Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in News

While preparing a Ricardian Calendar entry about the death of Queen Eadgyth (on 26 January 946), I read again about all the tests which have been carried out on the remains of a woman found in 2008. Thinking of the tests being carried out on the skeleton found in Leicester, kindled my renewed interest in Eadgyth’s remains.

Eadgyth was the first wife of Otto I, king of the East Franks and later Holy Roman Emperor.  She was a daughter of Edward the Elder (870s?–924), king of the Anglo-Saxons.  She was born in Wessex, probably around 910, and married Otto in either 829 or 930.  After her death in 946, she was buried at Magdeburg Cathedral.

Her name is spelled in a number of different ways, one of them being Edith, and as I had an Aunt Edith (well, she was really my dad’s cousin), I will call her Edith in this post.

In late 2008 a lead sarcophagus was found in Magdeburg Cathedral with the inscription ‘Edit regine cineres hic sarcophagvs habet…’  (the salvaged remains of Queen Edith are in this sarcophagus…).  However, this sarcophagus and its inscription only date from 1510, 500 years after Edith’s death, and therefore some skepticism about the truth of this statement was indicated.   The tests have proven that they are most likely indeed those of the Anglo Saxon princess – and that without DNA analysis.

It has been established that the bones in the coffin all belong to the same person.  Unfortunately it is incomplete, the feet, parts of the hands and most of the skull, except for the upper jaw bone, are missing.

  • Morphological and metric analysis of the skeleton showed that it was a woman, who was at the time of her death between 30 and 40 years old (Edith was approx. 36) and who was 1.57m tall.
  • Stress markers reveal that she probably had a serious infectious disease when she was between 10 and 14 years of age (they might also be a result of malnutrition, but this is less likely in a princess).
  • The head of the femur shows that it belonged to a person who spent a lot of time on horseback, which is to be expected in the bones of a medieval noblewoman.
  • Strontium and oxygen isotope analysis show that the woman grew up in Wessex in the area of Winchester.  Up to the age of nine, she constantly moved around in Southern England, but then she remained stationary.  In 919, when Edith was around 9 years old, her mother was divorced and together with her daughter banished to a nunnery.
  • The analysis also revealed that this woman had eaten a high proportion of protein, especially fish, which would be expected of someone following Christian food rules.  The teeth show only little abrasion, which indicates a high proportion of soft food in her diet.
  • The sarcophagus was discovered in the foundations underneath the cenotaph attributed to Edith in the ambulatory of Magdeburg Cathedral.  Several components of an earlier burial were integrated.  The earliest is a simple sandstone sarcophagus, probably from the 10th century, which could very well be Edith’s original coffin.  This sarcophagus has been opened and closed several times, it is known that Edith’s remains were reburied several times.
  • Several fabric remnants were found with the bones, which could be dated by C14 analysis to between the 10th and 16th century, which coincides with the repeated reburials.  Some of the fabric has been dyed red with kermes, a highly valuable dye in the Middle Ages, and some of it is silk, indicating a royal funeral.
  • The lead of the sarcophagus comes from the Harz Mountains near Goslar.
  • The coffin also contained numerous insect remains, as well as oats.  The last are supposed to have been in the stuffing of a pillow, on which the dead had been laid.  There were also fragments of an evergreen juniper plant, which was grown as an ornamental and medicinal plant in medieval gardens.  All this indicates that the dead was treated with all honour when she was reburied in 1510.

All these tests confirm that this is as good as certain that these are indeed Edith’s remains.

Similar tests are being carried out on the remains, which could very well be Richard’s.  As we have seen,even without DNA analysis it is possible to match the results of scientific tests and the known biography of an individual.  Reading what can be found out, certainly heightened my anticipation for the test results of the Leicester remains.

If you can read German, here is a press release about Edith’s test results:  http://www.lda-lsa.de/de/aktuelles/meldung/datum/2010/06/15/identitaet_koenigin_edithas_bestaetigt

You can find out more about Edith in an earlier post about her.

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