A FREELANCE archaeologist has unearthed one of the most dramatic finds of Anglo Saxon materials within an ancient burial ground in the North-East.

The Royal Anglo-Saxon cemetery - with some of the finest gold jewellery to be found in Britain - has been discovered on land in Loftus, east Cleveland.

The 109-grave cemetery is arranged in a rectangular pattern and dates from the middle of the 7th Century.

The cemetery, bed burial and high status objects are considered to all indicate the people buried must have connections with Anglo-Saxon royalty.

The finds were unveiled at Kirkleatham Museum, in Redcar, yesterday, where it is hoped they will eventually go on permanent display.

An aerial photograph, showing evidence of an Iron Age site, gave archaeologist Steve Sherlock the first clues to what has been buried treasure.

The finds include gold and silver brooches that may have connections with the kings of Northumbria.

The excavations, which began in 2005 and continued under Mr Sherlock's supervision with help from Tees Archaeology and local volunteers, working four to six weeks every summer, have covered an area the size of half a football pitch.

Mr Sherlock said: "I knew the significance of the site straight away after being involved in excavating an Anglo Saxon cemetery at Norton, but I couldn't believe it - you don't find sites like this twice in your career.

"And it's grown each year, the first year we found 30 graves, but I didn't expect to find any more, then in 2006 we found another 13 and this year has been even more spectacular, finding the fantastic plan of the site, actually showing a social order.

"Whilst human bone does not survive because of the acidic soils, a range of high status jewellery was found, including glass beads, pottery, iron knives and belt buckles. Five of the graves had gold and silver brooches and a further burial had a seax, a type of Anglo-Saxon sword.

"One burial had been placed upon a bed with the lady dressed wearing three gold brooches, one of which is unparalleled in Anglo-Saxon England. Quite who this person was we may never know, but we can say she was alive at the time St Hilda was establishing the monastery at Whitby."

The Teesside coroner needs to conduct an inquest to confirm the treasure definition and the finds will then be valued by a panel of experts from the British Museum.

Robin Daniels, of Tees Archaeology, said: "It is the most dramatic find of Anglo Saxon material for generations.

"I was stunned - it is not the kind of site you expect to find in this part of the world - there is nothing to indicate that we should have a royal cemetery near Loftus."

Traditionally, Anglo Saxon royalty were always buried in the south of England and it is thought the royals buried at the Loftus site could be linked to the Kentish Princess Ethelburga who travelled north to marry Edwin, King of Northumbria.

Redcar and Cleveland Council's cabinet member for culture, leisure and tourism, Councillor Sheelagh Clarke, said: "It is a great thrill for all of us - for everyone who has been involved with it. It was so poignant to see the children's' and babies graves - it brought home how hard life was for people in that day in age. It is quite incredible how they came to be here but that is a million dollar question - how did a royal family come to be in Loftus?"