ONE of the greatest mysteries of British history may have been solved – and more could still be revealed.
Scientists may have finally found the answer to where ancient king Alfred the Great was buried after discovering pelvic bone at the site of a former Winchester church.
The “crotch”, found where Hyde Abbey once stood, dates to the 800s and 900s, so could belong to Alfred or son Edward.
University of Winchester researchers made the find and could return to the site in the future, according to project partners Hyde900.
But the discovery only came after the scientists failed to find a royal in a mysterious unmarked grave at St Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde, in an excavation last autumn.
After the setback, Dr Katie Tucker and her team re-examined bones unearthed in a 1999 dig at the abbey’s high altar, finding a third of a human pelvis, dubbed the “power pelvis”, that they believe could only belong to one of the two kings.
Dr Tucker said: “Historical evidence indicated that only the coffins of Alfred and Edward were at the site of the high altar. The discovery of the bone in a pit dug into the graves in front of the high altar makes it far more likely that it comes from either Alfred or Edward.”
Edward Fennell, a founder of Hyde900, which was set up in 2006 to commemorate the abbey’s 900th anniversary in 2010, said another dig was possible.
He said: “There are a number of different parties involved such as the city council and Friends of Hyde Abbey Garden, which maintains the site, and over the weeks to come I’m sure there will be discussions.
“Our intention would not be to tear up the garden but we are interested in the area around the ledger stones. But it’s only a possibility and we couldn’t say when it would happen.”
The bones had been stored by Winchester Museums Service since the dig and the pelvis was the only Anglo Saxon remains found among others that ranged from medieval times up to the 18th Century.
The Hyde Abbey site has been subject to several digs since the 1700s but this is the first major discovery.
Dr Tucker said extracting DNA from the bone to clarify its owner was possible but it would be difficult to find a relative, dead or alive, to match it with.
Meanwhile the dig at the unmarked grave revealed five skeletons but analysis revealed none were from Alfred’s time, which prompted Dr Tucker to go back to the previous dig’s findings.
The bones were not fully analysed previously because initial investigations suggested they were not old enough.
Dr Tucker was praised by university staff and Hyde900 for continuing the search despite the initial disappointment.
Prof Joy Carter, vice chancellor of the university, said: “We are very proud to be able to showcase such significant research and it’s my pleasure to pay tribute to all those involved.
“We believe very strongly that today is a historic moment in the quest to unravel the mystery of Alfred the Great.”
Although the unmarked grave did not return significant findings, those involved said they were happy to finally answer what it contained.
Rev Cliff Bannister of St Bartholomew Church, who had been leading calls to excavate for years, said: “For the church it solves a mystery that has been there for 150 years and I’m pleased we have played some part in helping that happen.”
Little information was revealed before a press conference yesterday (Jan 17) as the dig was part of a BBC documentary and subject to a confidentiality agreement.