A team of archaeologists, archaeology students and volunteers have made a major discovery in rural Perthshire, Scotland, and are opening it up to the public this Sunday.
The removal of a four ton sandstone slab, discovered last summer at Forteviot, revealed a meticulously constructed Bronze Age-period burial chamber, containing a number of metal and crucially organic remains. The tomb is thought to have belonged to a dignitary of significant importance who lived between around 2300 and 2100 BC, in a region rich with historical connections stretching from the Neolithic period through to medieval times.
The dig was headed up by Dr Gordon Noble of Aberdeen University one of two institutions, together with Glasgow University, lending its weight to the Strathearn Environs & Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, of which this excavation is a major part. Speaking to The Big Issue in Scotland, he summed up the significance of their discovery: None of us [working on the site] have ever come across anything like this before, he commented. Its the sort of site you read about in textbooks.
The human remains found laid on a bed of quartz pebbles and a woven birch bark lattice are a particularly unique find. Normally the Scottish soil and climate erodes all such material; on the rare occasions when traces are found, its usually by accident, so they therefore arent handled correctly. This excavation presented the rare occurrence of a major discovery of long-decayed grave wax human remains made under tightly-controlled conditions. The remains have the potential to speak volumes about the environment in which this mysterious individual lived and died. Other objects found in the tomb include a copper dagger with a leather scabbard, bits of a wooden bowl and a wooden and leather container.
The amount of blood, sweat and tears that must have been expended in making the chamber is, as with so many ancient-structures, a firm indicator of the social standing of the person for whom it was created. It was no mean feat shifting a hulking stone slab two metres-by-two metres wide and 40 centimetres thick in Bronze Age Scotland (the SERF team needed a heavy crane to aid them in lifting it). Clearly only an individual of substantial repute would warrant such back-breaking labour. Additionally, the slab bears some quite intricate engravings of a spiral and axe shape on the bottom (facing into the tomb), while the cist itself has been decorated with similar markings around where the head of the person buried there would have lain.
Inevitably, theres an urge to place this discovery within a wider historical context. The markings in the tomb bear a striking resemblance to similar engravings found at Kilmartin Glen in Argyll the site of a Neolithic timber henge dating from 2600BC which would dwarf Stonehenge according to Dr Kenneth Brophy of Glasgow University, another of SERFs project directors. Brophy agreed that the newly-discovered Bronze Age chamber was clearly the final resting place of someone highly significant, for better or for worse. Something, whether negative or positive, picked the individual in this cist burial out for this special treatment, he added, speaking too to The Big Issue in Scotland.
Forteviot is also believed to have been the site of a palace where one of the very first kings of a united Scotland, Kenneth MacAlpin, is buried. Is it purely coincidence that the burial site of another person of major social standing has been found at the same site, dating from 3,000 years before it became a major power centre in Scotland? Or is it evidence of some kind of distant continuity, stretching over the millennia? Decide for yourself by following the dig on the SERFblog, or heading along for a look theres an open day for the public at Forteviot on Sunday August 16.
Picture (c) SERF (Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen). All rights reserved.