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16 October 2015
Bronze Age graves give up their secrets

Excavations of an ancient cemetery on Petersfield Heath, about 100 kilometres southwest of London, England, have revealed important evidence of how the area's Early Bronze Age residents dealt with death. Three of the 21 known monuments were thoroughly examined.
     Archaeologists proved the unusual shape of Barrow 13 was due to substantial and extensive past disturbance. An unrecorded excavation had dug a deep hole well into the subsoil beneath the centre, with at least three arms extending west, north, and east.
     Given this, it was with some surprise that an intact grave was discovered, containing at least 15 artefacts of flint and stone beside cremated bone fragments.
     Two further objects were represented by hardened sand, caused by the mineral-replacement of organic items. The larger of the two is significant because the cremated remains clearly spread from its broader end. It is 38.5 centimetres long and suggests that a bag - perhaps of leather, and with a long wooden handle - had contained the bones. This is not the first time it has been possible to deduce that an Early Bronze Age cremation was deposited in an organic bag, but this provides the first evidence for such bags having an elaborate wooden handle. It suggests a degree of ceremony was involved in transporting the remains to the burial site, and may imply that the cremation took place elsewhere or at an earlier time. The concentration of barrows on Petersfield Heath is noteworthy, and this new evidence further supports the idea that the site was especially sacred, and favoured by the elite of a wider region.
     A neatly shaped rectangular whetstone, 22.5 centimetres long, is probably the largest yet to have been found in an Early Bronze Age context. It may have had more than one function, but its grooved sides were almost certainly used to smooth the shafts of arrows. This makes an interesting connection with 10 of the flints in the grave, which had been worked to an intermediate stage on the way to becoming arrowheads.

Edited from Petersfield Herald (5 October 2015)

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