|22 August 2009
4,000-year-old tomb found empty on Exmoor
Last week, in the bogs of Exmoor (England) a team of archaeologists started excavating a tomb which had not been opened for the best part of 4,000 years. It was only a couple of feet wide and filled with the soils of centuries. No-one could possibly know what was there. As it turned out - nothing. Not a single bone or bit of bracelet - no cremation urn or any other ancient piece of ephemera.
Not that archaeologists from Bristol and Leicester Universities seemed too disappointed. "It could have been a Victorian vicar who fancied himself as an archaeologist, or someone may have helped themselves to whatever was inside just after it was built," shrugged Dr Mark Gillings who, as senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Leicester, is in charge of the dig near Simonsbath. It was the first time a Bronze Age stone cist had been opened on Exmoor for more than 100 years - but the special occasion seemed lost on the dozen or so archaeologists present. They were too busy being excited when a tiny flint was found. "This allows us to put the story here into a real time frame," grinned Dr Gillings, examining the flint tool made some 3,500 years ago.
The archaeologists were invited on to moorland owned by the National Park Authority because a number of extremely small standing stones had been discovered in its bogs. Dr Gillings is used to bigger finds. He has recently been working at Avebury in Wiltshire where the largest stone discovered weighed in at 100 tonnes. "We though 'Blimey' when we first saw these," said Dr Gillings, pointing at a 12in-high baby monolith. "But it was when we started asking 'Why are these stones here and what might lie between them?' that we really made discoveries. Sometimes tiny can open more secrets than big."
What the team has discovered is the possibility that entire field systems once existed in this lonely place - even ancient dwellings or hamlets. Members of the team still have no firm answers as to what went on here 3,500 years ago, but they are fairly certain it was a good deal more than previously thought. Now they are looking forward to returning to Exmoor if more funding can be found.
Source: Western Morning News (14 August 2009)
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