Possible Discovery of King Alfred’s Remains

A fragment of human pelvic bone discovered in Hyde Abbey church, Winchester in 1999 is thought to belong to King Alfred the Great or his son, Edward. The bone fragment was stored among other remains in Winchester Museum, but lack of funding prevented identification until recently.Dr Katie Thomas of Winchester University was initially tasked with excavating an unmarked grave at the east end of St Bartholomew’s Church in Hyde. The bones of Alfred were previously claimed to be found in this location by John Mellor in 1886, but upon analysis the radiocarbon dates from the bones did not match those in which Alfred and his family lived. However, a community excavation of the east end of Hyde Abbey church in 1999 unearthed a series of human bones, which were sent to the museum.  The remains were taken for radiocarbon dating led by Professor Tom Higham at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator. All but one of the bones produced dates in the 12th to 14th centuries, but a single bone, part of an older male pelvis, returned a date of 895-1017. Dr Thomas stated, “The most likely explanation was that the bone had been brought from elsewhere, namely New Minster. The candidates for who the bone could belong to were therefore Alfred, his son Edward or a brother of Edward, Aethelwaerd. However, only the coffins of Alfred and Edward were buried at the site of the High Altar and this meant the bone was likely to belong to one of them.” Richard Buckley, co-director of the University of Leicester’s archaeology services said “it would be hard to prove” that the fragment belongs to Alfred the Great. John Blair, a professor at Oxford University, believed that the conclusion “is based on a valid chain of reasoning” but more data was needed before anyone can determine who the fragment belongs to. Dr Thomas hopes that this will renew interest in the family. “Alfred and Edward were both great Saxon kings who deserve better recognition than they currently enjoy. Their burials have been lost for hundreds of years and this finding may be the catalyst for further excavation and analysis, and proper reburial and memorialisation of the remains in Winchester.”She added, “A possible future re-excavation at the site of Hyde Abbey church will be headed up by Professor Martin Biddle, but more in his capacity as Head of Winchester Research Committee, rather than as Emeritus Professor at Oxford.”Second year historian Nick Spearing commented, “It’s an exciting find; Alfred was a great king who served for much longer than most early English monarchs, and this talent is summed up perfectly by the uncommon longevity of his pelvis.”

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