A SAXON brooch and skull uncovered by a metal detecting enthusiast may point to a 1,500-year-old royal grave hidden beneath a farmer’s fields.

The Home Office has ordered the exhumation of an early sixth century skeleton found in West Hanney, near Wantage, on Sunday to allow archaeologists to investigate the size of the burial site.

The quality of the Saxon jewellery found pinned to the body has already been compared to treasure found at the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk in 1939 (see panel), now on display at the British Museum.

Anni Byard, Oxfordshire County Council’s finds liaison officer, said the brooch was likely to have belonged to royalty, or somebody of considerable wealth.

She said: “It’s an important find with the burial still intact.

“Finds like this don’t come along very often.”

Chris Bayston, 56, from Yorkshire, picked up a signal at a weekend metal detecting rally at the farm, which is not being named to protect the site.

Digging down 13 inches, he found a copper alloy brooch, covered in gold and studded with garnets and coral. Alongside it was the skull.

Mr Bayston, who has been metal detecting for 14 years, said: “I lifted a shovel load of muck out and as I threw it down I saw the brooch.

“I poked a hole open and saw the bones, and that’s when I thought, ‘Christ, I better stop — I’ve hit a serious find.’ “I cannot get my head around it yet. It’s a dream come true really, just unbelievable. They may be able to learn a lot from this.”

Rally organisers immediately realised they had uncovered a find of national significance, and called police to protect the discovery overnight.

Professional archaeologists began excavating the site yesterday, exhuming the body and sifting the mud for jewels which may have come detached from the brooch.

It is not yet known how long it will take to complete the operation.

Rally organiser Peter Welch, of the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club, said: “This is the biggest find I’ve had in over 20 years.

“It could be a Saxon princess or queen, but we will need more excavation to find out.

“The brooch shows some very skilful workmanship, on a par with the Sutton Hoo burial.”