Anglo-Saxon warrior who lived 1,500 years ago is found by metal detectorists


The remains of an Anglo-Saxon warrior dubbed the ‘Marlow Warlord’ who lived during the 6th century AD have been uncovered by metal detectorists.

The 6ft-tall warrior had been buried on a hilltop alongside an ornately decorated scabbard, a selection of expensive luxury items, spears and glasses.

The pagan burial site had remained undiscovered for more than 1,400 years until it was found by Sue and Mich Washington using metal detection equipment in 2018. 

University of Reading archaeologists excavated the site near Marlow in Berkshire in August this year – as it was ‘very shallow’ and ‘at risk from farming activity’.

The discovery of the site, complete with the remains of a ‘formidable warrior’ suggest this region was more important in post-Roman Britain than first thought. 

The remains of an Anglo-Saxon warrior dubbed the ‘Marlow Warlord’ who lived during the 6th century AD have been uncovered by a metal detectorist

The 6ft tall warrior had been buried on a hilltop alongside an ornately decorated scabbard and sword (pictured), a selection of expensive luxury items, spears and glasses

The 6ft tall warrior had been buried on a hilltop alongside an ornately decorated scabbard and sword (pictured), a selection of expensive luxury items, spears and glasses

Reading researchers say it was the first discovery of its kind in the mid-Thames basin – an area often overlooked by experts in favour of the Upper Thames and London.

The burial site was found in a field in Berkshire near Marlow but the exact location hasn’t been revealed due to the risk of people ‘descending on the site’ and disturbing the archaeological work.

A team involving archaeologists from the University of Reading and local volunteer groups carried out a two-week excavation of the site in August 2020. 

This activity included a geophysical survey, test excavations, and a final excavation of the grave site to uncover the full glory of the warlords burial hoard. 

Found buried with the Marlow Warlord were a sword with an exceptionally well-preserved scabbard made of wood and leather with decorative bronze fittings – making it one of the best-preserved sheathed swords known from the period.

There was also a selection of spears, bronze and glass vessels, dress-fittings, shears and other implements – all currently being conserved for further study.  

The man, who was buried on a hilltop site with commanding views over the surrounding Thames valley, must have been a high-status warlord, the team believe. 

Glass and bronze bowls were included among the burial goods found with the 6ft tall warrior

Glass and bronze bowls were included among the burial goods found with the 6ft tall warrior

University of Reading archaeologists excavated the site near Marlow in Berkshire in August this year - as it was 'very shallow' and 'at risk from farming activity'

University of Reading archaeologists excavated the site near Marlow in Berkshire in August this year – as it was ‘very shallow’ and ‘at risk from farming activity’

The pagan burial site had remained undiscovered for more than 1,400 years until it was found by Sue Washington (pictured)) and Mich Washington using metal detection equipment in 2018

The discovery of the site, complete with the remains of a 'formidable warrior' suggest this region was more important in post-Roman Britain then first thought

Sue Washington (left) was among a team of metal detectorists that uncovered the first signs of the burial ground. A group from the University of Reading (right) worked on a full survey

Dr Gabor Thomas, a specialist in early medieval archaeology, said the warrior would have been tall and robust compared to the men at the time, adding that he ‘would have been an imposing figure even today’.

‘The nature of his burial and the site with views overlooking the Thames suggest he was a respected leader of a local tribe,’ Thomas explained.

Thomas was called in after Sue Washington unearthed two bronze bowls during visits to the site with the Maidenhead Search Society metal detecting club.

Realising the age and significance of the find, she stopped digging and alerted the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) who recovered the fragile artefacts.  

Dr Thomas said it was a surprising discovery as they had expected to find ‘some kind of Anglo-Saxon burial’ but the extent of what they found exceeded expectations.

The burial site was found in a field in Berkshire near Marlow, Buckinghamshire - but the exact location hasn't been revealed due to the risk of people 'descending on the site' and disturbing the archaeological work

The burial site was found in a field in Berkshire near Marlow, Buckinghamshire – but the exact location hasn’t been revealed due to the risk of people ‘descending on the site’ and disturbing the archaeological work

‘It provides new insights into this stretch of the Thames in the decades after the collapse of the Roman administration in Britain,’ Thomas said. 

‘It suggests the people living in this region may have been more important than historians previously suspected.’ 

Among the items uncovered were bowls and spearheads, which have since been donated to go on display at Buckinghamshire Museum in Aylesbury.  

‘On two earlier visits I had received a large signal from this area which appeared to be deep iron and most likely not to be of interest,’ said Sue Washington.

‘However, the uncertainty preyed on my mind and on my next trip I just had to investigate, and this proved to be third time lucky.’

The early Anglo-Saxon period was one of great change in England with significant levels of immigration from the continent.

A team involving archaeologists from the University of Reading and local volunteer groups carried out a two-week excavation of the site in August 2020

A team involving archaeologists from the University of Reading and local volunteer groups carried out a two-week excavation of the site in August 2020

A range of personal and luxury items were uncovered by the University of Reading team including dress items

The bones were buried alongside a well preserved sword and scabbard

A range of items were found buried alongside the warrior including dress items and personal goods (left) as well as weapons including a well preserved sword (right)

New power structures were also being formed in the vacuum created by the fall of the Roman Empire around 400 AD.

About a century later – the period in which the Marlow Warlord lived – England was occupied by local tribes. 

Some expanded into kingdoms such as Wessex, Mercia and Kent.

The region of the mid-Thames between London and Oxford was previously thought to be a ‘borderland’, with strong groups on each side.

The Marlow Warlord sheds fresh light on the Dark Ages, for which there is a paucity of written records – suggesting the area hosted important people of its own before being later absorbed into neighbouring Kent, Wessex and Mercia. 

Bowls made from a range of materials including bronze and glass were discovered by the team

Bowls made from a range of materials including bronze and glass were discovered by the team

Researchers say the discovery - including the related personal items - suggest the grave was the final resting site of an important tribal leader

Researchers say the discovery – including the related personal items – suggest the grave was the final resting site of an important tribal leader

‘It is the best discovery we have ever made. I have found things like coins, rings and brooches from Roman and Victorian times – but it is usually tin cans and rubbish. I never expected anything like this,’ Sue Washington said. 

Further analysis of the human remains will be carried out by the archaeologists to help determine the man’s age, health, diet and geographical origins.

Michael Lewis, head of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, said: ‘This is a great example of archaeologists and metal-detectorists working together.

‘Especially important is the fact that the finders stopped when they realised they had discovered something significant and called in archaeological assistance.

‘By doing so they ensure much more could be learnt about this interesting burial.’

The team are now hoping to raise funds to pay for further conservation work to allow other pieces to go on show at the Buckinghamshire Museum next year.

The sword and scabbard are an example of one of the most well preserved sheaved swords ever found from this time period

The sword and scabbard are an example of one of the most well preserved sheaved swords ever found from this time period

The dig, in a field near Marlow, was carried out with permission of the land owner. The region of the mid-Thames between London and Oxford was previously thought to be a 'borderland', with strong groups on each side

The dig, in a field near Marlow, was carried out with permission of the land owner. The region of the mid-Thames between London and Oxford was previously thought to be a ‘borderland’, with strong groups on each side

Further analysis of the human remains will be carried out by the archaeologists to help determine the man's age, health, diet and geographical origins

Further analysis of the human remains will be carried out by the archaeologists to help determine the man’s age, health, diet and geographical origins

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