Sunday, January 19, 2014

Remains of Alfred the Great may have been found centuries after legendary king’s grave was lost

http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/01/17/remains-of-alfred-the-great-may-have-been-found-centuries-after-legendary-kings-grave-was-lost/

Remains of Alfred the Great may have been found centuries after legendary king’s grave was lost

| | Last Updated: Jan 17 5:12 PM ET
St. Bartholomew Church in Winchester, Hampshire, Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. Archaeologists believe the king's remains may have been moved to an unmarked grave at the Church , which was built using stones from the Hyde Abbey.
AP Photo/ Chris Ison, PASt. Bartholomew Church in Winchester, Hampshire, Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. Archaeologists believe the king's remains may have been moved to an unmarked grave at the Church , which was built using stones from the Hyde Abbey.
 
As the king who saved Anglo-Saxon England from the Danes, and a military, social and educational reformer, Alfred the Great was laid to rest in the holiest church in Winchester, seat of Wessex royalty.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty ImagesA statue of Alfred The Great on Feb. 6, 2013 in Winchester, England. King Alfred lived from 849 AD to 899 AD and is the only English monarch to be afforded the title The Great.
But over the centuries, his body was moved and the grave was lost, a victim of changing church politics and bad luck.
Now, after a false start, archeologists believe they may have found a part of his remains, languishing previously unexamined among animal bones in a dusty box in a museum basement.
Carbon dating and other analysis, coupled with the historical record and the spot where they were dug up, suggests they are from the cake burner of legend.
The academics knew that Alfred and other members of his family had been reburied at Hyde Abbey in a norther suburb of the city when it was built centuries after their deaths, but the grave was lost after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
It was thought the remains may have been moved to an unmarked grave at St. Bartholomew’s Church nearby, which was built using stones from the abbey.
AP Photo/PA, Steve Parsons
AP Photo/PA, Steve ParsonsThree grave stones mark the site where Hyde Abbey once stood in Winchester, England, Friday Jan. 17, 2014. Researchers said Friday they may have discovered remains of King Alfred the Great, the 9th-century royal remembered for protecting England from the Vikings and educating a largely illiterate nation.
The archeologists discovered six skeletons there. But when each was found to date from the 1300s, hundreds of years after Alfred’s death in 899, they turned to remains found in the late 1990s during a previous excavation of the abbey site itself.

Alfred the Great, 849-899


Born in Wantage, Oxfordshire, in 849, Alfred became King of Wessex at the age of 21. He was crowned in 871 and reigned for 28 years
Following the wishes of his father, Aethelwulf, he succeeded to the kingship after his brothers, to avoid passing the crown to an under-age king when the country was under constant attack by Viking raiders
Alfred was battle-hardened when he came to the throne, having defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown in 871. His army routed the invaders in a fierce uphill struggle but sustained heavy losses
In 878, the Danes took Chippenham, Wiltshire, in a surprise assault. Using the town as a fortified base, they struck out at Wessex and forced Alfred to retreat with the remains of his force
Copying their tactics, Alfred created a fort at Athelney, Somerset, summoned an army from Wiltshire, Somerset and Hampshire and used guerrilla tactics against the invaders
In 878 Alfred was victorious at the Battle of Edington, resulting in a treaty with the Danes. Peace was agreed on condition that the Danish King Guthrum was baptised and that his army leave Wessex
Once peace was established, Alfred reorganised southern England’s defences, creating a network of well-defended settlements and a navy of fast ships that left the kingdom less vulnerable
Alfred died in 899, aged 50, and was interred in Winchester
A popular legend, originating in the 12th century tells how when sheltering on the Somerset Levels, Alfred was taken in by a peasant woman who, unaware of his identity, left him to watch some cakes she had left cooking on the fire. Preoccupied with the problems of his kingdom, Alfred accidentally let them burn.
The Telegraph

In a storage box at Winchester’s City Museum they found a piece of human pelvic bone, including the right hip joint, which had been buried beneath the historic site of the high altar in 1999 but had never been examined.
It was found to have belonged to a young to middle-aged man who died between 895 and 1017, conceivably either Alfred or his son and successor Edward.
Although no DNA tests have been carried out, the bone is almost certainly from a member of the king’s family because it predates Hyde Abbey itself, experts said.
“The simplest explanation, given there was no Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Hyde Abbey, is that this bone comes from one of the members of the West Saxon royal family brought to the site,” said Dr. Katie Tucker, an osteoarcheologist at the University of Winchester, which carried out the excavation.
“However, historical evidence indicates that only the coffins of Alfred and Edward were buried at the site of the high altar.”
Alfred was initially interred at the city’s old minster, but was later moved with his wife and children to another church. All were reinterred at Hyde Abbey after it was consecrated in 1110.
The fact only the pelvis has been found is probably the fault of 18th-century convicts, who disturbed graves while building a prison.
“Almost certainly the royal graves were found in 1788 when they were building a prison on the site,” said Edward Fennell of Hyde900, a local historical society.
“The graves were destroyed and the bones were thrown around and buried hither and thither. That is why finding a random bone is not surprising.”
The society was behind the search for the king’s remains and is calling for further excavations of the abbey site.
Alfred the Great is remembered as the medieval king who protected southern England from the Vikings, as well as introducing a host of social and educational reforms.

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