Ancient tombs discovered by Kingston University-led team

June 9, 2009

A prehistoric complex including two 6,000-year-old tombs representing some of the earliest monuments built in Britain has been discovered by a team led by a Kingston University archaeologist. Dr Helen Wickstead and her colleagues were stunned and delighted to find the previously undiscovered Neolithic tombs, also known as long barrows at a site at Damerham, Hampshire.

Some artefacts, including fragments of pottery and flint and stone tools, have already been recovered and later in the summer a team of volunteers will make a systematic survey of the site, recovering and recording any that have been brought to the surface by ploughing.

Dr Wickstead said that further work would help to reveal more about the Neolithic era. “We hope that scientific methods will allow us to record these sites before they are completely eroded”, she said.  “If we can excavate, we’ll be able to say a lot more about Neolithic people in that area and find out things like who was buried there, what kinds of lives they led, and what the environment was like six thousand years ago.”

She said the find was particularly rare because it was close to Cranborne Chase, one of the most thoroughly researched prehistoric areas in Europe. “I was really excited. It’s rare to find sites of this kind and the tombs are likely to be of national importance,” said Dr Wickstead. ”What’s really extraordinary is the location - it’s one of the most famous prehistoric landscapes, a mecca for prehistorians, and you would have thought the archaeological world would have gone over it with a fine tooth comb.”  

Dr Wickstead, a visiting researcher in the Faculty of Science, is also project manager of Damerham Archaeology Project, an educational body set up last year to discover more about the archaeology of the area around Damerham village.

The importance of the site at Damerham first emerged in 2003 when English Heritage spotted crop marks - which can indicate buried archaeological sites - on aerial photographs of the area. Dr Wickstead volunteered to begin geophysical tests of the area and it was while her team was planning the work that Martyn Barber, a member of the Damerham Archaeology Project, looked at a Windows Live Map of the area to find the car park where he was due to meet his colleagues and was astonished to see another tomb a few hundred metres from the first. “To find any new monuments of this date still visible as humps on the ground is unusual,” said Dr Wickstead, “But to find two is fantastic - we were flabbergasted.”  

Work on the site is in its early stages but Dr Wickstead said the tombs may contain human bones, while nearby there are cropmark traces of some larger circular enclosures which may have been built at the same time as the prehistoric monument at Stonehenge, which is 15 miles away.

In Neolithic times, a ritual burial involved leaving a body out so the flesh would decay. Some of the bones were later put in a tomb, or relatives may even have kept some bones as a special talisman. ”We don’t know whether these sites contained chambers with bones in them - some long barrows never contained bones at all, rather like cenotaphs today. We may also find that any chambers have been destroyed by ploughing - only by excavating could we find out for sure,” said Dr Wickstead.

She said her team were sensitive to the emotions stirred by discovering human remains. “The recovery of ancient human remains is always handled sensitively,” said Dr Wickstead. “We feel respect for the dead people we study, and we treat their remains,with care.”

Source: Kingston University

Explore further: Researcher Unearths Iron Age Skeleton

Related Stories

Researcher Unearths Iron Age Skeleton

November 7, 2005

Archaeologists have discovered a Shetland burial ground dating back over 2,000 years. Experts who started work on the site on Unst two months ago have managed to rescue a number of artefacts and a human skeleton.

Ancient ashes found buried in Rome

February 9, 2006

Archeologists have reportedly found the ashes of an ancient chief or priest who lived three centuries before the legendary founding of Rome.

Megalithic rock art discovered in Anglesey

May 10, 2006

Spectacular megalithic rock-art has been discovered within one of Britain’s most important Neolithic monuments and recorded by a team of archaeologists from the University of Bristol.

Rare intact tomb found in Italy

August 15, 2007

A 2,000-year-old Etruscan tomb containing the remains of at least 16 people has been found intact in Italy's Tuscany region.

Recommended for you

The culinary habits of the Stonehenge builders

October 13, 2015

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 09, 2009

"I was looking for a parking space, and I found a 6000 year old Tomb."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.