This week: The Harpole Treasure

Central pendant from necklace uncovered in the Harpole burial. IMAGE: © MOLA (Andy Chopping)

It was, according to Levente Bence Balázs, the leader of the Museum of London team that made the discovery, a moment that might most accurately be described as ‘an archaeologist’s dream’.

On 11 April 2022, Balázs was overseeing the penultimate day of an otherwise-routine dig in the village of Harpole, outside Northampton. ‘I was looking through a suspected rubbish pit when I saw teeth,’ he later told The Guardian. ‘Then two gold items appeared out of the earth and glinted at me.’

As Balázs went on to explain with understandable pride, what the team had uncovered was the ‘most significant early medieval female burial ever discovered in Britain’ – the intact grave of a high-status woman who had been laid to rest between 630 and 670 AD in ostentatious style, surrounded by a staggering array of burial goods.

The undoubted highlight of the find was an intricate 30-piece necklace of gold, garnets and other semi-precious stones – which, as we learn this week on The Past, has now been reconstructed, once again revealing its startling beauty after 1,300 years underground. The richest object of its type ever found in the UK, it has already been dubbed the Harpole Treasure.

In the latest issue of Current Archaeology magazine, editor Carly Hilts speaks to team members Paul Thompson and Lyn Blackmore about the significance of the find, and what their subsequent research can tell us about the mysterious woman with whom these splendid objects came to be buried.

Elsewhere this week, we have also been delving into the archives for more about the early medieval period: we revealed what ancient DNA can tell us about migration at the time; we learned about luxury living in Suffolk between the 5th and 8th centuries; and we even travelled to Ireland to examine changing patterns in early medieval burials.

And finally, if all that leaves you hungry for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around early medieval Britain. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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