British archaeologists have unearthed the remains of what might be the first queen of Windsor in a 4,400-year-old female skeleton adorned with some of Britain's earliest gold jewels. The find could predate Windsor's royal connection by more than three millennia.
Archaeologists discovered the remains at Kingsmead Quarry, not far from Windsor Castle, which, since the time of Henry I (1068 – 1135), has been associated with British royals.
The burial was dated to the Copper Age, between 2,200 and 2,500 B.C. - just a century or two after the construction of Stonehenge, which stands about 60 miles to the south-west.
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The bones, which were almost destroyed by the acidic soil around the grave, indicate the individual was a woman aged at least 35. At the time of her burial she wore a necklace of tubular sheet gold beads and black disks of lignite (a form of coal).
In a row along the body, the archaeologists found a number of pierced amber beads, possibly buttons for her long-vanished woven wool clothes. A number of black beads found near her hand suggest she wore a bracelet.
Interestingly, a large drinking vessel lay by the woman's hip. Decorated with a comb-like stamp, the fine pottery, known to archaeologist as a beaker, linked the burial to communities which lived across Europe at around 2,500 B.C.
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"Beaker graves of this date are almost unknown in southeast England and only a small number of them, and indeed continental Europe, contain gold ornaments," Stuart Needham, an expert in Copper Age metal work, said.
According to the archaeologists in charge of the excavation, Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, the woman was probably "an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items."
"She could have been a leader, a person with power and authority, or possibly part of an elite family - perhaps a princess or queen," Chaffey said.
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The bones are too decayed to allow DNA and carbon-14 dating. Experts are now working at determining the origins of the jewellery.
Lead isotope analysis suggest that the gold probably came from deposits located in southeast Ireland and southern Britain. It's likely the lignite beads came from the east of England, while the amber may have come from as far away as the Baltic.
According to Wessex Archaeology, an "extensive prehistoric landscape" is still buried beneath the quarry and surrounding areas on the edge of West London and East Berkshire.
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Indeed, four early Neolithic (3750 B.C.), dozens of Bronze Age burials, several Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements have been discovered during the 10-year excavation at the quarry.
The grave finds are expected to go on display later this year in a local museum.
Image: A computer-generated image showing the Copper Age woman buried near Windsor Castle in England. Credit: Wessex Archaeology.