Trumpington girl: Experts reconstruct the face of an Anglo-Saxon teen


More than a decade ago, British archeologists were left stunned when they found the remains of a 16-year-old Anglo-Saxon girl in Cambridgeshire. 

The girl was laid to rest in the village of Trumpington between around AD 650 and AD 680 while wearing a stunning gold and garnet cross. 

Now, scientists have analysed the girl’s skull to create a life-like reconstruction of what she looked like prior to her untimely death. 

The new reconstruction shows she had a fair face with pale skin, a petite nose, strong cheek bones and one eye slightly lower than the other. 

Little is known for certain about the ‘Trumpington girl’, but experts think she migrated from Germany to England as a young girl as a part of an early Christian group to spread the teachings of Jesus. 

The reconstruction of the Trumpington girl (pictured) was created by forensic artist Hew Morrison using measurements of the woman's skull and tissue depth data for Caucasian females

The reconstruction of the Trumpington girl (pictured) was created by forensic artist Hew Morrison using measurements of the woman’s skull and tissue depth data for Caucasian females

Artefacts from the woman's burial including her famous cross will be unveiled in a major new exhibition at Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The cross combines gold and beautiful gemstones known as garnets

Artefacts from the woman’s burial including her famous cross will be unveiled in a major new exhibition at Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The cross combines gold and beautiful gemstones known as garnets 

Previous analysis indicated that the Trumpington girl had suffered from illness but her cause of death remains unknown. 

But her ornate cross – which combines gold and beautiful inset gemstones known as garnets – suggests she was a member of the aristocracy, if not royalty. 

The Trumpington bed burial 

The Trumpington bed burial is an excavated burial site in the village of Trumpington, Cambridgeshire. 

It contained the skeleton of a woman later deemed to be 16 years old when she died. 

She was buried between AD 650 and AD 680 in a very rare Christian ‘bed burial’ – where the deceased person is laid to rest on a bed.

Along with the cross, the facial reconstruction will go on display at a new exhibition at the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology that opens on Wednesday (June 21). 

The facial reconstruction was created by forensic artist Hew Morrison, based on measurements of her skull and tissue depth data for Caucasian females. 

The lack of DNA analysis means Morrison could not be sure of her precise eye and hair colour, but it’s hoped further DNA studies will reveal this for certain. 

‘It was interesting to see her face developing,’ said Morrison, who also recently reconstructed the face of a pregnant ancient Egyptian mummy

‘Her left eye was slightly lower, about half a centimetre, than her right eye; this would have been quite noticeable in life.’

Isotopic analysis of her bones and teeth reveals the girl moved to England from somewhere near the Alps some time after she turned seven years old. 

Once the girl had arrived in England, the proportion of protein in her diet decreased by a small but significant amount – although there is nothing yet to suggest this had anything to do with her death. 

The rare 'bed burial' was excavated over a decade ago in the village of Trumpington, Cambridgeshire

The rare ‘bed burial’ was excavated over a decade ago in the village of Trumpington, Cambridgeshire

Pictured, the Trumpington cross and the skull during the excavation of the burial back in 2012

Pictured, the Trumpington cross and the skull during the excavation of the burial back in 2012

‘She was quite a young girl when she moved, likely from part of southern Germany, close to the Alps, to a very flat part of England,’ said Dr Sam Leggett, previously part of the Cambridge team and now at the University of Edinburgh. 

‘She was probably quite unwell and she travelled a long way to somewhere completely unfamiliar – even the food was different. It must have been scary.’

The Trumpington burial site made the headlines in 2012, following a series of excavations by Cambridge’s Archaeological Unit in Trumpington Meadows. 

It became one of 15 known Christian ‘bed burials’ – where the deceased person has been laid to rest on a bed – in the UK, although this number has since risen to 18. 

Based on clues from the small number of bed burials discovered, the custom was likely reserved for high-status women during the early Anglo-Saxon period (7th century). 

The presence of the cross in the grave still raises the question of whether the young woman had an official role in the fledgling Christian church. 

It commonly accepted that Christianity in Britain originated when Saint Augustine came in AD 597 on a Pope-sanctioned mission to convert the pagans. 

‘It seems that she was part of an elite group of women who probably travelled from mainland Europe, most likely Germany, in the 7th century, but they remain a bit of a mystery,’ said Dr Leggett.

Front view of the yet-to-be excavated skull with the cross. The Trumpington burial site made the headlines in 2012, following a series of excavations by Cambridge's Archaeological Unit in Trumpington Meadows

Front view of the yet-to-be excavated skull with the cross. The Trumpington burial site made the headlines in 2012, following a series of excavations by Cambridge’s Archaeological Unit in Trumpington Meadows

‘Were they political brides or perhaps brides of Christ? The fact that her diet changed once she arrived in England suggests that her lifestyle may have changed quite significantly.’

Upcoming DNA analysis may also reveal traces of an infection or a genetic disease that could pinpoint her cause of death, Dr Leggett said. 

Artefacts from the woman’s burial including her famous cross will be shown at the new exhibition at Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA).

Also displayed will be delicate gold and garnet pins connected by a gold chain, which were found near the teenager’s neck and likely secured a long veil to an outer garment of fine linen, and the burial bed’s decorative headboard. 

The free exhibition, ‘Beneath Our Feet: Archaeology of the Cambridge Region’, will run from June 21 until April 14 next year. 

WHEN DID CHRISTIANITY COME TO BRITAIN?

In the first century after Christ, Britain had its own gods: Pagan gods of the Earth, and Roman gods of the sky. But soon after, Christianity came to the British Isles. 

While people tend to associate the arrival of Christianity in Britain with the mission of St Augustine, who was dispatched to England by the Pope to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings, in 597AD, Christianity arrived long before then in the 1st century AD. 

It started when Roman artisans and traders who arrived in Britain began spreading the story of Jesus along with stories of their Pagan gods. 

Marble head representing Emperor Constantine the Great, at the Capitoline Museums 

Marble head representing Emperor Constantine the Great, at the Capitoline Museums 

At the time, Christianity was one cult among many, but unlike roman cults, Christianity required exclusive fidelity from its followers. 

This led to Roman authorities persecuting Christian, who were then forced to meet and worship in secret. 

But Roman Emperor Constantine saw appeal in a single religion with a single God, and he saw that Christianity could be used to unite his Empire.

From 313 AD onwards, Christian worship was permitted within the Roman Empire. 

During the 4th Century, British Christianity became more visible but it had not yet become widespread. Pagan beliefs were still common and Christianity was a minority faith.

It looked as if Paganism might pervade over Christianity when, after the departure of the Romans, new invaders arrived: Angles, Saxons and Jutes. 

Yet Christianity survived on the Western edges of Britain. Missionary activity continued in Wales and Ireland, and in Western Scotland Saint Columba helped to bring a distinctly Irish brand of Christianity to mainland Britain.

It can also be argued that it was St Augustine’s famous mission in 597 AD from the Pope in Rome to King Aethelbert of Kent that definitively set up the future of Christianity in Britain, creating an alliance between Christianity and royals.  



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