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Desborough Necklace

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Desborough Necklace
  • Description

    Necklace strung with an alternating sequence of irregular gold and cabochon garnet pendants, gold 'bulla' pendants and biconical gold wire spacer beads.

    At the centre, flanked by small biconical beads, hangs an equal-armed cross; at either end of the string is a cylindrical gold filigree bead. The cross is curiously constructed of two tubes of heavy gold sheet, cut away where they overlap and lidded at each end. At its centre is a poorly-fashioned filigree setting containing a small cabochon glass inlay (identified by scientific analysis). The rivet securing the setting holds the cross loosely together.

    Both the bullae and the pendants fall into two groups. Five bullae are decorated with an edging of finely-made filigree and the ribbed suspension loop is trimmed to a semicircle at the back. The remaining bullae are undecorated and the ends of their suspension loops are cut to a point. The cabochon droplets have two distinct styles of suspension loops: five are simple gold tubes decorated in beaded filigree with geometric or heart-shaped motifs and have a distinctive V motif on the back. The remaining four have unexceptional ribbed suspension loops.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 7thC(late)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 25 centimetres (overall)
    • Height: 2.5 centimetres (bead)
  • Curator's comments

    Webster & Backhouse 1991
    The necklace was found in 1876 in a group of about sixty graves that were disturbed by workmen digging for ironstone. They were oriented east/west and apparently laid out within an enclosure (Baker 1880). The necklace was the only find in its grave and apparently lay near the head of the skeleton. Whether it is complete or not is uncertain as the workmen had portioned the pendants and beads amongst themselves before being persuaded to hand them over for a small reward.
    The necklace is the finest of its kind but it is not untypical in its composition. Similar pendants and beads occur in a wide range of high-status graves spread across the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, for example, from Barfreston, Kent, grave 39; Boss Hall, Ipswich, grave 93 (Ipswich Co-operative Society, see Cat. No. 33); from Roundway Down, Wilts.; Garton Station, East Yorks. or Galley Lowe, Derbys. It is made up using pendants and bullae from at least two different sources and was probably assembled in the second half of the seventh century. Its origins, however, lie in continental fashions of the second half of the sixth century when necklaces of beads, pendants and bullae appear in e.g. Lombardic cemeteries (Cividale, Menis, G.C. 1990, ‘I Longobardi’, Milan, X.40C and X178; Castel Trosino, Mengarelli, R. (and G. Sergi) 1902, Necropoli barbarica di Castel Trosino, ‘Monumenti Antichi’ XII, 279, pl. XI, 2) before spreading north to Anglo-Saxon England via Francia or Frisia (cf. the Wieuwerd Hoard, Mazo-Karras, R. 1985, Seventh Century Jewellery from Frisia – a re-examination, ‘Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History’, 4, 159-77).
    The necklace must have been an exceptional possession, but in the changing attitudes of the mid to late seventh century, its interest lies in the statement it appears to make via the cross. This can be accepted as being explicitly Christian in intent (whether or not it was buried with a Christian) and is another indication of the adoption of Christianity by the English elite, seen also in the Wilton (reg. no. 1859,0512.1) and Ixworth pendants (The Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, inv. no. 1909.453) or the cross on the composite brooch from Boss Hall.

    Select bibliography: Baker, Rev. R.S. 1880, On the Discovery of Anglo-Saxon Remains at Desborough, Northamptonshire, ‘Archaeologia’ XLV, ii, 466-71.Scientific analysis undertaken in Novembe 2013 identified the setting in the cente of the cross-pendant as glass rather than garnet.


  • Bibliography

    • Webster & Backhouse 1991 13 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1976 201 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1986a 245 bibliographic details
    • Marzinzik 2013 57 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G41/dc4

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Excavated 1876

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


Desborough necklace 15 biconical gold wire beads + 2 smaller + 2 cylindrical with 9 "bullae", 8 gold with cabochon garnet beads & gold cross pendant.

Desborough necklace 15 biconical gold wire beads + 2 smaller + 2 cylindrical with 9 "bullae", 8 gold with cabochon garnet beads & gold cross pendant.

Image description



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Object reference number: MCS3387

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