iron age princess france
© INRAP/ Jean-Michel Treffort
An ancient tomb, dating back to the early Iron age, has been unearthed in France, revealing the resting place of an upper-class woman buried with a treasure trove of jewelry and other fancy trinkets.

Stumbled upon by accident during construction works at a burial site near Saint-Vulbas - some 32km (20 miles) from Lyon - one of the tombs contained remains of an evidently upper-crust woman who lived in the 8th century BC. She was found inside an oak coffin, carved from a log, along with other signs of her high status - perhaps royalty, even - according to researchers from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeology (INRAP).

"Inside the coffin, the deceased, a middle-aged woman, was laid on her back, arms beside her body, dressed and adorned with her jewelry," the institute said in a press release.

The bracelets found in the long-forgotten tomb were made of blue glass and copper beads - a high-tech fashion choice in the 8th century BC. Over the ages, the copper elements were coated with a greenish patina, making them quite hard to distinguish from the glass beads.

copper buckle and beads
© INRAP/ Jean-Michel Treffort
The copper buckle and beads.
The woman also wore a belt with a large copper buckle. Leather or fabric pieces on the belt did not survive the centuries in storage and decayed to dust, while the buckle itself also aged quite poorly, so worn by time that its ornamental design is now barely visible.

buckle
© INRAP / Jean-Claude Sarrasin
The buckle.
Burial practices have drastically changed over the last three centuries, as another nearby mound dating back to the 5th century BC suggests. The grave, which had a four-post covering, was split in half and contained cremated remains of two people. One was buried in a wooden box lined with limestone and another one in a basket-like container, all in stark contrast to the well-to-do woman.

While the condition of the remains made it near-impossible to tell who was buried in the second mound, fragments of bracelets in the cremated ashes suggest the deceased were also women, the researchers believe.

grave
© INRAP / Philippe Alix
Bone mass is seen in the remains of the limestone-lined container.
grave
© INRAP/ Cécile Ramponi
All of the buried people belonged to the Halstatt culture, which was dominant during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age across much of Europe. While the culture was largely agricultural, it also developed advanced metalworking techniques and maintained active long-distance trade with peoples in the Mediterranean.