Skip to main content

Unmarked grave dug up in hunt for England's King Alfred the Great

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
March 27, 2013 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
A statue of Alfred The Great on February 6, 2013 in Winchester, England.
A statue of Alfred The Great on February 6, 2013 in Winchester, England.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Human remains are excavated from an unmarked grave in a Winchester churchyard
  • Archaeologists think they may belong to King Alfred the Great
  • The ninth century monarch is credited with fending off a Viking invasion
  • No tests have been done as yet to confirm whether the remains are his

London (CNN) -- Archaeologists dug up an unmarked grave in a quiet English churchyard in search of remains of King Alfred the Great, a ninth century monarch credited with fending off the Vikings.

The exhumation was apparently triggered by fears that interest over the recent discovery of the skeleton of Richard III could lead grave robbers to dig the area for his bones.

Alfred the Great is known to generations of schoolchildren through a popular legend that tells of his scolding by a peasant woman for letting her cakes burn while he watched over them.

He was at the time preoccupied with the problem of how to repel the Danes, who had captured swaths of Anglo-Saxon England.

London rail excavation unearths suspected 'plague pit'

What is thought to be his grave in the churchyard of St. Bartholomew's Church, in the Hyde area of the ancient city of Winchester, was excavated Monday and Tuesday, the Winchester diocese said in an online release.

The king in the parking lot

"Following the completion of work, we can confirm that skeletal remains were discovered and have been exhumed from the grave," said Nick Edmonds, a diocesan spokesman.

"Understandably, there is widespread interest in this situation. For now we can't say any more about the remains, their nature or whereabouts, but promise to keep people updated when there is something to tell."

The diocese said the decision to carry out the exhumation now -- following three years of research -- was "to counter the risk of theft or vandalism to the grave. This is in light of heightened risk owing to widespread recent speculation about the significance of its contents."

The revelation last month that bones found under a parking lot in Leicester were those of Richard III, whose story was immortalized by Shakespeare, sparked enormous interest. It also prompted competition between Leicester and another English city, York, over where he should be reinterred.

Remains exhumed in Winchester will be stored safely until they are buried again, the diocese said.

Skeletal sleuthing team uncovered royal remains of Richard III

No scientific tests have been carried out to find out more.

"We do acknowledge that there is local interest in learning more about the remains found in this grave," Edmonds said.

But, he said, an application would have to be made to church authorities before any scientific investigation can take place.

Despite historical significance, the church is taking precautions, said the Rev. Canon Cliff Bannister, rector of St. Batholomew's Church.

"Although we know there is historical interest in this site, our chief concern this week has been to ensure that the exhumation of human remains from a consecrated Christian burial site has been fulfilled in a reverent and dignified manner," he said.

Opinion: After Richard III, can we find Genghis Khan?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Science news
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1934 GMT (0334 HKT)
Nichelle Nichols has spent her whole life going where no one has gone before, and at 81 she's still as sassy and straight-talking as you'd expect from an interstellar explorer.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1210 GMT (2010 HKT)
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
May 25, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 1532 GMT (2332 HKT)
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
May 2, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1458 GMT (2258 HKT)
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 0107 GMT (0907 HKT)
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1910 GMT (0310 HKT)
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
ADVERTISEMENT