Anglo-Saxon Burial in England Is Compared to King Tut's Tomb

Anglo-Saxon Burial in England Is Compared to King Tut's Tomb

Archaeologists are expected to reveal to the public what is now believed to be one of the most significant archaeological finds in England in recent decades. They will announce their findings of a magnificent royal burial , which has been compared to the grave of the famous Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun. It is expected to change how we view Anglo-Saxon England .

The burial was found during a project to extend a motorway and was discovered by construction workers on a patch of grass next to a congested road. It was not a promising place to find historic treasure , as it is near an ordinary pub and a busy supermarket. The discovery was made outside Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, in 2003.

The Prittlewell burial site was discovered in 2003. ( MOLA)

The Prittlewell Burial is a Grave Worthy of a Pharaoh

The workers notified the relevant authorities, which is required by law. Archaeologists began to investigate the area, in order to prevent looting, and what they found was astounding. They unearthed a large burial chamber that was replete with many grave goods . The Guardian reports that Sophie Jackson, from the Museum of London Archaeology, as stating that “it could be seen as a British equivalent to Tutankhamun’s tomb , although different in a number of ways.”

The chamber was investigated for over 15 years, by a team of 40 experts and researchers and their amazing conclusions are now being revealed for the first time.

The burial chamber, “which would have measured about 13 feet (4 meters) square and 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep,” according to the BBC, held a variety of many precious artifacts. Archaeologists retrieved some forty artifacts from the Anglo-Saxon world and beyond. Among the items that were recovered was an intact lyre, a musical instrument , which is decorated with semi-precious stones that came possibly from India.

At the Prittlewell burial the remains of a lyre with decorative copper-ally fitting with garnets in the center. ( MOLA)

There was also found a complete painted wooden box, the first of its kind ever found from the Anglo-Saxon world. The hoard included coins, drinking horns, and wooden vessels and a golden buckle was also unearthed. The BBC reports that “a flagon believed to have come from Syria” was also among the grave goods. Such riches in the chamber led to the comparisons with the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

Objects found at the Prittlewell burial site include a gold belt buckle, a copper alloy flagon from the Mediterranean, a decorative hanging bowl, and gold coins. ( MOLA)

Because of the nature of the soil, all the carbon-based material has long-ago disintegrated and the burial site was only a sandy pit when it was revealed to the light for the first time. The remains of the person interred there had also disappeared. Only some teeth remained but they had precious DNA.

Carbon-dating revealed that the burial was from “between 575 AD and 605 AD”, states the Guardian. This was when the Anglo-Saxons had established a number of kingdoms in eastern England and had driven the Romano-Britons to the remote highlands of Wales and Cornwall.

Is the Prittlewell Burial the Grave of Prince Seaxa?

Then the researchers began to try to identify the person buried in the remarkable grave. Their initial hypothesis was that it was King Saebert, who was a ruler in the East of England in the early 7 th century AD. However, Saebert died in 616 AD according to the Chronicles and the burial dated from approximately 580 AD. The researchers then concluded that the person buried in the grave was Seaxa, the younger sibling of King Saebert, but this cannot be established for certain.

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The Prittlewell burial site by the side of a road in Essex, believed to be that of Seaxa brother of King Saebert. ( MOLA)

Experts from the Museum of London Archaeology believe that the person was probably a member of royalty and this gives credence to the theory that it was Seaxa. It took a large number of men to build the chamber and it required timber from over a dozen oaks and this is an indication of the dead man’s very high-status. Locals have called the man the ‘Prince of Prittlewell’ because of the many precious items found with him.

Evidence of Early Adoption of Christianity Found At the Prittlewell Burial Site

Among all the riches that were found in the chamber were a number of small “gold foil crosses” reports Sky News . This is possible evidence that the deceased was a Christian or at least partially Christianized. These finds are surprising, and they indicate that the Anglo-Saxons or at least some of them had adopted Christianity even before the mission of St. Augustine in the 7 th century AD. The crosses could have been placed there by Seaxa’s mother, who was a Christian, from Gaul. According to Sky News , the chamber is “the earliest Christian Anglo-Saxon royal burial site” so far uncovered.

Gold crosses believed to have been placed over the man’s eyes found at the Prittlewell burial site. ( MOLA)

The find is demonstrating that Essex in England was an important center for the Germanic tribes and that they had at the very least contacts with Christianity far earlier than thought. It also shows the area’s wealth in the so-called Dark Ages and that the local population engaged in long-distance trade.

Some of the grave goods are going to be put on display over the summer at the Central Museum in Southend.

The Prittlewell Princely Burial is the earliest evidence of Anglo-Saxon Christianity ever found in England. Compared with the princely burials at Sutton Hoo and Taplow, Prittlewell has a beautiful and exotic array of artefacts, with many of the most impressive objects going on permanent display from May 11 2019.

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In 2003, archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) began excavating land in Prittlewell, Essex ahead of a road widening scheme. The discovery of a chamber grave came as a great surprise to the archaeologists as they uncovered incredible objects buried under centuries of earth.

The top of the fine gold belt buckle which would have fastened a belt around the man’s tunic © MOLA

High status latticed blue glass beakers manufactured in Kent and a pair of drinking bottles © MOLA

The silver spoon found in the remains of a decorated box. © MOLA

“A copper-alloy hanging bowl was found still hanging on its hook on the chamber wall”

A small, wood-lined chamber had been buried under a mound, which had collapsed over time, concealing its location and protecting its contents from robbers.

The first object that archaeologists found was a copper-alloy hanging bowl, which was found remarkably still hanging on its hook on the chamber wall. Other objects including a box for a wooden gaming board and a large copper-alloy bowl were also found still hung up.

The deceased had been buried in a wooden coffin, which was preserved as its iron coffin fittings. Placed around the coffin were personal objects including a beautiful pattern-welded sword, drinking vessels, exotic wares from the eastern Mediterranean and exquisite gaming pieces, many of which can be seen on display in the permanent display.

