|15 August 2009
Unique Bronze Age burial uncovered in Scotland
Archaeologists in Perthshire (Scotland) have unearthed a spectacular early Bronze Age grave containing a gold-banded dagger still wrapped in its 4,000-year-old sheath. The discovery was made by archaeologists from Glasgow and Aberdeen universities. In 2008 they found a large sandstone slab, weighing four tons, measuring 2m x 2m and 40cm thick, but had to wait a year for it to be lifted. Last week, a crane was brought in and the 4,000 year old grave was revealed.
Beneath the capstone archaeologists found a meticulously-constructed high-status stone lined cist burial, containing traces of human remains which had been laid on a bed of quartz pebbles and interwoven lattice of birch bark, with copper objects including a dagger with a leather scabbard, fragments of a wooden bowl, and at the head a wooden and leather container. While few traces survive of the body buried in the primitive stone coffin, found near the village of Forteviot, several clues suggest the remains are those of a tribal leader or warrior of 'tremendous importance'. More astonishing, said archeologists, were the organic materials preserved in the sealed grave.
"The high quality of preservation is of exceptional importance for understanding the centuries when metals were first introduced into Scotland," said Dr Kenneth Brophy, of the University of Glasgow. He is co-director of the Strathearn Environs & Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, which also involves experts from the University of Aberdeen. Only two or three daggers from this period have been found in Scotland, but this find is even more unusual. Dr Brophy said: "It is also incredibly rare to find some kind of animal skin wrapped around the dagger. The metal is in good condition. It's a spectacular and unusual find."
The materials have been brought to Edinburgh for conservation and examination, and are currently being kept in cold storage at the laboratory of the AOC Archaeology Group. Rated of national importance, the finds are likely to become part of the National Museum of Scotland's collection.
The capstone was found to have a unique carving of a spiral and axe shape on the side facing into the burial, while the cist itself had several axes or other weapons carved into the stone at the end where the head of its occupant is likely to have been. Aberdeen University's Dr Gordon Noble, project director, said such carvings are 'very rare' in a burial in that part of Scotland although there are similar examples at Kilmartin Glen, in Argyll. Dr Brophy said: "They dug a huge hole, then placed a stone coffin in the ground, about a metre long and 70 centimetres across. The body would have lain crouched on its side. Then they placed a four-tonne stone on top of it. They would have used ropes and pulleys of some kind. It would have been very crude techniques."
Professor Stephen Driscoll, another co-director working on the dig, said: "This excavation is part of a long-term project to study the link between the emerging kingdom of medieval Scotland and its ancient prehistoric remains. This burial provides the strongest evidence of the presence of ancestral graves which may have been regarded as mythological heroes by the Picts who were also buried nearby in Forteviot."
Sources: University of Glasgow, BBC News, The Big Issue (11 August 2009), The Scotsman, Times Online, The Press and Journal (12 August 2009)
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