The excavation of a prehistoric cremation burial discovered within a cist at Whitehorse Hill on northern Dartmoor has revealed nationally important remains which have captured the interest of experts from all over the country. This was the first excavation of a burial site on Dartmoor for 100 years.
This is now considered to be the most important assemblage of prehistoric grave goods ever recovered from Dartmoor and indeed from the whole of the South West of England. The survival of the organic remains is also seen to be of international importance.
This individual, whose cremated remains were placed in a cist on this remote spot on Northern Dartmoor, over four thousand years ago, was apparently of some importance to the local community. Who was it, what was their gender, what type of animal hide was used to wrap the cremated remains? The answers to these and many other questions are part of this unfolding and fascinating story which hopefully will tell us much more about the lives of prehistoric people on Dartmoor and the landscape they lived in.
What was in the hoard of Bronze Age treasure?
And now the hoard of Bronze Age treasure unearthed in a remote area of Dartmoor two years ago has come under the spotlight again as experts think it could have belonged to a prehistoric princess. Intriguing finds including earrings, beads, a studded bracelet and a near perfectly preserved basket and animal pelt will be the subject of a one-off documentary, before going on show to the public later this year.
The objects, which were pulled from an ancient cremation burial chamber in south Devon, have fascinated scientists since they were discovered in 2011 and have allowed them one of the best glimpses into life in Bronze Age Southern England that they have ever had.
The basket held a collection of precious beads, wooden earrings and a flint flake, shedding light on an advanced society capable of amazing craftsmanship and international trade.
It is fashioned from two circular disks measuring 4.5 inches (12cm) in diameter to form a flat base and lid, which is joined by a tube made using a coiled basketry technique with cow hair stitching around the edge and was preserved in peat.
The wooden earrings inside, which measure up to an inch (2.5cm) in diameter, have side grooves and are made from spindle wood – a hard, fine grained tree that grows in Dartmoor which is traditionally used to make knitting needles.
Archaeologists think the yo-yo-shaped studs were worn in the ears or set into leather belts or other clothing.
What do the objects tell us of the person buried here?
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.
They speculate that the items, which also include precious jewellery, belonged to a women between the age of 14 and 25-years-old, who was probably a princess. An expert at Dartmoor National Park Authority told MailOnline that archaeologists came to this conclusion as other lesser, comparable items have been founded in prehistoric cairns.
The princess was of incredibly high social standing, as evidenced by the high position of her final resting place 600 metres above sea level on the northern moors, which would have been visible to nearby settlements and the valuable items that were buried with her.
Archaeologists first stumbled across the chamber a decade ago when a stone fell out of the peat hag which had been concealing it – far from other known prehistoric sites.
More details about the Dartmoor Princess
A carefully-prepared animal pelt was folded around the cremated remains of the individual as well as what is thought to be a skilfully-made decorative sash or belt, composed of textile and leather with a fringe of outward pointing leather triangles made from thin calf skin, experts said.
But the discovery of beads made of tin got archaeologists particularly excited because they are the earliest evidence of tin production found in the South West.
Over 200 beads were plucked from and around the basket and some are made from 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.
A delicate woven bracelet with tin studs was also unearthed. A total of 35 tin studs are held in place by a band of woven cow hair. While the metal has oxidized, it would have been shiny in appearance.
Mystery of the Moor – Inside Out
Programme makers often have to go to great lengths in the pursuit of their craft. But trying to find a woman with 26mm holes in her ear lobes, but no tattoos or multiple piercings, probably rates as one of the more bizarre. This was Andrew Brown’s challenge. The freelance filmmaker for Inside Out South West was on a quest to find the perfect model to wear Bronze Age jewellery that had been reconstructed from the remains found inside a burial cist (tomb) on Dartmoor.
He made a 30-minute documentary that examines in more detail the significance of the items found inside the cist. These include a bracelet made of tiny tin studs and hair, some amber beads, an intricately coiled bag, an animal pelt, wooden ear studs and part of a necklace.
To put into context how rare this find was, only eight prehistoric beads had been found in the region previously, but over 200 were found in the Whitehorse Hill excavation alone.
Simon Willis, the editor in Plymouth who commissioned the programme, was most impressed with the ancient bag after it was carefully cleaned. He said:
It’s particularly fine.
The editor of weekly output believes this is evidence of
an organised society and culture, which runs counter to some common perceptions. They weren’t just people going around painting themselves and banging each other over the head with clubs. They were quite a sophisticated society with some form of religious observance.
Not all of the mysteries of the moor have been solved, however. The animal pelt has not been identified, because its DNA has not been matched to any animal in existence.
- Dartmoor National Park Whitehorse Burial
- What the well-dressed English princess was wearing in 2000 BC – Mail Online
- Whitehorse Burial Teacher’s Pack (PDF)
- Legendary Dartmoor – Whitehorse Kist
- Inside Out film unearths secrets from Dartmoor burial site
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