Perhaps the most significant find was the two gold foil crosses in the head area of the coffin. These are an undoubted symbol of Christianity and are unparalleled in any grave in England. Dating has shown that the deceased was buried between AD 580 and AD 600, which means it could belong to the time of, or immediately after St. Augustine’s arrival in Kent in AD 597. However, there is an 80% chance that the deceased was buried before this time, so there may be other explanations.

Gaming pieces found in the tomb. © MOLA

The folding stool found in the tomb may be a symbol of princely authority. © MOLA

The elaborate copper-alloy flagon was made in the eastern Mediterranean, probably Syria. This type of vessel was often acquired by Christan pilgrims © MOLA

The burial assemblage is incredibly rich and shows the ‘princely’ status of the deceased. Some of the objects have exotic origins the large copper-alloy bowl comes from the eastern Mediterranean and the flagon might have been obtained by a pilgrim in Syria and traded all the way to the UK to arrive in Prittlewell. Similarly, golden objects such as the belt buckle, thread and crosses would have had high values then as they do today.

Giving a name to the deceased has been a point of interest in the local area, with many originally naming the deceased the ‘Saxon King’ or trying to align with the kings of the East Saxon kingdom. However, 15 years of research have shown that the ‘Prittlewell Prince’ was buried too early to have been King Saebert and was probably only a local nobleman or relative of the Essex kings.

The Prittlewell Princely Burial is on permanent display from Saturday May 11 at Southend Central Museum. The Museum is open from 9am to 5pm from Tuesday to Saturday.


Southend Central Museum and Planetarium

Southend-on-Sea, Essex

The Central Museum is situated in Victoria Avenue, and houses the Planetarium and principal artefact store. The Central Museum was opened in April 1981, in a magnificent Edwardian library building. The displays tell the story of the natural and human history of south east Essex. The Southend Planetarium is the&hellip


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Anglo-Saxon Burial in England Is Compared to King Tut's Tomb - History

Death and Burial in the Anglo-Saxon World

The Anglo-Saxon worldview was dominated by a fatalistic view of life. Fate, wyrd, dictated who would live and die, and, in a world full of blood fueds and wars, death was more than just a fact of life it was a way of life. From elegies such as "The Wanderer" and "The Seafarer" we know that the Anglo-Saxons deeply mourned the passing of friends and family. They wrote tributes to loved ones, lamenting their losses, and they designed the final resting places of the dead in kind. Whether the gone were honored in cremation or burial, it is in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries that we can learn the most about their culture. S. Chadwick Hawkes writes that:

… abandoned homes rarely yield more than building foundations and the kinds of objects people threw away. Their cemeteries on the other hand, contain the things treasured by the Anglo-Saxons, their mortal remains and the precious possessions which they sought to take with them after death. (24)

Through the study of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, we have gained a significant amount of information about what the Anglo-Saxons were like. We have found jewelry, tools, weapons, and other items that give an insight into not only the daily life of the people, but also the afterlife that they expected. While the initial excavations of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries were not held to rigid scientific standards, leading to the loss of much scientific data, there have still been major breakthroughs that, as is the way with these sorts of things, give only as many answers as they conjure up new questions.

Many Anglo-Saxon gravesites were disturbed before scientists ever reached them. Robbers throughout history have looted barrows for their rich stores of treasure. In Anglo-Saxon times this was common, and it is parallelled in the story of the dragon's horde in Beowulf. The taboo against disturbing the resting places of the dead is nearly universal, and it was certainly a frightening and potentially risky affair to rob graves. When scientists began exploring Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, in the eighteenth century, their motives were not so far removed from the grave robbers of yore. The focus was on collecting the grave goods from the different burial sites, and, as Hawkes notes, "skeletons were often disregarded and the historical value of the cemetery as a whole was largely ignored" (24). Because of the ruthlessness of this practice, many scientists began focusing on scientific archaeological excavation of settlements, but those excavations revealed only deteriorated foundations and the objects that people threw away. Interest was again swayed back to the cemeteries, but now with an eye turned less toward gathering the treasures of the Anglo-Saxons, and more toward the anthropological and archaeological information that could be gathered by closely analyzing skeletons, burial positions, grave proximities, and the like (24). The Anglo-Saxons disposed of their dead either through cremation, depositing the ashes of the deceased in highly ornate urns, or inhumation, usually in the form of barrows. Because of the inherent difficulty in aging, sexing, or identifying cremations, most of the studies focus on the inhumed remains of individuals.

Barrows are an ancient form of burial in the British Isles. The practice dates back thousands of years to the times of the most ancient human inhabitation of the land. The Anglo-Saxons built barrows to honor their dead nobles. The size of a barrow is proportional to the importance of the individual buried there. It is difficult to discover the exact social status of inhumed bodies, but the idea that barrows were reserved for the elite of the Anglo-Saxon society is supported by two facts: Not everybody was given a barrow burial, and in barrows there are usually several individuals interred. Anglo-Saxon literature supports this assumption. Beowulf wants to have a giant barrow built in his honor, and he makes this wish as he lays on his death bed. Oftentimes there is an initial interment in a barrow. There is a main grave, and around this grave there may be several bodies that were buried at around the same time. It can be speculated that these additional skeletons may be those of wives or servants of the noble for whom the barrow was built, but this cannot be verified for certain. Scientists have also found that in large barrows are secondary burials of cremation urns. They presume that the urns belong to family members of the deceased and that in this way the barrows may have served as plots for less illustrious family members (Grinsell, 92-3). Depending on the social status of the deceased, barrows range from small bumps to large, complex discs. The most impressive barrows are huge man-made hills, surrounded by a ditch and possibly a rock wall. Less important individuals may have only a small bump on the ground, almost indistinguishable after a millenium.

