Page last updated at 03:39 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Early queen's skeleton 'found in German cathedral'

Raising the lid of the tomb. Picture supplied by Landesamt fur Denkmalpflege und Archaologie Sachsen-Anhalt, Juraj Liptak
Eadgyth's bones are thought to have been moved to this tomb in 1510

Remains of one of the earliest members of the English royal family may have been unearthed in a German cathedral, a Bristol University research team says.

They believe a near-complete female skeleton, aged 30 to 40, found wrapped in silk in a lead coffin in Magdeburg Cathedral is that of Queen Eadgyth.

The granddaughter of Alfred the Great, she married Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 929. She died 17 years later, at 36.

The team aims to prove her identity by tracing isotopes in her bones.

Professor Mark Horton, of Bristol's department of archaeology and anthropology, said: "We know that Saxon royalty moved around quite a lot, and we hope to match the isotope results with known locations around Wessex and Mercia, where she could have spent her childhood.

Bones moved

"If we can prove this truly is Eadgyth, this will be one of the most exciting historical discoveries in recent years."

Their preliminary findings are to be announced later at a conference at the university.

In the Middle Ages bones were often moved around, and this makes definitive identification difficult
Professor Harald Meller

The discovery of the tomb was made during a wider research project into the cathedral in 2008 by a German team.

It was thought the tomb was a cenotaph, but when the lid was removed, the coffin was discovered, bearing Queen Eadgyth's name and accurately recording the date - 1510 - when her remains were transferred.

The queen was known to have been buried initially in the Monastery of Mauritius in Magdeburg, and if bones were to be found, they would have been moved later to the tomb.

Professor Harald Meller, who led the 2008 project, said: "We still are not completely certain that this is Eadgyth although all the scientific evidence points to this interpretation.

Contents of the coffin. Picture supplied by Landesamt fur Denkmalpflege und Archaologie Sachsen-Anhalt, Juraj Liptak
The excavation revealed remains wrapped in silk

"In the Middle Ages bones were often moved around, and this makes definitive identification difficult."

Queen Eadgyth's brother, King Athelstan, is considered to have been the first king of England after he unified various Saxon and Celtic kingdoms after the battle of Brunanburh in 937, Bristol University said.

After marriage, Queen Eadgyth lived in Saxony and had two children with Otto.

Their direct descendents ruled Germany until 1254 and formed many of the royal families of Europe that followed.



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