Scientists believe they may have discovered the remains of an 11th century queen of England in the “first royal mausoleum” discovered at Winchester Cathedral.
Scientists from the University of Bristol have been assessing 1,300 human bones from the Hampshire cathedral with the aim of matching the remains with the names of eight kings, two bishops and one queen whose names are on six mortuary chests.
The researchers believe that some of the remains may belong to Queen Emma of Normandy who died in 1052 in Winchester.
The conservation project was launched in 2012 and three years later, radiocarbon dating carried out by experts from the University of Oxford confirmed the bones were from the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods.
The team of biological anthropologists from Bristol have since been attempting to assess whether the bones related to the historical burial records.
A cathedral spokesman said: “This process involves recording the contents of the chests and determining the number of individuals represented, along with their sex, age at death and physical characteristics.
“Working in the Lady Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, which became a temporary laboratory, the researchers reassembled over 1,300 human bones, with the aim of restoring the identity of the kings, one queen, and several bishops traditionally thought to be within the chests.”
The spokesman explained that 23 partial skeletons had been reconstructed which is more than the remains of 15 people thought to have been contained in the chests.
The spokesman said: “The ability to identify the sex, age and physical characteristics of these individuals has resulted in some exciting discoveries, including the remains of a mature female dispersed within several chests.
“It is not yet certain, but these bodily remains could be those of Queen Emma, daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, the wife of two successive kings of England, Ethelred and Cnut, and the mother of King Edward the Confessor and King Hardacnut.
“She was a powerful political figure in late Saxon England, and her family ties provided William the Conqueror with a measure of justification for his claim to the English throne.
“Completely unexpected was the discovery of two juvenile skeletons, adolescent boys who had died between the ages of 10 to 15 years in the mid-11th to late 12th-century.
“Their presence in the chests was not recorded and their identity is still unknown, but they were almost certainly of royal blood.”
Professor Kate Robson Brown, who led the investigation, said: “We cannot be certain of the identity of each individual yet, but we are certain that this is a very special assemblage of bones.”
The cathedral spokesman added: “These discoveries could place Winchester Cathedral at the birth of our nation and establish it as the first formal royal mausoleum.”