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Sheepskin in Burial Cist - UK

Archaeologists Discover 4,000-Year-Old Sheepskin in Burial Cist

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Workers constructing a septic tank in Sutherland, UK, in 2011 made a surprising find when they stumbled upon a prehistoric stone tomb amidst the rubble.  Archaeologists were called in to investigate the site and uncovered a stone cist, built within a substantial pit, contained the remains of a middle-aged adult female. A new analysis on the site has now revealed that the body had been placed upon a sheepskin, the first known example from a Bronze Age burial in Britain.

A radiocarbon analysis was done on the bone and charcoal fragments found within the tomb, which were found to date to 2051-1911 BC and 2151 – 2018 BC respectively, placing the cist in the early Bronze Age period.  A tripartite food vessel urn, of Early Bronze Age date, was placed to the west of her skull, but what made this burial a particularly extraordinary site was the discovery of sheepskin and wool recovered from under the skeletal remains.

There have been two other samples of Bronze Age wool found in the British Isles, but no other examples of potential sheepskin are known. Findings of hide or fur are few and far between in Britain but are often associated with ‘rich burials’ of adult inhumations.

Another unique characteristic of the cist is that it had been sealed and therefore represents an exclusive ‘individual grave’, as opposed to the large pits that were common in Scotland.

There were also a number of items found within the tomb including vessels containing carbonised material of non-botanical origin, unidentified cremated bone and a fragment of a small ring. The objects taken together indicate belief in the afterlife and were placed there to assist the individual’s journey into the next world.

By April Holloway

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