A find described as “extremely rare” and “bizarre” has been uncovered in Cambridgeshire – an Anglo-Saxon woman buried with a cow.
It is the first time the Anglo Saxon grave of a woman has been found to contain an important domestic animal.
Dr Faye Simpson, of the Department of History at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), said: “This is hugely exciting. Usually it is warrior men who are discovered buried with their animals.
“Never before have we found a woman buried alongside a cow. In the 5th century, a cow was a very important to a community’s survival, so to sacrifice one is highly significant and marks her down as having very high status not only in her community, but perhaps in a much wider geographical area.”
The theory is backed by high status finds alongside the remains, including amber beads, three necklaces and copper alloy brooches.
Dr Simpson is working on the dig with colleagues from the University of Central Lancashire and staff from Oxford Archaeology East.
She is also joined by students from MMU’s Department of History.
And it was one of the students - Kate Smith, 19, who discovered the woman’s grave.
Fellow student Jake Nuttall told the BBC: "Male warriors might be buried with horses, but a woman and a cow is new to us."
He added: "We were excited when we thought we had a horse, but realising it was a cow made it even more bizarre."
The MMU team will spend a further three weeks at the site at Oakington, just outside Cambridge, but have already unearthed 100 graves, making this one the most significant finds of its kind in the UK.
Faye estimates there may be a further 50 to 60 graves in the cemetery, which is two minutes walk from a settlement.
Artefacts, including brooches, knives and knives are being conserved by MMU Special Collections.