A typical Anglo-Saxon cemetery of interest is Finglesham, in East Kent. The site was used from ca. 500 to ca. 700, and was almost certainly founded by the aristocracy. Finglesham is derived from the old english, Pengels-ham, which translates to Prince's Home or Prince's Manor. The large barrow of the cemetery has been numbered 204, and from the sheer size of the mound it is obvious that he was quite wealthy. The site was discovered in 1928 by workers who were chalk quarrying. Thirty-one graves were found between 1928 and 1929, and another 215 graves were excavated "more scientifically" between 1959 and 1967 (Hawkes, 24). The founding male, located in grave 204, is supposed to have died at the age of 25 around the year 525. He is interred in a large, iron-bound coffin, and among other treasures found in his grave is a green, glass claw goblet. He was found with both domestic and imported weapons, shields, jewelry, and tools, exhibiting the cosmopolitan nature of Anglo-Saxon society. Surrounding his burial site are the graves of what are assumed to be family members and consorts. Each of these skeletons were found surrounded by items of similar extravagence to the founding male. It is assumed that over half of the population that was buried in Finglesham died by age 25, but the assumption is complicated by the difficulties in ageing or sexing skeletons. According to Jeremy Huggett, from the University of Glasgow, it is difficult to sex a skeleton that is under 25, and it is difficult to age a skeleton that is over 25. Until recently, sex was determined by the gender relationships scientists drew according to grave goods found with the skeleton. This has been shown faulty since sometimes men were buried with brooches, a useful item to an Anglo-Saxon without zippers, but one which many scientists attribute to females. Skeletal evidence has also shown that females were occasionally buried with weapons, although the reasoning behind the coupling of a female skeleton with a 'male' weapon perplexes researchers (Huggett).

If Finglesham is an example of a typical Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Sutton Hoo is an example of the exceptional capability the Anglo-Saxons had in creating monuments. The site is dominated by a huge ship burial, one of the few of its kind found in the British Isles. The site is the tomb of a seventh-century king, discovered in 1939. Exavation of the site lasted until the late 1960s, and still all of the questions researchers have about the cemetery have not been answered. James Cambell describes the unique royal grave:

A ship had been dragged from the river Deben up to the top of a 100-foot-high bluff, and laid in a trench. A gabled hut had been built amidships to accommodate a very big coffin and an astonishing collection of treasures and gear. The trench had then been filled in and a mound raised over it to stand boldly on the skyline. (32)

Cambell goes on to note that the site had not been disturbed until its discovery by modern scientists. Treasures included personal ornaments inlaid with gold and garnets, weapons, the famous "Sutton-Hoo helmet," silverware, kitchen and cooking equipment, coins, and a "ceremonial whetstone" (32). The items originated from various locations, as far away as the outskirts of Europe, Alexandria, and Byzantium. The variety of treasures and their cosmopolitan nature show the extent to which the Anglo-Saxons interacted with mainland cultures.

The question remains, however, of just who is buried at Sutton Hoo. Some scientists want to say that it is the grave of Redwald, a powerful Anglo-Saxon king who died in the 620s. There are 37 coins of Merovingian origin, the latest dating from the 620s, that suggest the time frame is right for the assertion of the site as Redwald's grave. Scholars also point to two silver spoons that were found in the treasure. One is engraved with PAULOS, and the other SAULOS. Some scientists say these were given to Redwald upon his baptism into Christianity, and that the mixture of pagan and Christian elements in the burial site supports this. Indeed, the ship burial is generally associated with pagan cultures. But others claim that the burial of a ship points to the influence of the Swedes on the Anglo-Saxons, and go so far as to say that it is a Swedish individual who rose to power in the British Isles. Still others point to the origin of the coins and say that it must have been an individual with close ties to Gaul, possibly a king from that area. Regardless, it is a truly fascinating treasure that rewards speculation with only more unanswerable questions (Cambell, 33).

In only the last hundred years of scientific examination of Anglo-Saxon burial sites, scientists have discovered a wealth of knowledge equalled only by the wealth of treasure they have also gleaned from various barrows and graves. While these discoveries have mainly led to new questions that defy answer, the evidence that researchers have gathered have given a certain amount of perspective to other cultural artifacts from the Anglo-Saxon period. Scholars are using the empirical evidence of archaologists and anthropologists to give new meaning to ancient texts. Through the study of Anglo-Saxon grave sites we become close to the objects the people held dear, and through the combination of their various forms of creative output, be it in manufacturing items or texts, we become closer to their civilization.

My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by Arcadiaville » Wed May 01, 2019 4:16 am

Talk about ancient history! Have any of you discovered this genetic ancestry company that will compare your raw DNA data to ancient samples? Let's start a thread to share our results. The website offers a price-tiered level of ancestry services, from free for partial ancient sample matching to Commoner, Queen & King price levels for additional matching, multiple kit uploads and personalized ancestral maps.

Here are my results using Living DNA vs. 23andMe kits. By paper trail, I am mostly western / NW European.

Re: My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by Arcadiaville » Wed May 01, 2019 4:19 am

Re: My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by Arcadiaville » Wed May 01, 2019 4:46 am

Re: My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by Arcadiaville » Wed May 01, 2019 4:52 am

Deep Dive - Closest Ancient Relatives:

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Re: My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by Arcadiaville » Wed May 01, 2019 4:56 am

Aoda Posts:95 Joined:Sat Dec 29, 2018 3:35 pm Ethnicity:French & Italian mtDNA haplogroup:W3a1 Gender:woman Has thanked: 454 times Been thanked: 256 times

Re: My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by Aoda » Sat May 04, 2019 6:16 pm

I've tried it. The matches of the Deep Dive feature seemed overly inflated at first, with very long shared segments - which seems impossible given we're talking ancient samples compared to modern individuals. They've recently addressed that issue (probably after getting some feedback) and have adjusted the matches, making them more realistic.

tdd85 Posts:117 Joined:Sat May 04, 2019 4:57 am yourDNAportal profile: Location:Michigan Ethnicity:Father: Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, Dutch, French, German Mother: Ukrainian, Polish, North Frisian, German Y-DNA haplogroup:R1b-L11 mtDNA haplogroup:U8b'c Gender:man Has thanked: 577 times Been thanked: 214 times

Re: My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by tdd85 » Sun May 05, 2019 1:41 pm

Scythian + Longobard (5.185)
Scythian + Frank (7.617)
Longobard (9.382)
Frank (10.25)
Scythian (11.21)

Your closest Archaeogenetic matches.

