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Burial Chamber in England

4,000-year-old burial chamber found in England may belong to ancient princess

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A hoard of Bronze Age treasure unearthed two years ago in a 4,000-year-old tomb on Dartmoor, has come under the spotlight again as researchers believe the burial chamber could have belonged to a prehistoric princess. The discovery, which has been described as the most significant find on Dartmoor, has given archaeologists a glimpse into the lives of the people who once lived there. 

Dartmoor is an area of moorland in south Devon, England, which covers nearly 1000 square kilometres, and is an area of prehistoric importance. The remains of 5,000 Bronze Age houses have been discovered so far, as well as fenced enclosures that would have protected people from wild animals. Archaeologists have also found hundreds of burial chambers on Dartmoor, however few as spectacular as the tomb found in a peat bog on Whitehorse Hill.

The ancient tomb, known as a cist, was found to contain an intact cremation deposit (human bones) alongside a number of grave goods, which included animal pelts, a skilfully-made decorative belt, earrings, a studded bracelet, a near perfectly preserved basket, and beads made of amber. The precious material from the Baltic was associated with supernatural powers and used as an amulet, which therefore suggests a very high status burial as well as demonstrating that Bronze Age Britons traded with people from the continent. There were also some beads made with tin, which archaeologists have said points to the earliest evidence of tin found in the South West of England.

Burial Chamber - items found in the tomb

Some of the items found in the tomb, including a bracelet and beads. Photo credit

"What was so unusual was the survival of so many organic objects which you never usually get in a grave of this period, they've long since rotted away," explained Jane Marchand, Dartmoor National Park’s chief archaeologist. "Visibly it's not as impressive as Stonehenge, but archaeologically it's just as important,” she added.

Only eight beads had been found on Dartmoor in the last 100 years. However, the Whitehorse Hill cist contained more than 150 beads, some of which were incredibly unique.

Archaeologists are using the objects to build up a picture of the person who was buried at the site on Whitehorse Hill and it is thought they were of considerable importance in the local community, and possibly even a princess. Evidence comes from the quantity and quality of the jewellery and other items found in the grave, as well as the high position of her final resting place, which would have been visible to nearby settlements. It is known that in the Bronze Age, high status people took care with their appearance and wore carefully crafted clothes and jewellery from fur pelts to tin beaded bracelets and that certainly seems to be the case with the young woman whose remains were uncovered in the tomb.

"It's just amazing,” said Ms Marchand.  “It suddenly brings them to life and actually you feel much closer to them because this is someone who likes their jewellery, I like jewellery, and actually you can identify with that side of things.”

The finding will be featured in a new BBC documentary called ‘Mystery of the Moor’, set to be aired in the UK on BBC One on Friday 28 th February, which will show the moment the intricately coiled bag was opened for the first time in 4,000 years.  The artefacts from Whitehorse Hill will go on display at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in September.

Featured image:  The 4,000-year-old cist uncovered on Whitehorse Hill. Photo credit.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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