British grave said to be early Christian

March 16, 2012 at 6:37 PM

CAMBRIDGE, England, March 16 (UPI) -- An Anglo-Saxon grave uncovered near Cambridge in Britain could be one of the earliest examples of Christianity replacing paganism, archaeologists said.

The skeleton of a teenage girl was found buried on a wooden bed with a gold and garnet cross, a symbol of Christianity, on her chest in a grave thought to date from the mid-seventh century, when Christianity was beginning to be introduced to the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings.

The grave of the teenager, believed to be about 16 years old, was one of a cluster of four uncovered at a site south of Cambridge, the BBC reported Friday.

The three other graves were more typical Anglo-Saxon burials with no indications of Christianity, archaeologists said.

In the teenager's grave, the method of burial -- on a bed -- and the quality of the jewelry, including the cross, could indicate the girl was from a noble or royal family, researchers said.

"Christian conversion began at the top and percolated down," Sam Lucy, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon burial from Newnham College in Cambridge, said.

A bag of precious and semiprecious stones and a small knife were found with the body but the idea of burying a body with "grave goods" for the afterlife was "counter to the Christian belief of soul and not body continuing after death," Lucy said.

The merging of burial rites, Lucy said, showed the grave was "right on the cusp of the shift from pagan to Christian."

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