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24 March 2004
Mixed human and animal ashes give insights into Bronze Age

The 4000-year-old cremated remains of a young man have provided fresh insights into the superstitious bonds between farmers and their animals in Bronze Age society. A burial urn discovered by a birdwatcher in a boulder shelter at Glennan, Kilmartin, Argyll (Scotland) contained the ashes of a 25 to 40 year old male who had been ritually burned alongside a goat or sheep. The ashes were then deliberately mixed for burial. Experts believe that the mixing is evidence of a perceived bond that may have been thought to transcend death.
     Dr. Gavin MacGregor, of Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division explains: “The choice of a domesticated animal to accompany the mortuary rites may reflect the perceived inter-relationship between the cultural landscape of people and their livestock.” Dr. MacGregor believes that the species of choice may have varied, depending on the type of burial. “Although the sample is small, the evidence suggests that, depending on the burial rite, some species of animal were considered more appropriate than others for inclusion. Pigs are associated with inhumation and goat or sheep are associated with cremation burials.” Analysis of the deposits revealed that the man had suffered from slight spinal joint disease and a mild iron deficiency, but neither seems to have affected his general health. An unburnt flint knife was also found at the site.
     The upland location, below the peak of Beinn Bhan, is also of interest. It may indicate that while many of the more visible funerary and ritual sites of the second millennium are concentrated on the floor of the glen, other parts of the landscape were also significant. Patrick Ashmore, Historic Scotland’s principal inspector of ancient monuments, speculated that the burial was sited away from the burial cairns in nearby Kilmartin Valley because these were reserved for a local elite, or because the deceased may have been an outsider. But he added: “The most intriguing possibility is that the cairns were only part of a much wider sacred landscape, and that this spot … was selected as a special place.”
     The remains have been radiocarbon dated to 2030-1910 BCE.

Source: The Herald (22 March 2004)

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