Royal Cemetery on a Tees Headland

~Sceopellen~ recently found a news report of a new ‘royal’ Anglo-Saxon cemetery found in Teesside (Tees Valley) of Old Northumbria. Initial dates claim it to be mid-seventh century. Here is the full newspaper article: “A real gem of a find”and from the BBC at “Dramatic ancient cemetery found”. The site is said to be near Redcar, which happens to be on the first headland south of Hartlepool.

The first article refers to a ‘bed grave’ of a female near the center of the cemetery. This could be of similar type to the Essex prince found a couple years ago. So far I have heard of nothing to suggest that they were Christian and southern style doesn’t mean much considering how little has been found in the north. If we must associate it with Edwin of Deira, then I would think that it would be more likely his first wife Cwenburgh. There is no evidence that she was Christian and would have been with Edwin in exile in the south to pick up southern style jewels. Hmm…do we make anything of the location of the cemetery near the sea and the incorporation of a sea shell in the pendant?

Of more interest I think is why is there a royal cemetery here far from the usual royal centers of Deira and Bernicia? Traditionally the River Tees has been seen as the border between Deira and Bernicia. So a prominent royal burial and perhaps royal center on the first headland south of the River Tees could have been a way to stake a claim to the border. To say to the northerners, ‘Now you cross into Deira’! Hartlepool is also located in the same area perhaps for the same reason. So the question now is did Deira control the entire mouth of the River Tees, or is Hartlepool in Bernician territory. This all tells me that it comes from a period when that border was important and when Bernicia was a threat to Deira. In other words, the early to middle seventh century… but maybe that is how they are getting to their date too?

The location and use of the border has implications for St. Hild’s career since she starts out as abbess of Hartlepool and apparently keeps control of it when she moves on to Whitby. Although as the first female monastery/convent under the Bishop of Lindisfarne who had authority in both kingdoms, perhaps being on the border and serving both kingdoms was part of the point in using Hartlepool.

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13 comments on “Royal Cemetery on a Tees Headland

  1. sceopellen says:

    Wonderful comments, thank you! Mind if I link?

  2. […] at 10:14 pm (Academia, Blogroll, Comments, Links, medieval) After my rather terse post below, Heavenfield has continued along the same lines at his site (the post is linked above). Please check it […]

  3. Sure, link away! So I am curious, what does sceopellen mean?

  4. That’s an amazing pendant. (Cloisonne, or garnet or glass? What’s the central stone–quartz, glass, diamond?) I can’t wait to find out more.

    I wonder if there are any textile remains. The ‘iron knives and belt buckles’ makes this v. possible. Textiles might answer some of the identity questions. Of course it might confuse things more. But right now, Cwenburh seems like a good guess.

    Thanks for pointing out this find.

  5. I think the central stone is either a sea shell or a stone carved into a sea shell. Looks like a black sea shell to me.

  6. sceopellen says:

    Sceopellen – two seperate old english words:

    Sceop = singer / poet, a bardic figure
    Ellen = courage / valour

    As with many things in old english, it can be any combination of the two meanings, just like ‘Ic waes waepenwiga’ in the Exeter riddles meaning at least 3 different things.

    So, ‘the courage to speak’, ‘the speaker with courage’… Pick your own!

  7. sceopellen says:

    As a reply to Nicola (hi!), I’d be suprised if there were any fabric remains as I would have thought any archaeologists would have mentioned this. It is quite a find in itself, but if it would have had evidence of fabrics! I know many scholars who would be having a field day (literally).

    Again, I would be astonished if it were diamond. Glass is a very strong possibility as they were on the coast and therefore could have produced it, although it seems a little too dark for glass. I certainly am no expert! I would suggest some form of mineral, and both those you suggest I presume to be fairly good options.

    As far as I know, metal can be quite easily preserved in coastal areas – I know that often coins are washed up on the shore from sometimes great distances with little damage despite the erosion of grit. On the other hand, salt does damage fabrics. Is this a possible answer?

  8. Sceopellen (hello!), if the belt buckle found is made of iron, I think there’s a chance that mineralisation helped preserve a scrap or at least impression of fabric behind it. If the knives were placed at the waist, then they, too, might have preserved something. That would be very, very cool.

    Yes, I think I got a bit carried away mentioning diamond :). I’ve just spent a bit more time squinting at the photo and it looks brownish and opaque–but it’s such a tiny picture that, well, it could be anything…

  9. If bone didn’t survive, fabric won’t. The stories said the bones were gone.

  10. Hmmn. It’s my understanding that mineralisation can occur within a few days of burial, so analysable textile remnants could still be there long after bones have gone. But this mineralisation only happens in certain circumstances, and only when iron or copper etc (not gold) are in contact with the cloth. So I don’t have *high* hopes for the headland burial textile survivals, but I do have 8some* hope.

  11. I saw this news first at The Antiquarian’s Attic, but I’ll say here one of the same things I said there; I remember reading about a cairn burial in Sussex, which contained not just a supposedly noble woman but also a later insertion of an infant burial, which was as rich as this, and in that context no-one seems to have thought it would be royal, even if she was clearly important.* I don’t buy ‘royal’ here. Where royalty, other high-status people surely, and yes, they may remain to be discovered, but as yet the vast bulk of this cemetery looks like a relatively normal population. It’ll be interesting to note where it’s positioned within the site if we can ever get that kind of view of the site…

    *I know that it was somewhere in E. Southworth (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries: a reappraisal. Proceedings of a Conference held at Liverpool Museum 1986 (Stroud 1990), but I can’t for the life of me remember in which paper. I think it may have Sonia Chadwick Hawkes’s one, but it was a long time ago…

  12. Yeah… I know. I did say “if we must” associate it with Edwin. I want to know how they are dating it too. If its just the jewels, then of course, they could be older than the burials. We know that there were sub-kings under King Ecgfrith and I’m sure there were several. They would have been wealthy enough to own some jewels.

    I wonder if so many rich female burials (relatively speaking) is because the men were more likely to die in battle where their bodies might not be recovered or buried individually.

  13. Oops…there went my theory on the headland cemetery. The article in Antiquarian’s Attic says its in Loftus, quite a ways down the coast.

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