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Southend burial site ‘UK’s answer to Tutankhamun’

An archaeologist excavating at Prittlewell Image copyright Mola
Image caption The Prittlewell burial site was first discovered in 2003

A royal burial site found between a pub and Aldi supermarket has been hailed as the UK’s answer to Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Workmen unearthed the grave, which contained human remains and exotic artefacts, during road-widening works in Prittlewell, near Southend, Essex, in 2003.

Experts believe its occupant was Seaxa, a brother of 6th Century Anglo-Saxon king Saebert.

The site is thought to be the earliest example of its kind.

Archaeologists said golden foil crosses found inside suggested the grave belonged to an early Christian.

The burial chamber, which was about 13ft (4m) square and 5ft (1.5m) deep, contained some 40 artefacts.

Image copyright Mola
Image caption The tomb contained 40 artefacts including treasures from other kingdoms

Among them was a lyre and a 1,400-year-old box thought to be the only surviving example of painted Anglo-Saxon woodwork in Britain.

Gold coins, the gilded silver neck of a wooden drinking vessel, decorative glass beakers and a flagon believed to have come from Syria were also found.

The valuable collection, and presence of artefacts from other kingdoms, earned the grave’s unknown occupant the nicknames Prince of Prittlewell and the King of Bling.

‘Hairy beast Saxon warrior’

It had been thought the remains were those of King Saebert.

But carbon dating on fragments of tooth enamel has indicated the man inside died at least 11 years before the king met his end.

Archaeologists said the size of the coffin, and placement of items within it, suggested he was about 5ft 6in (1.68m) tall.

Sophie Jackson, from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), said “the best guess” was that the tomb had housed the king’s brother, Seaxa.

She said: “There’s a lot of debate about whether he was a fully-fledged hairy beast Saxon warrior, or younger.

“Had he died before he could really prove himself?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Jackson said no-one could have known what was beneath the “unpromising-looking” site
Image copyright Mola
Image caption Gold decorated drinking vessels were among the treasures found in the royal burial
Image copyright Mola
Image caption A lyre, a stringed musical instrument, was also among the finds
Image copyright Mola
Image caption The burial is believed to belong to Seaxa, the brother of King Seabert

Ms Jackson said the grave provided a snapshot of a “really interesting time” when Christianity was “just creeping in” to the British Isles.

“They would have been just on the transition between having pagan burials with all your gear but also having these crosses,” she said.

Ms Jackson, the museum’s director of research and engagement, said no-one had expected the “unpromising looking site” to contain “our equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb”.

“It’s between a bit of railway and a bit of road, essentially a verge. It’s not where you’d expect to find it,” she said.

Who was Tutankhamun?

Tutankhamun was an Egyptian king who died about 3,000 years ago.

His tomb was discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922 in an area now known as the Valley of the Kings.

It was one of the most well-preserved tombs that conservationists had ever seen, and close to 2,000 objects were found inside.

The chamber was filled with treasure and detailed wall paintings that showed the story of King Tutankhamun’s life and death.

After the treasures had been catalogued and cleared, the tomb itself became a tourist destination when it was opened to the public in the 1930s.

Some of the recovered artefacts will be displayed at Central Museum in Southend from Saturday.

The museum has also launched a website with information about its research, as well as an interactive diagram of the tomb.

Image copyright Mola
Image caption Carbon dating has indicated the burial dates from between 575AD and 605AD
Image copyright Mola
Image caption Portable X-ray fluorescence machines were used to work out the alloy composition of artefacts


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