1. Celt / Hungary (590 AD) (7.867) - [Upgrade for more details]
2. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (8.676) - [Upgrade for more details]
3. Alemannic Bavaria (450 AD) (9.357) - [Upgrade for more details]
4. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (9.382) - [Upgrade for more details]
5. Alemannic Bavaria (500 AD) (9.886) - [Upgrade for more details]
6. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (10.2) - [Upgrade for more details]
7. Frankish / Hungary (590 AD) (10.25) - [Upgrade for more details]
8. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (10.5) - [Upgrade for more details]
9. Bell Beaker England (2000 BC) (10.62) - [Upgrade for more details]
10. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (10.63) - [Upgrade for more details]
11. Nordic Lombard (590 AD) (10.79) - [Upgrade for more details]
12. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (11.16) - [Upgrade for more details]
13. Scythian Moldova (300 BC) (11.21) - [Upgrade for more details]
14. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (11.32) - [Upgrade for more details]
15. Celtic Gladiator York (250 AD) (11.39) - [Upgrade for more details]
16. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (11.47) - [Upgrade for more details]
17. Nordic Lombard (590 AD) (11.49) - [Upgrade for more details]
18. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (11.51) - [Upgrade for more details]
19. Bell Beaker England (2150 BC) (11.53) - [Upgrade for more details]
20. [Hidden] - upgrade your account (11.58) - [Upgrade for more details]

Your closest genetic modern populations.

1. German_Central (4.875)
2. East_German (8.283)
3. West_German (8.911)
4. North_Swedish (9.202)
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Re: My True - Archaeogenetic Samples & Maps

Post by Arcadiaville » Sun May 12, 2019 5:06 pm Company Updates:
I have received two additional emails from this company since uploading my DNA results and paying for the Premium package:
(1) New "England/Scotland" samples: This added much more English Bell Beaker to my results, but I still see Celt, Viking and Longoboard as my main ancient matches.
(2) New Timeline feature and "Scotland, Americas, and Southeast Asia" samples for Mother's day Special.

Updates Reflections:
(1) Are these British archaic samples really just newly released, or is the company slowly building their repertoire? I just read of the Anglo-Saxon burial discovery in England compared to King Tut's tomb.

I am aware of Bell Beakers historically but not familiar with their ethno-genesis. Therefore, I am not certain if this changes how I would ethnically characterize my origins. IMO, this constant flux where a calculator shows your "true" ancestry as ABC one day and DEF the next is a concern. If the company's mission is to reveal your "true ancestry" over mainstream DNA companies, should they be open for biz and taking your dollars before a reliable core of samples can yield a consistent result?

The undignified fates of the bodies of Anglo-Saxon kings in the medieval period

The discovery and reburial of the remains of Richard III in 2013 sparked renewed interest in a subject that has, for one reason or another, never failed to fascinate: the fates that can befall royal bodies after death. Here, medieval blogger Dr Eleanor Parker investigates.

This competition is now closed

Published: April 22, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Compared to some of his Anglo-Saxon predecessors, Richard III was lucky. In the medieval period, reburying kings’ bodies could be a perilous activity, both for the remains and for those who moved them. The historian William of Malmesbury tells a story about the reburial of King Edgar (who died in 975) that makes Richard’s long sojourn under a car park look dignified by comparison.

Edgar, a great patron of monasteries, was buried with honour at Glastonbury Abbey, and in 1052 the monks decided to move his remains to another location in the church. On opening his tomb, they were dismayed to find that the reliquary [a container for relics] they had already prepared was too small for the body. The abbot, Æthelweard, decided to take a knife to the king’s remains to make them fit into the reliquary, but at this disrespectful action streams of blood poured from the body, much to the horror of the watching monks.

William says that Æthelweard was swiftly punished for his deed: he went suddenly out of his mind, and broke his neck and died as he was leaving the church. Edgar’s ill-treated body was reburied with appropriate ceremony above the high altar. The monks had clearly learned their lesson about treating the king’s body with respect.

In telling this gruesome story about Edgar’s remains, William might have reflected with satisfaction on the knowledge that some Anglo-Saxon kings were more fortunate in their resting places. King Æthelstan, Edgar’s uncle, was buried at William’s own monastery of Malmesbury – a fact of which William was very proud. And William had himself been present on an occasion when the king’s tomb was opened. He describes from observation the appearance of Æthelstan’s body, recording that his hair was “beautifully intertwined with golden threads”. Historians like William have always found peeking inside royal tombs an irresistible opportunity.

Although most of their tombs were long ago destroyed, many towns and churches in England can lay claim to being the resting places of Anglo-Saxon monarchs. The royal burial sites of the various independent kingdoms of early Anglo-Saxon England were not always recorded, but we know that the kings of Kent were buried at Canterbury the royal family of Wessex at Winchester, Sherborne, and Wimborne and the rulers of Northumbria at York and Whitby.

But kings did not always remain where they were buried, especially if they came to be venerated as saints after death. St Oswald, king of Northumbria, was dismembered by the Mercians when he was killed in battle in 642, and his relics could be found – at various times – all over the country: his head in the shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham, and other parts of his body at Bamburgh, Bardney, Peterborough, Gloucester or Glastonbury.

Alfred the Great was never made a saint, but his body was important enough to be reburied at least twice in the centuries following his death in 899. First interred in the Old Minster, Winchester, his body was reburied a few years later in the neighbouring New Minster. When the New Minster community moved outside the city in 1110, Alfred’s body went with them. Its subsequent fate after the Dissolution remains unclear.

