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23 March 2008
Bronze Age skeleton unearthed in Kent

In Greek mythology, Thanatos was the personification of death and mortality. His name was Thanatus in Latin. The Isle of Thanet is an area at the most easterly point of Kent, England. And the dramatic recent discovery of a Bronze Age skeleton has resurrected considerable historical interest in the district and may just prove that a long-forgotten definition of its name is not merely based on myth and legend. For Thanet is, literally, the Isle of the Dead.
     Experts examining the remains of the 4,000-year-old skeleton, discovered by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) near Monkton, say the find is an example how densely populated the land once was with burial mounds. The beautifully preserved remains were found during a routine archaeological dig on development site near Monkton on which a fresh fruit produce centre is set to be built. The man is thought to have lived between 2200 and 2400 BCE, and was buried in a 'double ring-ditch' funery mound, where one circular ditch lies within another a 'high status' grave of which there are few in Kent. There was a small dagger at his shoulder, and a very rare archer's wrist guard on his arm. Canterbury Archaeological Trust said the curled-up skeleton was an example of a 'Beaker' burial because of the pottery vessel placed at its feet. Education officer Marion Green said the 'beautifully decorated' pot could have been 'a type of beer mug'. She said tests on beakers from other sites suggested Bronze Age man was brewing a type of beer from grain.
     Director of CAT Paul Bennett said: "We can see the man was about 30 or 40 years old and was very tall for the time between 5ft 8 and 5ft 10in, which would have been abnormal. He also suffered from a number of diseases or deformities." The man had several infused vertebra, and would have suffered from ongoing back problems, and his teeth were also in a very poor state due to the amount of grit present in food at the time. The man also had an unusually thick skull and a growth between his eyes that could have been a tumour, an infected wound or a birth deformity. "His teeth were very worn down and would have been painful," Mr Bennett added. "We can see he lost two adult teeth, so he probably took a trip to a Bronze Age dentist at some point. It's safe to say he wasn't pretty." Mr Bennett said it is possible, given the man's abnormal height, that he may have been a traveller and not native to Thanet, but could also have been a local man with a series of unfortunate congenital defects. Further test are being carried out to determine the ancient man's likely profession and origin.    
     "Thanet was covered with small burial mounds, many of which were in groups and clusters across the land the area is not unique in that respect, but there are definitely a large number there and they would have been conspicuous. "It had a rich agricultural landscape, and the mounds would have been visible to all probably up to medieval times when farming reduced them to flat land," Mr Bennet concluded.
     Canterbury Archaeological Trust is looking for volunteers to help excavate the ancient burial site in Thanet. Volunteers need to commit several Saturdays to the project. It would be ideally suited to anyone studying or considering studying archaeology. Contact CAT on 01227 462062 or email mariongreen@canterburytrust.co.uk

Source: BBC News (17 March 2008), Kent Online (20 and 21 March 2008)

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