Ancient Saxon tomb yields royal treasures

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In what is being acclaimed as one of the archaeological finds of the century, the site of a royal tomb containing the remains of an Anglo Saxon king has been uncovered in the Midlands.

Academics believe the find, which includes the king's royal sword, helmet and ceremonial bowl, will shed new light on the social and economic status enjoyed by the large number of minor monarchs who ruled sections of England during the so-called Dark Ages, a period immortalised in the 8th century poem "Beowulf".

It is only the second time this century that such a discovery has been made: The only other example is the Anglo Saxon king's tomb - complete with royal helmet - found in 1939 at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.

The grave probably belonged to the ruler of a tiny kingdom which historians suspect existed in the 6th and early 7th centuries. The tiny mini-state probably covered around 150 square miles and might have been based at two early Anglo Saxon centres, Earls Barton and Yardly Hastings in Northamptonshire.

In the latest dig, a team led by archaeologist Ian Meadows of Northamptonshire County Council unearthed a fine 90cm steel-surfaced iron sword and an iron helmet with nose guard, crescent-shaped cheek guards and a wild boar-shaped crest.

The boar motif, a traditional indication of royalty, symbolised strength and aggression and was the emblem of the Anglo Saxon god Frey.

Anthony Read, antiquities conservator at Leicester City Museums, said: "To find an Anglo-Saxon helmet is a find of national importance - to find an Anglo-Saxon helmet with a boar crest on it is of international significance."