A right Royal storage mystery

We love a good storage mystery, and they don’t come much more mysterious than this. A pelvic bone found in a storage box in Winchester City Museum has been carbon dated to between 895 – 1017. The bone was found on an archaeological dig at Winchester Cathedral in the 1990s, but it’s only recently been rediscovered. So who’s hip was it?Since bones uncovered under a car park in Leicester were proved in all-likelihood to be those of Richard III there’s natural frenzy when new Royal bones are thought to have been uncovered. Carbon dating puts the bone found at Winchester into a 122 year window of history when some of England’s most revered Kings were on the throne. It begins with Alfred the Great,  a learned, compassionate and celebrated King widely credited with, In spite of his fame, he’s probably best known for getting it the neck for burning some cakes, a kind of medieval Great british Bake-off #fail.

In fact, baking cakes aside, Alfred the Great was a bit of an all-rounder. Well educated and learned, not only was he a terrific military strategist (beating the raiding Danes twice – at Ashdown in 871 and then at Edington in  878) he was also something of a diplomat – negotiating a treaty with the Danes that saw him becoming King of Wessex,  Mercia and Kent.  Add to that his administrative abilities and personal values; he established an early code of laws and oversaw the translation of many Latin texts into Anglo-Saxon – all the time promoting education as the foundation stone of social stability. It’s not hard to see why he was labelled Great and why his period as King of England remains the stuff of legend.

But that Carbon date range is a 122 year window and there’s a bit of detective work as to who it could be…

Alfred was succeeded by his son Edward (the elder), and both he and Alfred’s youngest child Athelweard were interred alongside their father. All their bodies were moved twice during the next 200 years due to new building works, before being interred at Hyde Abbey.  

  • The bone was found during excavation of Hyde Abbey in Winchester 1999.
  • Hyde Abbey was built after Alfred (and his Son Edward) died and consecrated in 1110 A.D.
  • Records support that Alfred and Edward’s bones were moved from their original resting place and interred close to the altar at Hyde Abbey .
  • There was no cemetery at Hyde Abbey, so they were amongst very few bones buried there.
  • Convicts, building prison in 1788 were known to have disturbed the graves and scattered the bones around the site.

So, ultimately, for a piece of bone dated to 1017 (at the latest) to be found above a structure completed in 1110 it had to have been put there afterwards. That makes it highly likely to have been Alfred, his son (and subsequent King) and Edward the Elder or his brother Athelweard.

Unlike with Richard III it’s hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is Alfred, Edward or Athelweard, but momentum is mounting for a further dig at the site to see if any further bone fragments can be discovered.

Of course, whilst it is unlikely any of our clients will be storing anything quite so enigmatic as the bones of the only Monarch in English history to have been hailed as ‘Great’, we’re still prude to be London’s favourite place for self storage.

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