Unearthed: ancient burial pit shows how Bronze Age Scots prepared for afterlife

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Archaeologists have hailed the discovery of an early Bronze Age cemetery as one of the most significant in Britain after new technology enabled them to pinpoint the date of graves.

Archaeologists have hailed the discovery of an early Bronze Age cemetery as one of the most significant in Britain after new technology enabled them to pinpoint the date of graves.

The remains of more than 35 men, women and children who lived between 1900BC and 1600BC have been uncovered at a previously unknown settlement at Skilmafilly, north-west of Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.

Among the cremated bones, which were buried in pottery urns, scientists found a wide range of artefacts which signify that the community had widespread trade links with other parts of Britain and probably shared a common belief in an afterlife.

The cluster of 29 cremation pits was found by workmen constructing a £52m gas pipeline from St Fergus to Aberdeen. The project - which has already uncovered the foundations of an even earlier ritual timber circle believed to date back to about the same year as Stonehenge and an iron ore ringditch house - was suspended while archaeologists conducted an in-depth survey.

The investigations have revealed several important artefacts from the period.

Among the finds were ornate stone beads, bone pins and antler toggles for clothing, eagle talons, pottery and an imported flint knife, which was probably specifically made for use in the afterlife.

"This is really a very significant and exciting find, as it is the most comprehensively carbon-dated Bronze Age cremation cemetery in Britain," said Melanie Johnson, post excavation manager at CFA Archaeology, who carried out the work. "Nothing like this has been excavated for decades, certainly nothing of this size or importance for about 30 years."

"We have a whole range of people buried there, from children and adolescents to adult males and females.

"Another pit contains a man older than 45, which in those days would have been quite old. It is a good cross-section of the community and, overall, it appears that they weren't really in that bad a shape for the time."

Using radio carbon dating the archaeologists have been able to pinpoint fairly accurately the date of the burials to between 1600 and 1900 BC

The remains represent burials over several generations who probably farmed the area and lived in roundhouses big enough for six or seven people.

Combined with evidence from other excavated sites, archaeologists are able to piece together how trade links between communities were forged.

"We know they were making bronze in Scotland from tin, which would have been imported from Devon or Cornwall," said Alison Sheridan, the head of prehistory at the National Museums of Scotland.

"There are huge gaps in our knowledge but by carbon-dating Bronze Age burials we will be able to get a better chronology of who was doing what in the second millennium BC."

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