Garnet stone emerges from Harpole cross

Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) archaeologists have revealed a large garnet at the center of the silver cross from the exceptionally wealthy 7th century bed burial found at Harpole, Northamptonshire, England.

Discovered last April, the burial of an elite Saxon-era woman contained an ornate necklace with an unprecedented number of pendants made of garnets, semi-precious stones, Roman gold coins (all from the reign of Theodosius I, 379-395 A.D.) and glass pendants separated by gold wire spacer beads. The necklace is the largest, finest and most ornate example of its kind.

Another uniquely large and elaborate artifact was found on the torso of the deceased. It was removed in a soil block to be excavated in a conservation laboratory. An X-ray of the soil block revealed it contained a huge silver cross mounted on wood. The cross is too big to have been worn as a jewel. It may have been meant to be carried in processions or used as a devotional object on an altar.

The cross is a foot long from top to bottom and is adorned with more crosses. There are Canterbury crosses 4 cm (1.6 inches) wide at the end of the cross-arms arm and the bottom of the descending arm. At the center point of the crossarm is an equal-armed cross 8 cm (3.15 inches) wide. Between each of the arms of the central cross are oval human faces cast in silver with blue glass eyes.

MOLA conservators are currently micro-excavating the soil block, using the X-ray as a guide map. While the arms are still encased in soil, the square stone at the center has now been exposed. It is a pyramid square cabochon garnet and judging from the photograph, it is in excellent condition.

The burial dates to between 630 and 670 A.D. At that time, Harpole was part of the Kingdom of Mercia which was smack in the middle of converting to Christianity. The first introduction of Christianity to Mercia came in 628 when the pagan King Penda conquered Christian Saxon-held territories. Penda’s son Peada sealed the deal in 655 when he converted to Christianity and agreed to evangelize and convert his subjects as a condition of his marriage to Alchflaed, the daughter of King Oswiu of Northumbria.

The woman buried in this grave had to have been Christian and someone of very high social status to boot. The size of the cross suggests she may have been a religious leader.

10 thoughts on “Garnet stone emerges from Harpole cross

  1. About the website design: any chance of putting the full posts in the home page ?
    It was really nice seeing all the pictures in one glance, by just scrolling.

  2. Question for the admin: why are you ignoring my help with the webdesign? In these years I tried to contact you twice: but to no avail. I still haven’t got any response from you.

    The existing UI is terrible and the website should be renovated if you don’t want to lose your auditory.

    I’m writing this because of the recent update of the layouts. I’m not sure that it was a good idea. Actually, the UX is even worse than it was before.

  3. It may be possible to do chemical analysis on the garnets to determine their original origin. IIRC many of the garnets used in Anglo-Saxon jewelry originatd in Central Europe. Garnets are pretty common geologically but large, gem quality ones are fairly rare.

    1. Judging from the photo this one looks to be a particularly nice one, very tall, beautifully polished. Compared to the center stone of the pectoral cross found in this bed burial from the same period, which is a flat inlay backed with gold like you see in the Staffordshire Hoard, it really is a whole other dimension of gemstone.

  4. I don’t like reading the site in this format 🙁
    Please redo this. Its too much work to look at the articles.

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