These successive reburials were at least dignified, but the political upheavals of the later Anglo-Saxon period meant that dead kings could not always rest in peace. When the Danish conqueror Svein Forkbeard died in 1014, after less than two months as king of England, he was first buried in York, but after the return of his rival, Æthelred, Svein’s body was quickly disinterred and taken back to Denmark.

By the time Æthelred himself died in 1016, large parts of England were occupied by a Danish army, and the king could not be buried in Wessex alongside his ancestors at Glastonbury or Winchester. He had to be laid to rest in London, where his remains were later moved to lie beside those of Sæbbi, a seventh-century king of the East Saxons, in Old St Paul’s Cathedral. The tombs of both kings were destroyed there in the fire of 1666.

Unlike Æthelred, Cnut was buried in the Old Minster, Winchester, beside several former kings of Wessex. The vicious rivalry that followed his death between his sons, Harold and Harthacnut, meant his successor was not so lucky. His elder son Harold died in 1040 after a short reign, and was buried at Westminster (perhaps the first king to be buried in what is now Westminster Abbey). But Harthacnut had Harold’s body exhumed, beheaded, and thrown into the Thames. According to John of Worcester, Harold’s body was retrieved by a fisherman and given to the Danes, who reburied it at their church in London.

Harthacnut, meanwhile, was buried beside his father in Winchester, but he was not destined to rest in peace any more than his half-brother was. In 1642, during the Civil War, Harthacnut’s bones – together with those of his parents, Cnut and Emma, and a number of other early kings – were removed from their tombs by parliamentarian soldiers and scattered on the floor of the cathedral. Mixed up together, the remains were collected and preserved in six mortuary chests, where they lie today – still as yet unidentified, although now undergoing analysis.

The fate of the body of the last Anglo-Saxon king is unclear, and remains a historical mystery. After Harold Godwineson was killed at Hastings, a variety of legends sprung up about how his enemies had treated his remains (along with stories that claimed he had not died in the battle at all). Some sources asserted he had been buried by the seashore as a final humiliation others, more plausibly, that his body was returned to his mother and given a decent burial at Bosham or Waltham Abbey.

The legends about Harold’s burial were bound up with the controversy surrounding the status of his kingship and the Norman claim to the English throne, and the facts became less important than the symbolism.

Royal remains are potent in their very powerlessness. They serve as a challenging reminder of mortality, and of the limits of earthly authority: kings who in their lives wielded great power are left, in death, at the mercy of a rival’s spite – or an abbot’s knife.

Where is King Henry VIII Buried and Why Doesn’t He Have a Tomb?

St. George’s Chapel with the vault where Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are buried in the floor. Image from’%20s%20Chapel/St%20George’s%20A.jpg

King Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. It was the end of an era. His will commanded he be buried with his beloved wife Jane Seymour, the only wife to give birth to a surviving legitimate male heir. Henry had given her a magnificent funeral after which she was buried in a vault under the quire of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. This vault was meant to be their temporary resting place.

Henry’s body was bathed, embalmed with spices and encased in lead. It laid in state in the presence chamber of Whitehall surrounded by burning tapers for a few days and was then moved to the chapel. On February 14, the body began its journey from London to Windsor. The procession was four miles long. An elaborate, tall hearse bore the coffin as it rumbled along the road. On top of the hearse was a lifelike wax effigy dressed in crimson velvet with miniver lining and velvet shoes. There was a black satin cap set with precious stones which was covered with a crown. The effigy was adorned with jewels and the gloved hands had rings.

The remains spent the night in Syon Abbey and the next day arrived at Windsor. Sixteen members of the Yeoman of the Guard bore the coffin into the black draped chapel. It was lowered into the vault in the quire. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester spoke the eulogy and celebrated the requiem mass as Katherine Parr, the dowager Queen, observed the ceremony from Katherine of Aragon’s oriel window. After the mass, as the trumpets sounded, the chief officers of the King’s household broke their staves of office and threw them into the vault, signaling the end of their service.

Katherine of Aragon’s oriel window in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor (

The king had left money for daily masses to be said for his soul until the end of the world. But the Protestant rulers of Edward VI’s government stopped the masses after a year. Henry’s will left instructions for a magnificent tomb to be built.

History of the Tomb

As early as 1518, Henry had plans drawn up for a tomb for himself and his first wife Katherine of Aragon. The initial plans were made by the Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano, the same man who designed the tomb for Henry’s parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. This tomb can be seen in the Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey to this day. Torrigiano planned for Henry VIII’s sarcophagus to be made of the same white marble and black touchstone as his father’s only it was to be twenty-five percent bigger. An argument over compensation for the designing of the plans ensued causing Torrigiano to return to Italy sometime before June 1519. There is evidence Henry considered giving another Italian, Jacopo Sansovino a commission for seventy five thousand ducats to work on a design in 1527.

Effigies of Elizabeth of York and King Henry VII in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey

During the seventeenth century, antiquarian John Speed was doing some historical research and unearthed a now vanished manuscript that gave details of Henry VIII’s tomb. It was based on Sansovino’s design from 1527. The plans called for a vast edifice decorated with fine Oriental stones, white marble pillars, gilded bronze angels and life-size images of Henry and his Queen. It was even going to include a magnificent statue of the King on horseback under a triumphal arch. One hundred and forty-four brass gilt figures were to adorn the tomb, including St. George, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles and the Evangelists.

It just so happens that Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s chief minister in the early years of his reign, had plans for a resplendent tomb for himself. Benedetto da Rovezzano, an employee of Wolsey’s from 1524 to 1529, kept a comprehensive inventory of the statues and ornamentation for this tomb. When Wolsey died, Henry adopted some components of Wolsey’s tomb for his own. Rovezzano and his assistant Giovanni de Maiano worked on the tomb for Henry from 1530 to 1536.

