He lay undisturbed on a hilltop for centuries. Now, the uncovered remains of an Anglo-Saxon warlord may change historians’ understanding of Britain’s ancient history.

The ‘Marlow Warlord’ has been identified as a high-status figure from the 6th century, according to archaeologists from the University of Reading, who carried out the research.

The remains of
the ‘Marlow Warlord’,
uncovered in the summer.
The nature of his burial
site suggest he was a
respected local tribe leader.
The remains of the ‘Marlow Warlord’. The nature of his burial site suggest he was a respected local tribe leader. Image: University of Reading.

The man, around six foot in stature, was buried with expensive luxuries and weapons, including a sword in a well-preserved scabbard made of wood and leather. His shallow grave, in Berkshire, also contained spears, and vessels made of bronze and glass.

The Anglo-Saxon period was one of upheaval for England, with immigration from the continent and newly emerging power structures following the collapse of the Roman administration around AD 400.

In the period in which the Marlow Warlord lived, England was occupied by several tribal groups, some of which expanded into kingdoms such as Wessex and Mercia.

The area in which the skeleton has been found was previously thought to have been a borderland between rival tribes. But the find suggests it may have instead hosted an important group of its own, one that was possibly squeezed out or absorbed by rivals.

The site was initially identified by two metal detectorists, Sue and Mick Washington, in 2018. Their unearthing of two bronze bowls, along with later discoveries of iron spearheads, led to a two-week excavation by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading this August.

Dr Gabor Thomas, an early medieval archaeology specialist at the university, said the find ‘exceeded all our expectations’.

‘This guy would have been tall and robust compared to other men at the time, and would have been an imposing figure even today,’ Dr Thomas explained. ‘The nature of his burial and the site with views overlooking the Thames suggest he was a respected leader of a local tribe and had probably been a formidable warrior in his own right.’

The University intends to carry out further analysis to determine the man’s age, health, diet, and geographical origins. The findings could go on public display as soon as next year.

This is an article from the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.




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