A set of unusually well preserved human and other organic remains discovered in the Highlands of Scotland wrapped in animal hide or furs, with a wicker basket curiously encasing the skull have been described by archaeologists as an extremely rare and valuable find that have the potential to tell a great deal about contemporary life and burial practice in the Bronze Age.
They were uncovered last February by landowner Jonathan Hampton, while digging peat with heavy machinery at a farm at Strath Oykel, in Sutherland. Local police were first on the scene and according to an angry Hampton made a botched job of investigating the tomb.
Their carelessness resulted in the removal of a number of parts of the skeleton (including the skull) and a few artefacts, only some of which have been returned. Nevertheless, a full survey was later carried out by Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD), which has returned very positive results.
Even in its partial state, this assemblage has the potential to shed valuable light on the person buried and the materials used to dress the body, states GUARD’s report. Tests are ongoing on the skeletal remains to establish the sex and specific age of the individual, who is estimated to have died between 2500 and 2000 BC. Research on organic items found in the grave such as the basket (which features representations of plants and animals of the time), some possible food remains and the fur or hide wrapping the body is hoped to lend some further insights into burial practice at the time. They may have comprised objects or garments used in everyday life, or that were created especially for the burial, the report notes.
What about the wicker headgear? A tenuous parallel for this may exist at Cairnapple, suggest GUARD, where a piece of carbonised oak sliced from a sliced from a large log had been placed over a face of an extended inhumation burial. It was interpreted as a possible ceremonial mask, which might have been carved or painted.
The site is very significant in terms of the condition of the human remains, Andrew Puls an archaeologist from Highland Council, who has also been involved with the investigation told The Scotsman. There is certainly evidence of the burial practice of the Bronze Age in the area. [It is] so well preserved for being 4,000 years old. These things don’t normally survive.
Photos Historic Scotland, courtesy of GUARD.