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‘Marlow Warlord’ discovered in Anglo-Saxon burial site

George Roberts

An Anglo-Saxon warlord buried 1,400 years ago alongside weapons and treasures has been discovered near Marlow by metal detectorists.

The ‘Marlow Warlord’, buried in a hilltop burial site overlooking the Thames Valley, was uncovered alongside spears, bronze and glass vessels and a sword in a decorative scabbard.

The pagan burial site was first discovered by metal detectorists Sue and Mick Washington in 2018, and in August 2020 a full survey and excavation was carried out by the University of Reading’s department of archaeology.

Speaking about the find, Sue, a member of the Maidenhead Search Society metal detecting club, said: "On two earlier visits I had received a large signal from this area which appeared to be deep iron and most likely not to be of interest. 

“However, the uncertainty preyed on my mind and on my next trip I just had to investigate, and this proved to be third time lucky.”

Upon her third trip to the site Sue, and other members of the club, discovered two bronze bowls. When they realised the age and significance of the items, they reported their findings to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

During an initial excavation of the bowls, some iron spearheads were also found, which are soon to go on display at the Buckinghamshire Museum in Aylesbury.

Due to the significance of the discoveries, the university team was called in to do a full survey and excavation.

Dr Gabor Thomas, a specialist in early medieval archaeology at the University of Reading, said: “We had expected to find some kind of Anglo-Saxon burial, but what we found exceeded all our expectations and provides new insights into this stretch of the Thames in the decades after the collapse of the Roman administration in Britain.

“This is the first burial of its kind found in the mid-Thames basin, which is often overlooked in favour of the Upper Thames and London. It suggests that the people living in this region may have been more important than historians previously suspected.

“This guy would have been tall and robust compared to other men at the time, and would have been an imposing figure even today. 

"The nature of his burial and the site with views overlooking the Thames suggest he was a respected leader of a local tribe and had probably been a formidable warrior in his own right.”

The discovery of the six-foot tall warrior, who was buried in the 6th century AD, could completely change historians’ understanding of southern Britain in the early Anglo-Saxon era.

During a two-week excavation in August, archaeologists also found one of the most well-preserved sheathed swords known from the period alongside the remains.

The weapon, which is almost a metre long, was held in a decorative scabbard made from wood and leather with decorative bronze fittings.

Many of the artefacts are being conserved and further analysis is being conducted on the human remains to determine the man’s age, health, diet and geographical origins.

The exact location of the site has not been revealed to preserve the area.

The university team are now trying to raise funds to do further conservation work, and allow some of the finds to go on public display at the Buckinghamshire Museum in 2021.

To view the fundraiser visit here

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