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Anglo-Saxon warrior rises from the dead

THERE IS a military airbase in Suffolk, where the fighter planes roar overhead and hundreds of young men and women learn the skills of modern warfare. But underneath their feet lie the remains of ancient warriors who fought to defend their land in Anglo-Saxon times.

An archaeological dig at the US airbase, near Lakenheath, has unearthed an Anglo-Saxon cemetery containing the bones of dozens of soldiers and their families.

When the site was excavated, one grave stood out from the rest. Bigger than the others, it had been covered with a burial mound which, in a cemetery of unmarked graves, showed its occupant as someone of importance. Lying in the chalky earth, buried with all his weapons, were the skeleton of a soldier and the perfect remains of his horse. They were buried 1,400 years ago.

Julian Richards, an archaeologist who helped to research the findings for a BBC documentary, said the grave was one of the most impresssive examples of Anglo-Saxon burial grounds to be discovered.

"We knew that important men were sometimes buried with their horses but this is the first time we have found the bones in such good condition and with so many weapons as well," he said. "The horse was still wearing its bridle, which is also a unique find."

Mr Richards said the soldier was almost certainly the leader of the community. "We know he was important because his horse was sacrificed on his death. He was also buried with a large number of weapons including a spear, a sword and a knife although he did not die from battle wounds," he said.

"It could simply be that the weapons were included in the grave to signify his power."

The warrior was about 5ft 10in tall and died at the age of 30 but his remains did not reveal the cause of his death. He probably died from illness.

Further examination of the bones revealed that the warrior had suffered from some minor back problems. "These were quite common in Anglo-Saxon men and could have been caused by lifting heavy weights or falling off a horse," Mr Richards said.

The horse had been stunned by a heavy blow to the head before its throat was cut. It was then buried wearing its battle regalia and with a bucket, perhaps containing water for the long journey to the next world, placed beside its head.

The soldier had been buried in a wooden coffin with his weapons laid on the top. There was a knife and some sheep bones, his food, and he was wearing his shield.

The remains are currently in storage at the Suffolk Archeological Unit but will go on display in a local museum later this year.

t `''''''`Meet the Ancestors' will be shown on BBC2 tomorrow at 9pm. A BBC book accompanies the series.