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

The Home Office ordered the exhumation of an early sixth-century skeleton found last Sunday to allow archaeologists to investigate the burial site.

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

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

She said: “It’s an important find with the burial site still intact. We’ll be able to get lots of important contextual information about the individual and learn more about the period. 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.

Digging down 13 inches, he found a copper alloy brooch, covered in gold gilt 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’d better stop — I’ve hit a serious find’.

“I cannot get my head around it yet. It’s a dream come true really. It’s just unbelievable. It’s very serious not just for me, but for the farmer and for archaeologists. They may be able to learn a lot from this.”

Rally organisers called police to protect the discovery overnight.

The value of the find will be split between Mr Bayston and farmer Alan Cottrell.

Archaeologists began excavating the site on Monday, exhuming the body and sifting the mud for jewels which might have been detached from the brooch.

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

“The skeleton must be someone of very high status, potentially royalty. 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. It’s really quite exciting stuff. It looks like it might be part of a larger site.”

Farmer Mr Cottrell, 49, said he was “over the moon” with the discovery, which he said would offer valuable information about the area’s history.

He said: “Not for one minute did I believe there would be anything in our fields.”