The bones of an early English queen are believed to have been discovered in mortuary chests at Winchester Cathedral.

Queen Emma of Normandy, who died in the Hampshire city in 1052, was the queen consort to two successive kings of England, Ethelred the Unready and Danish invader Cnut the Great.

She was also the mother of King Edward the Confessor and King Hardacnut of Denmark.

Her remains are said to have been found among a jumble of 1,300 bones within six painted wooden caskets at the cathedral, which were believed to contain the remains of kings and bishops before the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century.

Queen Emma of Normandy
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Queen Emma of Normandy was the queen consort to kings Ethelred the Unready and Cnut the Great

A 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.

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Since then scientists from the University of Bristol have been trying to match the bones in the chests with historical burial records.

They believe some of the remains may belong to Queen Emma of Normandy.

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A cathedral spokesman said: “The secrets hidden within Winchester Cathedral’s mortuary chests are gradually being unlocked.

Winchester Cathedral
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Some 1,300 bones were found within six painted wooden chests at the cathedral

“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.

“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.”

Winchester Cathedral Exhibition
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Queen Emma’s remains were found among a jumble of bones

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.”