After 1,400 years lying undisturbed beneath British farmland, an ancient Anglo-Saxon warrior had a rude awakening in 2018 when a group of amateur metal detectorists stumbled across his burial site and began to unearth it.
What could have been an archeological disaster has instead become an important discovery. After the detectorists realized the importance of their findings, they called in archeologists from the University of Reading. To save this shallow burial site from a farmer's till, the team excavated the gravesite this past summer.
What they found unearthed important discoveries about this region of England that could upend our understanding of what was going on in ancient Britain after the collapse of the Roman occupation.
English detectorists Sue and Mick Washington were having a casual walk through the country with their metal detectors in 2018 when they stumbled across a site that stuck in Sue's mind.
"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," recounts Sue in a statement. But she couldn't be sure.
"The uncertainty preyed on my mind," she said.
They were third time lucky. Sue and Mick struck gold (or rather, bronze) when the pings of their detectors led them to uncover two ancient bronze bowls from the site. Along with other members from their metal detectorist club, the Maidenhead Search Society, Sue and Mick quickly realized that these artifacts were much older and much more significant than they could've imagined.
To prevent accidental harm coming to the site, the detectorists called in the cavalry by registering their findings with the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme database.
And to take a closer look at the site itself, a team of archeologists from the University of Reading was called in.
Uncovering a warlord — In addition to the bronze bowls that the Maidenhead Search Society unearthed, the archeologists also uncovered expensive weapons (like spears and an elaborated decorated scabbard and sword), as well as glass vessels and personal belongings. The scientists say that the luxury of these items, as well the fact that the grave faces towards the Thames Valley, suggests that the person buried at the site was probably a high-ranking leader of a local tribe and warrior.
The man's six-foot stature supports this warlord theory, as a six-foot-tall man in 6th century AD would have been incredibly imposing. At the time, the average height of a man was only around 5'5''.
The researchers also conducted a geophysical survey of the area.
Dubbed the 'Marlow Warlord,' a specialist in early medieval archaeology at the University of Reading, Gabor Thomas, said in a statement that the discovery reveals more than information about the man's life.
"This the first burial of its kind found in the mid-Thames basin, which is often overlooked in favor of the Upper Thames and London," Thomas said. "It suggests that the people living in this region may have been more important than historians previously suspected."
Located between London and Oxford, this section of the Thames Valley had previously been viewed as simply a borderland between these two well-studied areas, but Thomas points out that this suggests those living in this "borderland" may have been significant to ancient British history, too.
Next steps — The archeological team from the University of Reading have not yet published a study detailing their findings from this site, as they only excavated it a little over a month ago, but they say that the next steps for the Marlow Warlord will be to conduct further analyses on the man's health, age, diet, and geographical origins. To continue this work the team is requesting donations, which can be offered here.
As for the bowls originally discovered by Sue and her friends, those will hopefully be making an appearance at the Buckinghamshire Museum in 2021.
Inverse always publishes the abstracts of the research we cover, but in this instance, there is not yet a published study or abstract for this research.