An intact Bronze Age burial on Dartmoor

Okay, this post is a little late considering this story was in the media almost two weeks ago, but just incase you may have missed it, I thought I’d put it up anyway. Better late than never and all that.

In 2011, a Bronze Age cist was discovered on Dartmoor on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford, containing an intact cremation burial.

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

Remarkable in itself for being undisturbed, this burial has been described as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 100 years, as well as the most important ancient find on the moor, and the contents are soon to go on display to the public.

The cremation was wrapped in an animal pelt that had survived incredibly due to being buried in peat, and this fur also contained a fragment of textile (possibly a belt or sash) with a leather fringe, a bracelet (which I will discuss below), and a coil-made basket. Within this basket were discovered about 200 beads, with some made from shale, and others of amber traded from the Baltic, a flint flake and wooden disks believed to have been used as either stud earrings or inserted into a belt, made from spindle wood. This is a hard, fine-grained tree that grows on Dartmoor, which traditionally is used to make knitting needles, and these pieces are the earliest examples of wood-turning in Britain, being unique in the archaeological record of the island. Prior to this find, only eight beads had been found on Dartmoor from the Bronze Age within the last 100 years, and so this discovery has greatly increased the volume of material from this period that is available for study. 

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

A selection of amber beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

A selection of beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

However, despite the presence of amber suggesting a high status individual due to the magical associations with this material and its part in long-distance Continental trade, it is the bracelet that is of real interest due to the decoration included. The bracelet itself is made from woven cow hair, with 35 studs originally included (three are now missing) as decoration made from worked tin. This is particularly interesting, as it provides the earliest example of worked tin from the South West of Britain, and tin in itself is rare in the prehistoric record as decoration. As well as the bracelet, this excavation also revealed a bead made from tin.

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

It is believed that this burial belonged to a female aged between 14 and 25 who was of  a high social standing, and the location of the cist on a site 600 metres above sea level that would have been visible to much of the surrounding landscape suggests a person who needed to be seen and remembered by many people over a wide region.

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