Ancient royal tomb found in Scotland

Archaeologists stunned as dig unearths 4,000-year-old burial treasures unrivalled anywhere in Britain

Hidden beneath a four-ton slab of rock and surrounded by ancient carved symbols of prehistoric power, a spectacular high-status potentially royal tomb, dating back 4,000 years, has been discovered by archaeologists in Scotland.

The find – of international importance – is unique in Britain. The excavations at Forteviot, near Perth, have yielded the remains of an early Bronze Age ruler buried on a bed of white quartz pebbles and birch bark with at least a dozen personal possessions – including a bronze and gold dagger, a bronze knife, a wooden bowl and a leather bag.

The discovery has huge implications for Scottish history. Forteviot has long been known to have been a great royal centre in the early medieval period. It was a "capital" of a Pictish Kingdom in the 8/9th century AD – and one of Scotland's earliest kings, Kenneth MacAlpin, is said to have had a palace there.

But up until now nobody suspected that Forteviot's royal roots might be thousands of years older. The newly discovered prehistoric tomb is of particular importance because it lies at the very heart of Scotland's largest pre-historic ritual/religious ceremonial complex. The excavations are now revealing that back in around 2600 BC, local Neolithic people constructed a giant 250m diameter circle of 200 timber obelisks with a ceremonial processional way leading to its entrance and an inner timber circle at its centre. Each oak obelisk was up to a metre in diameter. Then, by 2400BC, a massive earthwork enclosure with a 10m wide, 3m deep moat was built inside that inner timber circle.

At roughly the same time two other similar earthwork enclosures – "henges" – were built, north of the large timber circle. And finally in around 2000BC the tomb was built underground in what was probably the most prestigious location – immediately opposite the entrance to the henge at the centre of the entire complex.

Uniquely, the tomb's stone wall, at the head end of the grave, was decorated with carvings of two bronze axes. What's more, the tomb's great 2m by 2m, four-ton stone roof was decorated with a much older carving of a probable Neolithic stone battle axe or ceremonial mace head – a fact which suggests that it was removed from an older monument specifically for use in this ultra-high-status prehistoric tomb.

The use of white quartz pebbles and white birch bark as bedding for the dead man may well have been seen as a way of helping to guarantee rebirth in the next world.

The excavation is being directed by Professor Stephen Driscoll and Dr Kenneth Brophy of the University of Glasgow and Dr Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen.

"The sheer size of the stone slabs used to construct the tomb, the extremely rare rock engraving, the rare preservation of the leather, wood and bark items and the high status location make this a find of both national and international importance," said prehistorian Dr Noble.

"In terms of preservation, location and scale, this tomb is unparalleled in Britain," he said.

The excavation is continuing on site – and in Edinburgh where archaeologists are examining large blocks of excavated earth from the tomb under laboratory conditions.

2000BC: A snapshot of prehistoric Britain...

*In 2000BC Stonehenge was in its heyday as a ritual centre.

*Society in Britain was becoming more hierarchical and the change brought a greater concentration of power in the hands of fewer people.

*It is likely that during this time Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, the world's greatest ancient man-made mound, was undergoing expansion to make it even more impressive.

*Gold extraction was in full swing in Ireland – much of it was being sent to Britain. Simultaneously there was a big increase in bronze production in Britain.

*Continental influence was increasing substantially in southern Britain.

... while in Egypt

*Ancient Egyptian civilisation was more than 1,000 years old by the time the Forteviot burial took place in Scotland.

*By 2000BC the Great Pyramid at Giza was, at more than 500 years old, already an ancient structure. The other great pyramids were completed by 2150BC.

*The world's first calendar, based on the timings of the Nile floods, had been used by Egyptians for more than 1,000 years. It split the year into 12 months and 365 days.

*Hieroglyphic writing had been developed at least 1,300 years earlier and by 2000BC ancient Egyptians used 800 different symbols.

*The successful mummification of bodies had been carried out for more than 500 years.

*The first Book of the Dead texts had been created to describe the Ancient Egyptian concept of the afterlife and to provide instructions on how the deceased could overcome obstacles to reach it.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Teacher

£130 - £131 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ks1 teacher required for m...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?