The Mystery of the “Princess” from the Early Middle Ages: Who She Was and How She Lived

In 2012, in the vicinity of Cambridge, archaeologists found an unusual burial in which a young girl was buried. Her body was placed on a wood-carved bed with a decorative headboard. The girl had a rich robe fastened with gold pins adorned with garnets, and on her neck was a large gold, garnet-encrusted cross. This rare artifact has been dubbed the “Trumpington Cross.” In anticipation of the exhibition “Under Our Feet: The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region,” forensic artist Hugh Morrison reconstructed from the skull the appearance of the mysterious “princess,” who was only about 16 years old at the time of her death.

The late girl’s story remains a mystery to scientists. Bioarchaeologists at Cambridge University conducted isotopic analysis of the bones and teeth of the deceased. It turned out that at the age of about seven years she moved to England from the foothills of the Alps, most likely from the territory of southern Germany. The move was clearly not easy for the girl – her living conditions and diet had changed dramatically, in particular the amount of protein in the food was reduced, which affected the bone tissue. The exact cause of her death is unknown, but she did not live long after her arrival in England.

The fact that the girl belonged to the higher social classes, possibly to the royal family, is evidenced not only by the rich decorations, but also by the very manner of burial – in a wooden bed. Only 18 such “crib” burials have been found in Britain, and in all cases it was a burial of nobles. This custom may have come from continental Europe, where in the early Middle Ages the dead were sometimes buried in beds.

Experts do not exclude the possibility that the girl came to England from the south of Germany as part of a small group of young aristocrats on a mission to spread Christianity in the British Isles. She may have been intended as a bride for one of the Anglo-Saxon pagan kings who ruled in the 7th century in what is now Cambridgeshire.

Although the lifetime color of her hair and eyes is unknown, the forensic artist Hugh Morrison reconstructed the appearance of the mysterious “princess” from her skull. It turned out that the girl had one notable feature – her left eye was located about half a centimeter below the right.

This finding was another brick in the mosaic of the early Middle Ages and helped scientists better understand the life and customs of those times. Although many questions remain unanswered, each new discovery brings us closer to solving the mystery of the mysterious “princess” from the early Middle Ages.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x