After Wolsey died, Henry actually appropriated the sarcophagus from his tomb. He planned to have a gilded life-size figure of himself on top. There was to be a raised podium with bronze friezes embedded in the walls along with ten tall pillars topped with statues of the Apostles surrounding the tomb. Between each of the pillars there would be nine foot tall bronze candlesticks. The design called for an altar at the east end of the tomb, topped with a canopy held aloft by four elaborate pillars. This would also include sixteen effigies of angels at the base holding candlesticks. The tomb and altar were to be enclosed by a black marble and bronze chantry chapel where masses could be said for the King’s soul. Had this design been finalized, it would have been much grander than the tomb of Henry’s parents.

Imagined drawing of Henry VIII’s tomb (Copyright: The Dean and Canons of Windsor)

The effigy of the king was actually cast and polished while Henry was still alive and other items were manufactured in workshops in Westminster. Work progressed during the last years of Henry’s reign but wars in France and Scotland were draining the royal treasury and work slowed. Rovezzano returned to Italy due to bad health. Some of the work on the monument continued during Edward VI’s reign but his treasury was always short of funds. Edward’s will requested the tomb be finished. Queen Mary I did nothing on the tomb.

Queen Elizabeth I had some interest in the project. Her minister William Cecil commissioned a survey of the work needed to complete the tomb and new plans were prepared in 1565. Whatever completed items there were in Westminster were moved to Windsor but after 1572, work came to a standstill. The components languished at Windsor until 1646 when the Commonwealth needed funds and sold the effigy of Henry to be melted down for money. Four of the bronze candlesticks found their way to the Cathedral of St. Bavo in Ghent, Belgium.

After the execution of King Charles I in 1649 (or 1648 in the old dating scheme), his remains were hastily placed in the same vault in the Chapel. It was deemed appropriate to bury him there because it was quieter and less accessible than somewhere in London in an effort to reduce the number of pilgrims to the grave of the martyred king. During the reign of Queen Anne, one of her many infants died and was buried in the same vault in a tiny coffin. In 1805, the sarcophagus that had been Wolsey’s and Henry’s was taken and used as the base of Lord Nelson’s tomb in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The grave was then forgotten until it was rediscovered when excavation commenced in 1813 for a passage to a new royal vault. The old vault was opened in the presence of the Regent, George Prince of Wales, the future King George IV. Several relics of King Charles I were removed for identification. When they were replaced in 1888, AY Nutt, Surveyor of the Fabric to the College of St. George made a watercolor drawing of the vault and its contents. Henry VIII’s coffin appears badly damaged. Jane Seymour’s was intact.

A Y Nutt’s watercolour of Henry VIII’s vault

Henry’s coffin could have been broken in several ways. The trestle supporting it could have collapsed. It’s possible when they went into the vault to put Charles’ coffin, Henry’s was damaged. It could have collapsed due to pressure from within. Or it’s also possible the coffin fell along the way, causing it to split open.

Marble slab indicting the vault in the quire of St. George’s Chapel where Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are buried

The Prince Regent requested a marble slab be inserted to mark the grave but this didn’t materialize until the reign of King William IV in 1837. The inscription on the slab reads: In a vault beneath this marble slab are deposited the remains of Jane Seymour Queen of King Henry VIII 1537, King Henry VIII 1547, King Charles I 1648 and an infant child of Queen Anne. This memorial was placed here by command of King William IV. 1837.

The Legend of the Licking Dogs

Because of the subject of this post, we have to address the legend of the dogs licking Henry’s blood as his body spent the night at Syon. The story starts with the sermon by a Franciscan friar named William Petow. He preached at the chapel at Greenwich on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1532. It was the time of the king’s “Great Matter”, the name for Henry’s effort to get a divorce or annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

Not only did Petow challenge Henry about trying to put aside Katherine of Aragon, he objected to Anne Boleyn’s efforts to promote the New Religion. He made this very clear in the sermon as the king sat before him in the chapel. Instead of pontificating on the resurrection of Christ, he preached on the verse from the Bible, 1 Kings 22 regarding King Ahab. King Ahab dies from wounds he suffered in a battle. The verse reads: “So the King died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there. They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared.”

Petow compared Henry to King Ahab and Anne Boleyn to Ahab’s wife Jezebel. Jezebel had replaced the prophets of God with pagans as Petow said Anne was endorsing and encouraging men of the New Religion. Petow said Henry would end up like Ahab with dogs licking his blood. Amazingly, Henry only imprisoned Petow for a short time and he escaped England and ended up on the Continent.

This story was taken up and repeated by Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715). He was an historian and the Bishop of Salisbury and he wrote the “History of the Reformation” in which he stated this actually happened to Henry’s body as it spent the night at Syon Abbey on the way to Windsor. Burnet himself admitted he was in a hurry when he wrote this book and did not research it sufficiently and that the volume was full of mistakes.

This didn’t stop Agnes Strickland from embellishing the story when she wrote her “Lives of the Queens of England” in the mid-19th century. She writes that the lead casing surrounding Henry’s body burst and oozed blood and other liquids. A plumber was called to fix the coffin and he witnessed a dog licking the blood. All of this is a unique exercise in historical fiction so we have to take the story as apocryphal.

Further reading: “Henry VIII: The King and His Court” by Alison Weir, “Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty” by Lacey Baldwin Smith, entry on Gilbert Burnet in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Martin Greig, The Will of King Henry VIII, St. George’s Chapel website

Bones unidentified for centuries may belong to one of England’s most historically important queens

Early England’s forgotten monarchs are set for a high-profile comeback – more than 1,000 years after they died.

Scientists are investigating the remains of up to 18 Anglo-Saxon kings and queens to try to determine their identities, potentially including the pivotal figure of Queen Emma. Emma of Normandy was the wife of two kings and the mother of two others, and one of the most significant figures of late Anglo-Saxon England.

The trove is believed to be the largest assemblage of medieval royal skeletal material ever scientifically analysed anywhere in the world.

