A braided head of hair uncovered deep under Romsey Abbey in Southampton, England could belong to a Medieval-era saint, says an archaeological research assistant from the University of Oxford. Research assistant Jamie Cameron says that the braided hair’s owner could have died between 895 and 1123 A.D.

The braided hair was discovered by gravediggers in 1839 laid on a pillow of oak wood inside a wooden chest within a lead casket. As of now, radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry still cannot identify the owner of the hair.

Moreover, there are no inscriptions on the casket or inside it that could identify the owner. However, others have suggested that the hair could have belonged to two Christian saints; Saint Morwenna, an Irish nun who reformed the abbey around 960 and Saint Ethelflaeda who re-established the abbey after it was destroyed in 994 A.D.


Braided hair and other relics in Romsey Abbey. Credit: colourfulromsey.co.uk

Their analyses also reveal that the braided hair contains pine resin. Cameron admits that they still do not know whether it was used by the owner as a hair treatment product or it was applied as part of the funerary ritual. Additionally, studies of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the hair tells something about the owner’s diet. Cameron said that the woman could have eaten a lot of fish, probably due to religious restrictions on the consumption of meat.

Cameron saw the relic when he was seven years old during a school field trip. This sparked his interest to become an archaeologist and seek the braided hair’s owner.

The research assistant collaborated with The Relics Cluster, sometimes called the “Da Vinci Code Unit,” a team of scientists that specialises in studying religious relics and sacred materials.

The Relics Cluster is the same unit that disproved that the wood fragments, assumed to be from the “True Cross,” is 1,000 years too young to belong to the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. The team also tested the finger bone thought to be from John the Baptist and showed that the bone was definitely from a Middle Eastern man who lived in the 1st century.