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England’s Earliest Known Christian Burial

A grave discovered in 2003 near Prittlewell in Essex County, UK, has finally been completely excavated. Dated to somewhere between 580 and 605 CE, it may well be the oldest Christian burial found in Britain yet. The large burial chamber held accoutrements that make archaeologists pretty sure the man buried there was wealthy, and might even have been royalty. King Saeberht was the first Anglo-Saxon ruler to convert to Christianity, but the dates aren't right for this to be his tomb.

It’s quite possible, however, that the tomb belonged to one of the king’s relatives—perhaps even a prince—as the tomb’s contents indicate that the individual was of wealthy and noble status. (All that’s left of the body is some tooth enamel, which tells us only that the individual was older than six when buried.) Researchers were also able to identify the individual as male based on the presence of weapons and a triangular, gold belt buckle within the tomb. They could identify him as Christian, finally, by the two gold-foil crosses by the head of the coffin, where they likely rested over the man’s eyes.

Read about the discovery at Atlas Obscura, and explore the find in an interactive website about the tomb.

(Image credit: MOLA)


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