medieval garnet on a “unique” cross.

Archaeologist examining a garnet

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

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

It is the latest discovery in Harpole, near Northampton, where a 1,300-year-old grave has been uncovered, believed to be of a high-ranking woman.

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

The cross was recovered, but is still embedded in the earth.

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

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

Mola called the results “Harpole Treasure”.

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

X-rays made of soil blocks lifted from the grave revealed a richly decorated cross, with depictions of human faces cast in silver.

The large, ornate piece has led Mola’s conservatives to believe that the woman may have been an early Christian leader.

Speaking about the findings, Paul Thompson, project manager at Mola, said: “Suddenly we had a waste 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 can be seen, due to the slow and delicate process of removing all the earth from it.

Radiograph 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 dug it out of its block yet, so there are a lot of questions we can’t answer. All we really know is the shape and that it’s large and contains silver.”

Based on X-rays taken several months ago, archaeologists knew it had a garnet in the center.

“The central garnet is the first part of the cross that we’ve reached,” he 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 cross in this type of burial is unique and makes us think the grave may have belonged to an early Christian leader.

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

Reconstruction of Harpole's burial

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

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

However, finds from the tomb suggested that she was a very pious high-ranking woman 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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