воскресенье, 10 мая 2020 г.

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire


Archaeologists have uncovered the first evidence in the British Isles of a holy man being sacrificed to guide his chieftain through the afterlife. The remains of a Bronze Age leader were found in a 4,000-year-old burial mound in Gloucestershire alongside valuable rugs, a horde of goods and the the body of a shaman in a sitting position facing his master.

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
An early Bronze Age chieftain, valuable rugs, a horde of goods and a sitting shaman (seen here) that may have been
 a human sacrifice were found inside a 4,000-year-old burial site [Credit: Foundations Archaeology]




Archaeologists made the 'unprecedented discovery' during a dig in Lechlade, Gloucestershire. The chieftain inside the 'impressive burial mound' was  surrounded by goods - including a copper dagger, an archer's wrist guard and four cow hide rugs. 

Sitting opposite him - about 6 feet away - was another man lying crouching on his side in a seated position with no goods. Archaeologists believe this was a holy man. This is the first evidence that human sacrifice was practised in the British Isles to provide leaders with spiritual guidance and ease their way through the afterlife. 

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
Head and hoof remains from chieftain burial
[Credit: Foundations Archaeology]


The dig was carried out by Foundations Archaeology ahead of the development of the new skatepark and memorial hall - both of which are now open.

The researchers believe the two men were part of the 'Beaker culture' - named after a type of cup used during this time and a dominant culture in early Bronze Age Britain. The pair in the burial mound were likely descended from a group that arrived in Britain a couple of hundred years earlier from the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe.

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
The chieftain inside the 'impressive burial mound' was surrounded by goods - including a copper dagger,
an archer's wrist guard and four cow hide rugs [Credit: Foundations Archaeology]




Andy Hood of Foundations Archaeology said cows were sometimes sacrificed to accompany the chieftain in the afterlife while mourners feasted on their flesh. He said it was unusual to discovered so many cow hides in a single grave, which suggests the chieftain was of great importance to his community. 

The chieftain in this grave is the first known to be buried with metal weapons in Britain, and had goods from hundreds of miles away, according to Mr Hood. This included a copper dagger, a whalebone pommel, an archer's wrist guard of polished green stone from the Lake District and a fire-starting kit.

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
A sketch showing the barrow ring ditch, which is characteristic of the Beaker culture
[Credit: Foundations Archaeology]

They couldn't work out how old the leader was, but say the shaman buried sitting opposite him was in his 50s or 60s. It's the seated position that led the experts to believe he was a sacrifice as shamans have been found buried alongside leaders in similar positions in Europe and Asia. He was found upright with his legs dangling over a pit and facing the chieftain.

"In anthropological terms, the idea of having a shaman or holy man would fit with this context because this was a ceremonial and religious area for a significant part of prehistory," Mr Hood said. 

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
The copper dagger that was found in the chieftain's burial
[Credit: Foundations Archaeology]




The Beaker community, who made the burial mound, appropriated an existing sacred site - it was built near a Stone Age 'cursus' monument from 3000BC.

"In British prehistory there is emerging evidence for periods of human sacrifices, which is a distinct possibility," said Mr Hood.  

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
Stone wrist guard [Credit: Foundations Archaeology]

The shaman would likely have been buried at the same time or straight after the chieftain. His seated position was part of a long tradition of holy men being buried in that way - dating back to about 9500BC in Russia and Ukraine. 

People still used the site where the pair were buried for burials long after its construction - in fact there was even an Anglo-Saxon burial ground on the site suggesting it held sacred connotations for thousands of years. 

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
Artefacts found in the chieftain's burial [Credit: Foundations Archaeology]



The chieftain and his shaman were at the peak of their power 300 years after the Beaker people first appeared in Britain (about 2500 BC). They were the most dominant group of people in the country but appeared to 'buy into' Britain's pre-beaker heritage by using ancient burial sites.

The pair were laid to rest in one of the most spiritually and ritually important places in southern Britain - a site where four rivers come together. There were three pre-Beaker ceremonial monuments on the site and a substantial ceremonial enclosure that was up to half a mile long.

Bronze Age chieftain burial discovered in Gloucestershire
Skate park excavation [Credit: Foundations Archaeology]

This trend of using the site for burials continued for thousands of years. By the time the chieftain was buried it had already been in use over 1,000 years. Some 1,200 years after his burial, four late Bronze Age people had cremated remains placed on the site, and 700 years after that three Iron age people used it as their final resting place. Angle-Saxon groups - 900 years after the Iron Age people - were also buried there. 

"Our investigation has been a rare opportunity to shed new light on a crucial period of British prehistory," Hood said. "What's more, it has allowed us to understand the extraordinary time depth of this ancient funerary monument and its use by so many different cultures from the Neolithic all the way through to the Iron Age."

There is nothing to see on the surface of the ancient site anymore due to millennia of soil erosion and centuries of ploughing - but it was the fact there was no obvious sign of a burial mound that likely protected the site from treasure hunters.




* This article was originally published here

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