A 4,000-year-old intact clay urn containing a human cremation has been discovered in a Cornish field in a find described as ‘nothing short of a miracle’.
The set of burnt human remains were discovered near Looe in south east Cornwall and would have been part of a mysterious Bronze Age ritual ceremony.
When digging began, farmers told the researchers that the field had been ploughed in their lifetime, so they were shocked to find the ancient artefact just 10 inches (25cm) below the surface.
What has further baffled researchers is that the site appears to have been used into the Middle Ages, suggesting it could have been visited for thousands of years.
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Pictured is the 4,000 year old clay pottery urn containing a human cremation. The set of burnt human remains were discovered near Looe in south east Cornwall and would have been part of a mysterious ritual ceremony
Lead researcher Dr Catherine Frieman from the Australian National University said she believes there was a large mound over the Bronze Age burial which existed into the Middle Ages.
‘This is a sealed, intact cremation so it has the potential to tell us a lot about the cremation rite as it was practised 4,000 years ago’, she said.
‘We also appear to have some identifiable fragments of bone among the cremated remains so we’ll potentially be able to tell a lot about the individual themselves’.
Dr Frieman says researchers will be able to work out what gender they were, their possible ages and even where they were from and what they ate.
Further analysis could even reveal where the food they ate was coming from and what they ate and drink as a child when their teeth were forming.
‘We were so excited to find such a lot of archaeology on the site despite scores of generations of ploughing, but to find an intact clay urn buried 4,000 years ago just 25 centimetres beneath the surface is nothing short of a miracle,’ said Dr Frieman.
‘This is a very beautiful, very complete burial, and we’re very excited,’ she said.
Other items found include various examples of Cornish Bronze Age pottery, flint tools and two high-quality hammer stones, used to make flint tools.
When digging (pictured) began, farmers told the researchers that the field had been ploughed in their lifetime, so researchers were shocked to find the artefact in perfect condition just 10 inches (25cm) below the surface
However, what has puzzled Dr Frieman and her team was the discovery of medieval ‘unaccountable activity’ on the same site.
‘The site has thrown up a big mystery for us because we found what we believe is an entire – albeit crushed – medieval pot from the 12th or 13th century AD, carefully placed under a couple of layers of flat stones’, said Dr Frieman.
‘It had some cooked food remains adhering to it and we don’t know what it’s doing there or why.’
Researchers say that hundreds of years after the mound was built, someone in the 12th or 13th century came back and dug into it to bury the pot.
At the time there were two local monasteries in view of the site so it was strange to have non-Christian activity still active.
Other items found at the site (pictured) include various examples of Cornish Bronze Age pottery, flint tools and two high-quality hammer stones, used to make flint tools
What has further baffled researchers is that the site, near Looe in Cornwall, appears to have been used into the middle ages, suggesting it could have been visited for thousands of years
‘The evidence looks quite ritualistic, but what the ritual was, we don’t know,’ she said.
The team also excavated a round house – an ancient dwelling or land marker nearby, possibly from 500 BC and are trying to deduce possible reasons for the location of the barrow.
‘This was a traversed place and regularly visited over the millennia, it affords a sweeping view of the south coast of England and we know that there are a series of Bronze Age shipwrecks off this coast, so this was an important shipping highway in prehistory’, said Dr Frieman.
The analysis of soil, pollen, flint and other samples is underway but it will probably be a year before a comprehensive story of the find is possible.
Volunteers from the Cornwall Archaeological society, the tenant farmers, John and Vanessa Hutchings and the National Trust’s regional archaeologist James Parry were involved in the dig.