Researchers reconstruct the face of 16-year-old Anglo-Saxon girl from the seventh century

The University of Cambridge researchers also examined her bones, revealing that she immigrated to England from Central Europe at a young age. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Facial reconstruction of the young woman along with the Trumpington Cross recovered from the burial.
Facial reconstruction of the young woman along with the Trumpington Cross recovered from the burial.

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The face of a 16-year-old female buried in the 7th century near Cambridge has been reconstructed

The University of Cambridge researchers used a recovered skull to recreate the young woman's face. 

The researchers also examined the bones, revealing that she immigrated to England from Central Europe at a young age. 

Reconstruction of the face 

An interdisciplinary team of forensic artists, bioarchaeologists, and archaeologists meticulously examined the bones, notably the skull. 

Measurements of the skull and tissue depth data for Caucasian females were used for facial reconstruction. The researchers were unsure of her exact eye and hair color without DNA analysis, but they believe the image provides a good representation of what the woman might have looked like months before she died.

“It was interesting to see her face developing. Her left eye was slightly lower, about half a centimeter, than her right eye. This would have been quite noticeable in life,” said Hew Morrison, a forensic artist, in an official release

The Cambridge Archaeological Unit discovered the bones of this mysterious young woman in Trumpington Meadows in Cambridge's southern outskirts in 2012. 

Isotopic analysis of her bones 

The isotopic study of her bones and teeth revealed yet another intriguing detail about this young woman. 

They discovered that after the age of seven, she most likely went to England from someplace near the Alps, most probably southern Germany. 

After she moved to England, her diet quantity drastically reduced. The team assumes that her diet switch occurred around the end of her young life. This also suggests that the time between her relocation and death was relatively brief.

“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. She was probably quite unwell and she traveled a long way to somewhere completely unfamiliar – even the food was different. It must have been scary,” said bioarchaeologist Dr. Sam Leggett, now at the University of Edinburgh. 

The young woman was most certainly unwell, but her specific cause of death remains unknown even after multiple scientific investigations. 

Buried in rare bed tradition 

She was found buried in a unique "bed burial tradition" with a decorated headboard. She was put on a carved wooden bed while wearing the garnet cross (the Trumpington Cross). Several gold pins and exquisite clothing were also recovered from the burial

Only 18-bed burials (including hers) have been discovered in the U.K. to date, according to the researchers. The objects retrieved from the grave are said to be "one of only five of its kind" in the U.K. 

These artifact clues indicate that the young woman was likely one of the earliest converts to Christianity in England in the 7th century. She was most likely a member of an aristocratic society, which contributed to this unique funeral ritual. 

The cross found at the site indicates the ones found in the coffin of St Cuthbert. She might be associated with early Anglo-Saxon Christianity. 

“So it seems that she was part of an elite group of women who probably traveled from mainland Europe, most likely Germany, in the 7th century, but they remain a bit of a mystery. 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,” added Dr. Leggett. 

The new examination is critical for understanding people's lives at that time, as well as crucial religious periods in Cambridgeshire's history. 

The reconstructed image, along with other artifacts, will be put on display at a new exhibition at Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). The exhibition called ‘Beneath Our Feet: Archaeology of the Cambridge Region’ will be on display from June 21 to April 14, 2024.

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