SOUTHEND-ON-SEA, England (AP) — An underground chamber discovered accidentally by road workers appears to be the site of the earliest Christian royal burial ever found in Britain, archaeologists say, calling it the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The chamber, uncovered between a road and a railway line in the southeastern English village of Prittlewell in 2003, turned out to be a 1,400-year-old tomb.
New details were published Thursday about the finding, which archaeologists say is the most important Anglo-Saxon burial discovery in more than 70 years.
Treasures unearthed at the site include a golden belt buckle, the remnants of a harp-like instrument known as a lyre, gleaming glassware and an elaborate water vessel from the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps Syria.
Researchers say the luxury items indicate the chamber’s occupant was a man of high standing, possibly a prince. Two small gold-foil crosses found at the head of the coffin suggest a Christian burial.
“There are luxury imports that have come from as far away as Syria. Some of the raw materials might have even come as far away as Sri Lanka and the Indian subcontinent,” said Liz Barham, a senior conservator at Museum of London Archaeology who worked on the dig.
Sophie Jackson, director of research and engagement at Museum of London Archaeology, said the “best guess” is that it was Seaxa, brother of King Saebert, the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity.
She said the burial came at a time when Christianity was vying in Britain with older pagan beliefs.
“They would have been just on the transition between having pagan burials with all your gear, but also having these crosses,” she said.