Bronze Age Cemetery Discovered Near Stonehenge

Archaeologists found graves and artifacts while preparing land for a new subdivision in southern England

Overhead view of burial mounds in England
Archaeologists in England found Bronze Age skeletal remains, cremation burials and artifacts. Cotswold Archaeology

While preparing land for a new housing development, archaeologists outside of Salisbury, England, uncovered a large Bronze Age cemetery.

The site is roughly ten miles from Stonehenge. But despite the close proximity, the cemetery does not appear to be connected to the mysterious stone monument.

The burial ground includes more than 20 barrows, or circular mounds. “Barrows tend to be associated with burials—some contain only single individuals, others a sequence of burials and occasionally multiple burials,” according to a statement from Cotswold Archaeology, the private firm working on the project. 

Most of the barrows were built between 2400 and 1500 B.C.E. The smallest is 33 feet across and the largest is 165 feet, though most are between 65 and 100 feet. 

While centuries of farming have flattened the mounds, archaeologists discovered ten intact burials, plus three cremation burials. They also found evidence suggesting that groups from several different eras inhabited the site over many years.

Archaeologist excavating antlers
Archaeologist Jordan Bendall excavates red deer antlers at the site. Cotswold Archaeology

The barrows are grouped in “pairs or small clusters of six or so,” says Alistair Barclay, an archaeologist at Cotswold Archaeology, to Live Science’s Tom Metcalfe.

So far, the team has excavated five of the barrows, including three that seem to have been reshaped over time. One such barrow likely started as an oval, but was later reworked into a shape that was more circular. Beneath this barrow, archaeologists found a mass grave, which held the remains of both children and adults. Researchers plan to use radiocarbon dating to determine the grave’s age. But for now, they say that the original oval shape indicates that the barrow may date to the Neolithic period, making it older than the others.

This barrow also cuts across pits containing red deer antlers, which Neolithic groups used to make tools, combs, pins, weapons and ritual objects. Specialists will soon be conducting a close study of the antlers, looking for evidence of “deliberate breakage” or “patterns of wear” that could hint at their use.

In another barrow, researchers found the remains of a child who’d been buried with a so-called “handled food vessel” that was common in northern England, per the team’s statement. Finding this artifact in southern England suggests that its owners may have traveled long distances. “Whoever made the pot buried with the child was familiar with pottery of non-local character,” write the researchers.

This same barrow also contained a type of late Neolithic pottery called “grooved ware” that first arose around 3000 B.C.E. and later spread throughout Britain and Ireland. Stonehenge’s builders also used this type of pottery.

In another part of the site, the researchers found “what may be traces of an Iron Age cultivation area,” writes Live Science. There, they unearthed 240 pits and postholes, some of which may have once stored garbage or grains. 

The team also found evidence dating to the early medieval period, including a small sunken building, a watering hole and artifacts such as knife blades and pottery.

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