The finds include spectacular gold jewellery believed to date from the middle of the 7th Century. Courtesy Tees Archaeology
A series of remarkable finds from the only known Anglo Saxon royal burial site in the North of England were unveiled to the public for the first time at Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar on Tuesday, November 20.
The finds, which include spectacular gold jewellery, weapons and items of clothing, were unearthed at Loftus, Teeside by freelance archaeologist Steve Sherlock together with volunteers and members of Tees Archaeology at a 109-grave site believed to date to the 7th century.
An aerial photograph, showing evidence of an Iron Age site, gave Steve the first clues to the treasure-filled Anglo Saxon site, which are traditionally only found in the south of England.
"I knew the significance of the site straight away after being involved in excavating an Anglo Saxon cemetery at Norton, but I couldn't believe it - you don't find sites like this twice in your career,” said Steve.
"And it's grown each year, the first year we found 30 graves, but I didn't expect to find any more, then in 2006 we found another 13 and this year has been even more spectacular, finding the fantastic plan of the site, actually showing a social order."
The site included an unparalleled arrangement of graves with an entrance way to the south. Courtesy Tees Archaeology
Excavations began in 2005 and continued under Steve's supervision in four and six-week stints every summer, in the end the team uncovered an area the size of half a football pitch.
The human remains had not survived because of the acidic soils, but what remained was a range of high status jewellery, including glass beads, pottery, iron knives and belt buckles. Five of the graves had gold and silver brooches and a further burial had a seax, a type of Anglo-Saxon sword.
The site included a low burial mound and an unparalleled arrangement of graves with an entrance way to the south. Among the finds are three spectacular gold brooches, one of which is belived to be "unparalleled" in Anglo-Saxon jewellery.
“It’s a gold brooch with red garnet settings,” said Steve, “it must have been commissioned from the best craftsmen in Anglo Saxon England and I think it would have been the jewellery of an Anglo Saxon Princess.”
Steve believes there must be a connection between his Princess and St Hilda, who founded an abbey on Whitby Headland in 657AD.
“I date the brooch to around 650 AD and I think this person must have known St Hilda. Whitby Abbey is only ten miles from the site and if they are not from the same family then I think they must be from the same social system.”
After working on the site every summer, the team uncovered an area the size of half a football pitch near Loftus. Courtesy Tees Archaeology
What makes the find even more remarkable is that Steve wasn’t originally looking for Anglo Saxon remains but rather the Iron Age site that sits on top of it. Once the Iron Age remains had been recorded, the remarkable series of graves were uncovered undisturbed by man or plough, sitting a mere 25 cm into the ground.
“It’s the most spectacular site I have ever worked on,” said Steve, “On one site I have an Iron Age settlement with the remains of houses and floor surfaces, and underneath it a high status Anglo Saxon cemetery – two fantastic sites rolled into one.”
A full valuation by experts at the British Museum is in the pipeline but archaeologists are working in partnership with the local council who are committed to acquiring the collection and displaying it in Kirkleatham Museum.