Bronze Age Skeleton Found In Wicken

PUBLISHED: 13:25 20 August 2008 | UPDATED: 10:29 04 May 2010

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EXCLUSIVE By CATHERINE ATKINSON A RARE Bronze Age skeleton has been recovered at Wicken. Archaeologists working next to the Francis Flower quarry on Stretham Road discovered the skeleton almost intact, lying buried in a foetal position with an intact pot

Human remains

EXCLUSIVE By CATHERINE ATKINSON

A RARE Bronze Age skeleton has been recovered at Wicken.

Archaeologists working next to the Francis Flower quarry on Stretham Road discovered the skeleton almost intact, lying buried in a foetal position with an intact pot by its mouth. Only the tiny toe and finger bones had disintegrated in skeleton's the chalk pit grave - the calcium carbonate present in chalky soil is of such a similar chemical composition to bones that it helps to preserve them.

The skeleton was found a few hundred metres from a Bronze Age 'barrow,' an early form of cemetery, and carefully lifted out of its shallow grave by archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology East.

Excavating

Supervising archaeologist Nick Gilmour said the discovery could be up to 3,200 years old, and only 40 skeletons of this type to have been found in the UK. For French student Julie Martrette who was on a three-week work placement, it was a particularly fascinating discovery. "When I came over here I had no idea I would be see this," she said. "In France my speciality is Egyptology and I have never seen anything like it before."

It is unusual to find a Bronze Age skeleton with so few possessions - they were often left with flint arrowheads and daggers, and in some cases buttons made from jet.

All, however, have been discovered in the foetal position. "It's the idea of going out of the world the way that you came into it," said archaeologist Tom Phillips, a Witchford-based member of the three-strong team.

Until scientists have analysed the Bronze Age bones it is impossible to say whether the skeleton is male or female, but the skull had a pronounced brow bone and a prominent jaw, which are likely male attributes.

One of the finds

It is not known what the Bronze Age person died from but archaeologists can usually tell if from marks on the bones whether it suffered from syphilis or tuberculosis.

Quarry owners Francis Flower Ltd, discovered the Bronze Age site when they paid for an archaeological survey six years ago, but waited six years to remove the skeleton for analysis.

The farmland surrounding the skeleton is used to grow crops, and archaeologists said regular ploughing would have missed the skull of the skeleton by millimetres. A food pot found by the body will go to one specialist, soil samples to another, and the bones to another. Even the skeleton's teeth can be analysed to find out which area of the UK the skeleton came from. After weeks of work, and months of report-writing for archaeologists, this skeleton - nicknamed Bob for now - will help historians build up a better picture of what life was like for some of the oldest known British civilisations.

Pic caps: Julie Martrette and Nick Gilmour from Oxford Archaeology East excavate the Bronze Age skeleton at Wicken.

Photos: SUPPLIED.

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