Archaeologists Reconstruct Face of 7th-Century Teen

A forensic artist in the UK has reconstructed the face of a seventh-century woman. Researchers suspect that the young woman was a member of the aristocracy and likely one of England’s earliest converts to Christianity.

Elaborate burial

The woman, aged just 16 when she died, was buried near Cambridge. This was no ordinary burial. The woman was laid to rest on a bed, wearing an intricate gold and garnet cross that archeologists call the Trumpington Cross, after the local town. The cross (one of only five known) indicates that the woman was Christian, and the elaborate bed burial shows that she was an aristocrat, or perhaps even royalty. Only 18 such burial beds have turned up.

The Trupington Cross

The Trumpington Cross. Photo: University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit


“She must have known that she was important and she had to carry that on her shoulders. Her isotopic results match those of two other women who were similarly buried on beds in this period in Cambridgeshire,” bio-archaeologist Sam Leggett explained.

The isotopic tests also revealed that the woman came to England sometime after the age of seven. She moved from somewhere in central Europe, likely near the Alps in southern Germany. Eventually, she settled in Cambridgeshire, one of the UK’s flattest counties.

“She was probably quite unwell and she traveled a long way to somewhere completely unfamiliar…it must have been scary,” Leggett said.

The tests revealed that a small but significant dietary shift took place after she moved to England. The proportion of protein in her diet decreased, potentially contributing to her early death.

A 1,300-year-old face revealed

This week, Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is displaying forensic artist Hew Morrison’s image of the woman.

Hew Morrison’s reconstruction of the young woman’s face. Photo: Hew Morrison


“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,” Morrison said.

It’s not possible to know the woman’s eye or hair color without DNA analysis. But researchers believe the image gives a “strong indication” of her appearance shortly before she died.

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh is a writer and editor for ExplorersWeb.

Martin has been writing about adventure travel and exploration for over five years.

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