For hundreds of years, some 1,300 royal and other high status bones have been kept in elaborate wooden caskets in what was, back in Anglo-Saxon times, England’s de facto capital city, Winchester.

Between the mid-seventh century and the mid-tenth, at least a dozen Anglo-Saxon kings were buried there – and, in at least the seventh and eighth centuries, it was probably the main administrative centre of the important Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, which by the late ninth century had expanded to become the Kingdom of England.

Until now, historians had thought that the bones belonged to just 11 individuals – six Anglo-Saxon kings, an Anglo-Saxon queen, an Anglo-Norman king, an Anglo-Danish king and two Anglo-Saxon Bishops.

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

1 /26 Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

Secrets of Anglo-Saxon burial site revealed

But new scientific research, led by University of Bristol osteologists, Dr Heidi Dawson-Hobbis and Professor Kate Robson Brown on behalf of the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral, has revealed that they are the partial remains of at least 23 people.

It is therefore likely that they also represent the remains of many other prominent Anglo-Saxons, potentially including up to half a dozen more early Anglo-Saxon kings.

The detailed scientific investigation into the bones will take several years to complete and should enable scientists to determine, in some cases, which bones belonged to which kings.

To achieve this, scientists have already dated some of the bones, have determined the individuals’ sexes and have succeeded in working out how old each individual was at the time of their deaths. Now they plan to carry out DNA testing to reveal specific family relationships between the individuals, additional radiocarbon dating tests and isotopic analyses to try to determine approximately where each individual grew up.

Specialists from Bristol University are also currently in the process of restoring the skeletons. So far, 10 have been substantially reassembled. The research will also enable scientists to learn more about what Anglo-Saxon elites ate, what diseases they suffered from and even what potential physical activities, such as archery and horse-riding, they engaged in.

Until the mid-17th century some individuals’ bones had been kept in separate caskets, but during the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops ransacked Winchester Cathedral and, almost certainly aware of the royal nature of much of the skeletal material, scattered the bones around the building.

Now, more than 370 years later, scientists are set to reverse that act of anti-royalist desecration. For the first time in centuries, they are now at least partially restoring the skeletal integrity of some of England’s earliest monarchs.

The skeletal restoration process is likely to shine a spotlight on a largely forgotten era of British history – the origins and early development of the kingdom of Wessex and its ultimate transformation into the Kingdom of the English, the embryonic Kingdom of England.

It is thought that among the 23 individuals, represented by the 1,300 bones kept in the cathedral in six wooden caskets, are King Cynegils of Wessex (died 642) Bishop Wini (the first Bishop of Winchester, died around 670) King Cynewulf of Wessex (murdered by a rival in 786) King Ecgberht of Wessex and overlord of most of England (died 839) Alfred the Great’s father, King Æthelwulf (literally ‘Noble Wolf’, died 858) the conqueror of Viking Northumbria, King Eadred of Wessex, King of the English (died 955) King Edmund Ironside who agreed the partition of England between English and Danish rule (died 1016) the Danish King of England, Denmark and Norway, Canute (died 1035) Bishop Ælfwyn (died 1047, traditionally accused of cuckolding the King of England), Queen Emma (the wife of two English kings, died 1052) and the son of William the Conqueror and second Norman King of England, William II (died 1100, probably by assassination).

The 17th century wrong today’s scientists are trying to put right was described by a contemporary chronicler who claimed that, in 1642, Parliamentarian troops used the royal and other bones as missiles to destroy the cathedral’s priceless medieval stained glass windows and as weapons to damage other parts of the building.

Now, for the first time, scientific examination of the skeletal material appears to confirm that account.

Indeed, a significant percentage of the royal and episcopal femur bones – the largest in the body – had been broken in two or had had their distal ends snapped off, suggesting that they may indeed have been used as weapons or missiles during the mayhem in the cathedral.

Describing the scene, a Royalist clergyman called Bruno Ryves provided a chillingly immediate present-tense report of what seems to have transpired. He wrote: ‘They violently brake open the Cathedrall Church, and being entred, to let in the Tyde [of soldiers], they presently open the Great West doores, where the Barbarous Souldiers stood ready, nay greedy to rob God, and pollute his Temple.

“The doores being open, as if they meant to invade God himselfe, as well as his possession (the cathedral), they enter the Church with Colours flying: their drums beating, their Matches (sulphur tapers) fired (already lit), and that all might have their part in so horrid an attempt, some of their Troops of Horse also accompanied them in their march, and road up through the body of the Church, and Quire, untill they came to the Altar, there they begin their work, they rudely pluck down the [altar] Table, and break the [altar] Rayle: and afterwards carrying it to an Alehouse, they set it on fire, and in that fire burnt the Books of Common-prayer, and all the Singing-books belonging to the Quire: They throw down the Organ, and breake the [wooden sculptures depicting the] Stories of the Old and New Testament, curiously cut out in carved work, beautified with Colours, and set round about the top of the Stalls of the Quire: from hence they turne to the Monuments of the Dead, some they utterly demolish, others they deface.


“But these monsters of men, to whom nothing is holy, nothing is Sacred, did not stick to profane, and violate these Cabinets of the dead, and to scatter their bones all over the pavement of the Church: for on the North side of the Quire, they threw down the Chests, wherein were deposited the bones of the Bishops, the like they did to the bones of [King] William Rufus, of Queen Emma, of [King] Hardecanutus and were going on to practise the like impiety on the bones of all the rest of the West Saxon Kings.

“But the Outcry of the [local] people, detesting so great inhumanity, caused some of [the soldiers’] Commanders, more Compassionate to these auncient Monuments of the dead than the Rest, to come in amongst them, and to restrain their madnesse. But that divelish malice which was not permitted to rage and overflow to the spurning and trampling on the bones of all, did satiate it selfe, even to a prodigious kind of wantonnesse, on those [bones], which were already in their power: And therefore as if they meant, if it had been possible, to make these bones contract a Posthume (posthumous) guilt, by being now made the passive Instruments, of more then heathenish Sacriledge, and profanenesse, those Windowes which they could not reach with their Swords, Muskets, or Rests (musket supports), they brake to pieces, by throwing at them, the bones of Kings, Queenes, Bishops, Confessors and Saints: So that the spoyle done on the Windowes, will not be repayred for a Thousand pounds.”

