‘British Tutankhamun Tomb’ Discovered Next to Aldi Supermarket May Belong to Anglo-Saxon Royalty

By NTD Staff

The burial site of an ancient royal discovered between a pub and an Aldi supermarket in Essex has been hailed as the UK’s equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

During construction to widen a section of road in Prittlewell, near Southend-on-Sea, workers were confronted in 2003 with an unexpected find, reported The Evening Standard. The site is being called the oldest example of a Christian Anglo-Saxon royal burial in history.

“I think the thing that’s so strange about it is that it was such an unpromising looking site,” Sophie Jackson, director of research and engagement for the Museum of London Archaeology, told the London newspaper. “It’s between a bit of railway and a bit of road, essentially a verge.

“It’s not where you’d expect to find it.”

After careful analysis by a team of experts, the artifacts discovered in the chamber suggest that the remains may be of Seaxa, brother of Anglo-Saxon King Saebert. “I think it’s our equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb,” Jackson said. “It’s getting an intact version of this and seeing how everything is positioned and what he’s got with him.”

She added that, once the site was discovered, it had to be fully excavated, lest it become vulnerable to potential theft.

What remained of the chamber, build from timber, would have measured about 13 feet square and 5 feet deep, while nearly 40 precious artifacts were found within its walls.

A copper alloy hanging bowl was the first artifact recovered, and gave experts a “real idea of just how significant this burial might be,” according to Ciara Phipps from Southend Museums Service. “It’s thought it was probably acquired as a gift so it gives a sense of how significant this person might have been… he had friends in high places,” she continued.

It was originally proposed that the remains were those of Saebert, Saxon King of Essex from 604 A.D. to 616 A.D., but after carbon dating and other tests, the tomb was identified as being built between 575 A.D. and 605 A.D.—at least 11 years before his death. Based on other clues, including fragments of tooth enamel, the size of the coffin, and the placement of items within, it was determined that remains were from an adult about 5 foot 8 inches tall.

After extensive research, the possibility that it was the King’s brother emerged. Jackson told the Standard, “That may also not be correct, but that’s the best guess.”

“There’s a lot of debate about whether he was a fully-fledged hairy beast Saxon warrior, or younger,” she said. “Had he died before he could really prove himself as he could have been buried with more kit?”

Among other significant artifacts uncovered was a lyre, a stringed musical instrument that resembles a small harp; a 1,400-year-old painted wooden box; and a flagon, a large container for drinking believed to be from Syria, according to the report. The lyre is the first of its kind to be retrieved in complete form, and the box is thought to be the only surviving example of painted Anglo-Saxon woodwork in Britain.

Smaller tokens including gold coins, the gilded silver neck of a wooden drinking vessel, and decorative glass beakers were also found.

The excavation team from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) told the Standard that each item was carefully arranged inside the tomb “as part of a carefully choreographed burial rite,” indicating the royal status and lineage of the deceased. The presence of artifacts from other kingdoms suggests wealth, Jackson stated.

A diagram of the tomb showing the layout of artifacts including treasures from other kingdoms (2003/MOLA).

“It’s a really interesting time when Christianity is sort of creeping in and this is all possibly before Augustinian sent his mission to Britain to convert the country to Christianity … so they would have been just on the transition between having pagan burials with all your gear but also having these crosses,” she said.

Central Museum in Southend will open a public exhibition of some of the artifacts from the burial chamber beginning on May 11. The accompanying research will also be published in two books.

The project was funded by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and Historic England.