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Medieval Necklace Found At "Internationally Important Burial" Site Of Female Church Leader

“When the first glints of gold started to emerge from the soil we knew this was something significant."


Rachael Funnell


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Digital Content Producer

medieval necklace

The discovery is being described as one of the most spectacular female Early Medieval burials ever discovered in the UK. Image credit: MOLA/Hugh Gatt

A glimmer of gold made for an exciting finale to a dig in Northamptonshire back in April 2022, when researchers at the MOLA site stumbled across something they weren’t expecting. There among the soil they found a necklace, and it would later reveal that they were dealing with a burial site of international significance.

“When the first glints of gold started to emerge from the soil we knew this was something significant,” said MOLA Site Supervisor, Levente-Bence Balázs, in a statement. “However, we didn’t quite realise how special this was going to be.”


The excavation began after geophysics revealed what looked like a pit – but in the hole, there was treasure to be found. Specifically, the Harpole Treasure.

“What we found was a burial dating to 630-670 AD, located on a slight rise,” MOLA explained in a release. “The first bits of gold spotted turned out to be an incredible necklace – the most ornate of its kind ever found.”

harpole treasure
Behold, the Harpole Treasure. Image credit: MOLA/Andy Chopping

That dates the necklace back to Medieval times, and what makes it quite so spectacular is the sheer variety of pieces it’s made up from. Within the decorative neckpiece are pendants, Roman coins, semi-precious stones, glass, and gold divided by bead spacers.

Similar necklaces from this time have been found before, but none so complete or so complex. Valuing such an item is a tricky task, but the closest comparable trinkets have fetched in excess of $170,000.


The remarkable find is thought to have once belonged to a female member of the church, though this is a prediction built on previous finds rather than human remains. Why? Because all that’s left of the necklace’s owner are a few fragments of tooth enamel.

However, similar necklaces in sites such as this one are almost exclusively found at female burials. As for her religious association, the discovery of a large cross using x-ray points toward the deceased’s role within the church.

“We found a large ornate cross with inset garnets and smaller crosses at the end of each arm,” explained MOLA. “While it is still being micro-excavated, the x-ray clearly shows its incredible design. At the end of two arms of this cross we even found some unusual depictions of human faces cast in silver. The sheer size of the cross suggests the woman buried here may have been an early Christian leader.”

Work at the site is far from finished, as now the team must work with the relevant authorities, Treasure Act, and Coroner to complete their investigations while conserving the discovery. As such, there’s likely more news to come, but based on the complexity of the necklace and the accompanying ornate grave goods, the researchers feel confident this is “one of the most spectacular female Early Medieval burials ever discovered in the UK.”


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