UK’s Tutankhamun found behind Essex Aldi
The discovery of a “King of Bling” buried with his harp is testament to the riches of Saxon civilisation. Saxons permeated society at every level. Could we call this early pop culture?
A royal burial site found between a pub and Aldi supermarket has been hailed as the UK’s answer to Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Workers unearthed the grave, which contained dozens of rare artefacts, during roadworks in Prittlewell, near Southend, Essex.
Tooth enamel fragments were the only human remains, but experts say their “best guess” is that they belonged to a 6th-century, Anglo-Saxon prince.
The tomb had lain undisturbed for 1,400 years, and contained over 40 possessions, including a lyre, a sword, gold-plated cups and coins. The discovery of gold crosses laid onto the eyes suggest that it was a Christian burial (when Christianity was first appearing on the British Isles).
Locals are calling the Essex royal, the ‘King of Bling’ or the ‘Prince of Prittlewell’.
The prince’s grave casts new light on the entire Anglo-Saxon age of British history. For many years, these years were called the dark ages — a time of illiteracy and barbaric, warring kingdoms.
But now it is clear that Anglo-Saxon England was in fact a cosmopolitan hub of European culture, with close ties to Rome and Charlemagne’s sophisticated court.
The Prince of Prittlewell was buried with a flagon believed to have come from Syria. Coins with Arabic inscriptions from the period also show that trade routes stretched across Europe into the Middle East.
During the same period, it is known that monks in Northumbria produced the oldest-ever complete Bible in Latin, known as the Codex Amiatinus. The epic poem Beowulf gave rise to written English as we know it.
So should we re-write the history books?
Not long ago scientists discovered that although the Romans, Vikings and Normans may have ruled the British for hundreds of years, they left barely a trace on our DNA. The Anglo-Saxons were the only conquering force substantially to change the country’s genetic makeup. Most white Britons now owe almost 30% of their DNA to the ancestors of modern-day Germans.
Maybe this means we owe more to the Saxons than we thought? The invaders from Rome, Scandinavia and Normandy were ruling elites who didn’t mix with the uncouth natives. They imposed their cultures from above and, in this way, their stamp on the forming of Britain was colossal.
But surely the history of the ordinary masses is what really counts? So far, history has been dominated by the story of the winners. But the story of genetics is the story of the masses. And the masses were Saxon. Now we can add that Anglo-Saxon culture was capable of producing great art and literature. Isn’t this an early triumph for pop culture? And isn’t it perfect that it should emerge from between an Aldi supermarket and a pub in humble Essex?
- Would you like to live in Anglo-Saxon times?
- What is the point of studying relics from the distant past?
- Make a list of up to 10 of your most prized possessions. What do these objects say about you and your life?
- Write your own Anglo-Saxon themed poem, no more than one side of A4, about a warrior who faces a battle or a monster. Read a summary of Beowulf to help you.
Some People Say...
“Perhaps, in time, the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own.”Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- An ancient Anglo-Saxon burial mound was discovered during roadworks in Prittlewell, Essex, in 2013. From its contents, archaeologists have deduced that the person buried there was very high-status, probably royalty, and a very early Christian. After 15 years of being studied by experts, some of the artefacts will be on permanent display at Southend Central Museum from Saturday.
- What do we not know?
- Who exactly the ‘Prince of Prittlewell’ is, although we suspect it is King Seabert’s brother, who died a number of years before him. We don’t know a lot about how Anglo-Saxons lived. A lot of what we do know comes from a monk called Bede, who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People in about AD 731.
- Now the most famous pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, his tomb (and his famous gold death mask) was discovered in 1922. He died almost 3,000 years ago.
- An ancient musical instrument. It was stringed like a harp.
- King of the Franks between 742 and 814. He expanded the Frankish state and established himself as Holy Roman Emperor.
- Container for drink.