The skeleton of a 1,400-year-old Anglo-Saxon woman buried alongside a cow has emerged from a former children's playground near Cambridge in England, making the "cow woman" an extraordinary unique find.
Described as "hugely exciting" and "bizarre," the burial was uncovered by students from Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire.
The find is believed to be the only one of its kind ever found in Europe.
"Usually it is warrior men who are discovered buried with their animals. Never before have we found a woman buried alongside a cow," Faye Simpson, of the Department of History at Manchester Metropolitan University, said.
Simpson and colleague Duncan Sayer, from the University of Central Lancashire, believe the burial indicates the woman enjoyed a high social status within her community.
"A cow is symbolic of economic and domestic power. In the 5th century this animal was a very important to a community’s survival, so to sacrifice one is highly significant. Such a unique burial indicates the woman's role as regional elite," Simpson told Discovery News.
According to the researchers, the community would have wanted to give the woman something really important to show respect — something they wouldn't have done for just anybody.
"She was buried in the late 5th century, a significant period after the Roman occupation. The burial demonstrates that the reordering of social boundaries could include important matriarchal figures," Simpson said.
The theory is backed by the abundance of grave goods unearthed with the skeleton. These include two small disc brooches, three necklaces made of glass beads, amber beads, wrist clasps, belt buckle, strap end, and belt hanger with set of keys.
Analysis of the woman's bones and teeth suggest she was in her twenties or thirties when she died.
"We have not yet ascertained her cause of death, although there does not appear to be any significant trauma evident to suggest a violent death," Simpson said.
Photos: The skeleton of the 1400-year-old Anglo-Saxon woman buried alongside a cow. Credit: Faye Simpson;
- The woman skeleton with grave goods. Credit: Faye Simpson.