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31 March 2004
Ancient human remains reveal a bloody end

University of Leicester archaeologists discovered the earliest human remains from Leicestershire (England). Analysis of the remains found eight years ago in a gravel quarry near Watermead Country Park, Birstallhas, established that they met with violent deaths. Experts have just completed investigations on the remains and a series of scientific tests undertaken this year have come up with some gruesome results.
     The remains, including two skulls, vertebrae and long bones, were found together in a peat deposit  - originally an old channel of the River Soar - during gravel quarrying. Radiocarbon dating has provided surprising results: although found together the bodies had been deposited in the marsh 2000 years apart. The remains of two individuals - a male and a female - were dated from the Early Neolithic (around 3000 BCE).  The skull and upper vertebra from another person were found to date from around 800 BCE during the Bronze Age.
     Analysis at the University of York and the British Museum have concluded that before the bodies were disposed of the blood supply was cut off quickly  -  perhaps pointing to their being put to death.  More tangible evidence was found on the vertebra of the Bronze Age individual. Here cut marks showed that the person's throat had been cut by a knife. Susan Ripper the Site Director said: "The evidence suggests the people suffered from violent deaths, and soon after death the bodies were placed in a waterlogged area alongside the river."
     These weren't the only discoveries made on the site. In addition to the evidence of human sacrifice there is a very early 'burnt mound' dating from the late Neolithic period (about 2500-2000 BCE).  These sites comprise mounds of heat cracked stones which would have been used to boil water in a circular wooden trough. Why they wanted to boil a large amount of water remains unclear.  No cooking debris was found (bones, pots etc.), so the site may have been used to cook food that was eaten elsewhere or for something like wool processing, steaming withies for basket making or possibly even as  'saunas'.
     Dr Patrick Clay, Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services commented: "One person appears to have been deliberately killed around 800BC. There is evidence of people being sacrificed and their bodies being cast into marshes or bogs from Britain and Europe from this time onwards. The Neolithic date for two of the individuals, also suffering a sudden death and being found in the same location is intriguing.  Is this human sacrifice being practiced 2000 years earlier? If so, it is the earliest known from Britain."

Source: University of Leicester press release (31 March 2003)

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