With all the excitement surrounding the apparent discovery of part of a hip bone belonging to either King Alfred or his son Edward the Elder, I thought that I would start my blog with an article from 2010 regarding the rediscovery of the bones of Edward’s daughter, Eadgyth. I remember seeing a box which contains the skeletal remains of several members of the West Saxon royal family in Winchester cathedral on a visit long ago. Hopefully, with the advance of modern forensics, we may soon be able to match the various skulls, femurs etc and accord this most famous and able family the respect and honour which they deserve.
Alfred the Great’s granddaughter’s bones identified
The bones of Alfred the Great’s granddaughter Eadgyth have been discovered in Germany.
10:00AM BST 17 Jun 2010
Forensic anaylsis of the contents of a recently-discovered tomb has concluded that it contained the oldest surviving remains of any member of the English Royal family
The tomb was hailed as ”one of the most exciting historical discoveries in recent years” when they were first investigated in 2008.
Queen Eadgyth, pronounced Edith, was given in marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, in 929 AD and bore him two children in Saxony, Germany, until her death in 946 AD at the age of 36.
The royal remains were brought back to Eadgyth’s native Wessex for identification in January.
Anthropological study of the bones confirmed that the remains belonged to a female, who died between 30 and 40 years of age.
One of the femurs showed evidence that the individual was a frequent horse rider, pointing to a noble heritage.
Isotope analysis of the bones suggested that she enjoyed a high protein diet, including a large quantity of fish, again implying a high status aristocratic lady.
DNA analysis proved inconclusive due to the poor preservation of the tomb, so experts used a technique measuring the strontium and oxygen isotopes in the teeth.
The value of these isotopes depends on the local environment and its underlying geology that is then locked into the teeth.
Samples of the teeth were studied at the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Mainz.
It was possible to ‘triangulate’ the location of the first 14 years of Eadgyth’s life, which pin point the chalk regions of southern Britain.
Mark Horton, Professor in Archaeology at the University of Bristol, said: ”Eadgyth seems to have spent the first eight years of her life in southern England, but changed her domicile frequently, matching quite variable strontium ratios in her teeth.
”Only from the age of nine, the isotope values remain constant.
”Eadgyth must have moved around the kingdom following her father, king Edward the Elder during his reign.
”When her mother was divorced in 919 – Eadgyth was between nine and ten at that point – both were banished to a monastery, maybe Winchester or Wilton in Salisbury.”
The female skeleton, wrapped in a silk sheet inside a lead coffin marked with Queen Eadgyth’s name, was first discovered in a tomb in Magdesburg Cathedral, Germany.
But due to a custom in the Middle Ages of moving bones to different locations after a death, scientists needed to carrying out tests to confirm their true identity.
Eadgyth’s brother King Athelstan became the first official King of England after unifying Saxon and Celtic kingdoms after the battle of Brunanburgh in 937 AD.
The remains were brought back to the UK in January, so that researchers at the University of Bristol can trace the isotopes in the bones to find out where she lived.
The bones were studied by a team of scientists including forensic scientists, biologists, archaeologists, specialists in medieval textiles and art historians
Director of the project, Professor Harald Meller of the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology, Saxony-Anhalt, said: ”Medieval bones were moved frequently, and often mixed up, so it required some exceptional science to prove that they are indeed those of Eadgyth.
”It is incredible that we have been able to do this using the most recent analytical techniques.”