The current scientific examination of the bones helps to reveal, in an unprecedented way, the visceral hatred felt by at least some radical Parliamentarian troops, not just for the King they were fighting against but for the whole concept of royalty. The caskets containing the royal bones were located some six metres above the floor of the cathedral – and would have required ladders and considerable effort to reach and throw down.

Remarkably, one tiny wooden carving of an exotic animal, probably a giraffe – potentially depicted as part of the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark, perhaps among the sculptures said by Bruno Ryves to have been destroyed in the choir - was mistaken for a bone fragment by the mid-seventeenth century cathedral workers collecting the scattered bones, and was consequently placed together with the real bones into one of the caskets that they had come from.

Replicas of some of the skeletal material will form part of a new permanent Anglo-Saxon and Medieval history exhibition at Winchester Cathedral (Kings & Scribes: The Birth of a Nation), due to open to the public this coming Tuesday.


The only individual whose bones have been tentatively identified is one of the most famous and important Anglo-Saxon royals, Queen Emma, the wife of King Ethelred the Unready and subsequently the wife of King Canute. She was also the mother of two Kings of England – Edward the Confessor and the Anglo-Danish monarch, Hardacanute. Her influence on English and subsequently therefore wider history is substantial, not least because her dynastic family connections gave William the Conqueror part of his legal justification for invading England and seizing the throne.

Her skeleton has been partially reassembled and a 3D-printed replica has pride of place in the new exhibition.

It is the first time her bones have been put together since Parliamentarian troops scattered them (and others) across the cathedral floor in 1642 – and the first time that they have been in their correct anatomical positions since they were exhumed and put into mortuary caskets back in the early 14th century.

The scientific analysis of the bones has also revealed a tantalising mystery – the discovery that some of the bones in the mortuary caskets belonged to two Norman boys, both aged between 10 and 15, who would have lived in the mid-11th to late 12th centuries.

Their presence in the caskets was not suspected and their identity is currently unknown, but they are likely to have been of royal blood. A major aspect of future research will be to try to discover who they were, whether they were siblings and the circumstances of their deaths.

“Our analysis of the 1,300 bones from the mortuary chests will shed important new light on the lives of the individuals they represent. Our ongoing research will reveal aspects of their diet, the diseases they suffered from, and the physical activities they engaged in,” said Bristol University osteologist and biological anthropologist, Dr Heidi Dawson-Hobbis.

“The current scientific research is extremely important because it complements the historical information we are also amassing,” said Dr John Crook, Winchester Cathedral’s archaeological and historical consultant.

Anglo-Saxon Burial in England Is Compared to King Tut's Tomb - History

The historians say if they break open the tomb at Holy Trinity Church in Bosham, West Sussex, they will uncover the mystery surrounding the final resting place of the last Anglo-Saxon king.

The debate over the burial site of Harold, killed by William the Conqueror's army during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, has raged for decades.

Some experts say the most likely burial place is Waltham Abbey, one of Harold's churches, while others claim his grave was hidden by Norman troops to prevent it becoming a shrine.

Before the historians can exhume the remains they have to get permission from the Chichester Diocese Consistory Court.

On Monday they will approach the court to try to get the go-ahead to access the tomb, which was last opened in 1954.

If successful, the group will then call on scientists from University College London to test DNA found in the remains.

It will be compared to the DNA of three men who claim they are distant descendants of the Saxon king.

John Pollock, who is leading the bid to open the tomb at Bosham, said he may have been dismembered with a sword, which is a scene depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.

Members of the Holy Trinity Church agree Harold is buried there as a coffin thought to contain his remains was found 49 years ago by workmen replacing stones under the church's chancel arch, a resting place of Royalty.

They came across the already exhumed grave of King Canute's daughter, and then unearthed another unmarked grave containing a finely crafted coffin.

A coroner examined the bones, but the tomb was sealed once more and forgotten about.

Now if Mr Pollock is successful the tomb and the mystery will be unearthed once again.

Anglo-Saxon Burial in England Is Compared to King Tut's Tomb - History

A group of amateur historians want the body, in a tomb in a West Sussex church, exhumed for DNA tests.

They believe the headless and legless body at Holy Trinity Church in Bosham is the king who was killed by William the Conqueror's army at the Battle of Hastings.

The Chichester Diocese Consistory Court has been tasked with deciding whether the tomb should be opened.

History has traditionally said King Harold was killed aged 46 with an arrow in the eye at the famous battle in 1066, but there has been debate over his burial place.

Many experts think his most likely resting place is at Waltham Abbey, while others have said his grave was hidden by the victorious Norman troops to prevent it becoming a shrine.

The tomb in Bosham, where the king is believed to have grown up, was discovered by workmen in 1954, when it was last opened.

The discovery sparked fresh debate over Harold's burial site, with historians claiming evidence from the Bayeux Tapestry suggested he was laid to rest in the church, where he is thought to have worshipped in his early years.

The group who have called for the tomb to be opened are led by retired paper merchant and amateur historian John Pollock.

He has suggested Harold may have been dismembered with a sword rather than killed with an arrow, explaining the lost limbs and head of the body he claims is the king.

If the exhumation is allowed, DNA will be taken from the tomb and compared with samples from three people who claim to be direct descendants of the king.

The work would be carried out by scientists at University College, London.

Canon Thomas Inman, the vicar at Holy Trinity Church, said: "I've been here for 17 years and for all that time everyone has wanted to know the answer to this mystery.

"The form now is that the court will consider its verdict, and we will probably hear by letter.

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