Early English queen's remains in Germany: experts

17th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Bones discovered in an elaborate tomb in Germany are the remains of an early queen and member of the English royal family, British archaeologists said Thursday.

Two years after they were found in Magdeburg Cathedral in northern Germany, experts are now sure they belong to Eadgyth, the granddaughter of Alfred the Great and half-sister of Athelstan, the first king of all England.

It means the bones are the oldest surviving remains of an English royal burial, the team at the University of Bristol said.

The discovery involved anthropological study and carbon dating of the bones, but the key was in the teeth preserved in the upper jaw, which contained traces of a diet and environment specific to somebody who had lived in England.

Eadgyth grew up in southern England but was sent to Germany in the year 929 to marry Otto, the king of Saxony, with whom she had at least two children before her death in 946. She was about 36 years old.

"We are what we eat. So we pick up traces of the base metals, the rocks and the isotopes," Professor Mark Horton of the University of Bristol told the BBC.

"And the strontium ratio in her teeth gave us the smoking gun that showed she spent the first few years of her life in Wessex in southern England."

The bones, wrapped in expensive silks, were discovered in 2008 when German archaeologists opened the tomb, but there were doubts that they were Eadgyth's as her remains had been moved several times before being laid there in 1510.

However, analysis of the strontium and oxygen isotopes that are mineralised in teeth as they are formed "unambigiuously pinpointed the chalk regions of southern Britain", said Bristol University senior lecturer Alistair Pike.

The case is the latest in a series of recent rediscoveries of the bones of historical figures.

On Wednesday Italian researchers said they were almost certain that remains found in a church in Tuscany were those of Renaissance master artist Caravaggio.

They based their conclusion on DNA, carbon dating and other analysis, they said following an investigation lasting a year.

Caravaggio was said to have died of malaria in 1610 when not yet 40, but the researchers also cited syphilis and lead poisoning as possible factors.

His unmarked grave was thought to have been among around 200 at a small church cemetery in Porto Ercole. They were all exhumed in 1956, and the bones placed together in an ossuary in the church's crypt.

The researchers combed through all the remains before determining that a set belonging to a man who would have been aged 38 to 40 and died in around 1610 were those of Caravaggio.

Last month the remains of Nicolas Copernicus, the 16th century father of modern astronomy, were reburied in the cathedral of Frombork, his northern Polish hometown.

A mathematician, economist and physician as well as a cleric, Copernicus was buried in an unmarked tomb beneath the cathedral floor.

The remains found in 2005 were positively identified by DNA testing on a tooth, and two strands of hair found in a book that once belonged to Copernicus and ended up in Sweden as war booty.

© 2010 AFP

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