| 3 April 2015
Skeletons and jewellery found in Iron Age square barrows
Archaeologists say dozens of square barrows found in East Yorkshire (England) contained the skeletons and goods of people from the Arras Culture, living in the region in the Middle Iron Age between the 1st century BCE and the Roman invasion. A set of excavations at Burnby Lane, in Pocklington, have investigated 16 barrows and revealed a further ten during construction works to create housing.
"Some of the square barrows have contained finds including bangles and brooches typical of the Middle to Late Iron Age in Eastern Yorkshire. The finds are now being conserved and stabilised for display purposes in the future and it is this information in particular that will provide a detailed insight into the lives and environment of the Arras Culture in the area of Pocklington," says Paula Ware, of MAP Archaeology Practice.
The site has so far yielded 38 square barrows and 82 burials of a whole range of types, some very rare and most intact and well preserved. Most had a main central grave but many had had secondary burials, possibly from the same family, inserted into the barrows in succeeding years. The current estimate is that the cemetery was created over some 200 to 300 years, but it is possible that as the finds are analysed that is extended to cover the whole of the Iron Age period of 880 BCE to 43 CE.
The Burnby Lane site only contained burials, no domestic occupation, though there is evidence of the Parisi tribe living and working elsewhere at Pocklington across a wide area around the town. The cemetery predominately contains burials of local people, and it would have certainly stood out in the landscape, particularly to anyone travelling down from the Wolds.
What has made the excavation especially exciting to archaeologists are how many different types of burials have been discovered. Many of the skeletons were crouched, but some were flexed, and there were men, women and children, with the men an average of 5 foot 7 inches in height and the women 5 foot 4 inches. Some had been buried in coffins or boxes, some in pits or laid on 'mats' of organic material, one thought to have been buried in a basket, and there were indications that some were just left on the surface to decompose. Some of the barrows were surrounded by enclosure ditches and some were without.
Several people were interred without any accompaniment, but several had a variety of grave goods, including brooches, bangles, pendants, glass beads, pots and weapons. The skeletons, grave goods and organic material have all been sent off for laboratory investigation, including isotope, DNA and protein analysis, and for cleaning and conservation.
One woman had died in childbirth, while a child was buried with a bangle on each of its four limbs, but perhaps the most exciting and unusual was a 'speared burial' of a young man laid to rest with his sword at his side, but before his grave was covered he had half a dozen spears pressed ritualistically into him. Paula Ware described how this would have produced a mound with the spear shafts protruding 'like the spikes of a hedgehog'.
Edited from Pocklington Post (27 March 2015), Culture24 (31 March 2015)
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