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Royal burial site ‘UK’s answer to Tutankhamun’s tomb’

A royal burial site from over 1,400 years ago found near a supermarket in Essex is being called England’s answer to the tomb of Tutankhamun. And experts now believe they know which Anglo Saxon royal was laid to rest here as they prepare to display some of the artefacts found in the burial chamber for the first time.

The site, at Prittlewell in Essex, was first found in 2003 during roadworks when experts from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) excavated the site for Southend Council. Subsequent work by MOLA led to the discovery of a burial chamber containing over 40 items from the time that the county was a thriving kingdom. Now the full findings are being shared for the first time.

copyright MOLA

One of the researchers working on the project has described the find as one of the most significant in the UK for over half a century. MOLA’s director of research and engagement, Sophie Jackson, said the find could be seen as England’s equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The claim comes about because of the complexity of items found in the burial site as well as the fact that the chamber, which measures 13ft square and 5ft deep, is so intact. Among the contents researchers found are a lyre, a sword and a gold belt buckle. There was also a flagon from Syria as well as the fragments of a painted wooden box, the only known example of Anglo-Saxon painted woodwork in England. All the items were left in the chamber as part of a burial rite.

copyright MOLA

Researchers also found gold foil crosses at the head of the ash wood coffin inside the site – they say these not only show the person buried was of high status but also that their dynasty was very publicly embracing the Christian faith which was still relatively new in England at the time.

copyright MOLA

Researchers think that the tomb most likely is that of Seaxa, a brother of King Saebhert of Essex. They had originally thought the burial site might be that of Saebhert himself but carbon dating has shown it was constructed at least eleven years before his death. Seaxa’s descendants went on to rule Essex at a later date. When the discovery was made, locals labelled the royal the ‘King of Bling’ and the ‘Prince of Prittlewell’ because of the richness of objects in his tomb.

The Kingdom of Essex, one of the seven traditional Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that covered a large part of what is now England, was a powerbase from 527 until 825 when it came under the rule of the Kingdom of Wessex.

The artefacts found in the tomb will be on display at Central Museum in Southend from Saturday May 11th and there is more information about the dig on a special MOLA website.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.