Bronze Age chieftain burial found under skate park

The remains of a Bronze Age chieftain interred with unprecedented animal offerings and a second man buried in a seated position have been unearthed in Lechlade-on-Thames, Gloucestershire, southwestern England. The burials were discovered in 2017 during an archaeological survey in advance of construction of a skate park. Radiocarbon analysis of the bones dates both men to around 2200 B.C.

The chieftain was identified as an important, wealthy leader by the unusually prolific animal remains found in his grave. The skulls and hooves from four different cattle were discovered. Head and hoof cattle burials have been found before — it was a Bronze Age funerary practice seen across Europe — but all of the ones unearthed in the UK before this were single cattle burials with one skull and one hoof from one animal.

Artifacts buried with the chieftain include a copper dagger with a whale bone pommel, a stone wrist guard, an amber bead and a strike-a-light kit composed of a flint and iron pyrite. These grave goods are characteristic of Beaker culture burials. The one thing he was not buried with was the actual Beaker pot after which the culture was named. Archaeologists think this noticeable absence indicates the deceased performed a specialized function in his community, one not connected with the symbolism of the Beaker pot.

The chieftain grave was found in the center of a circular ditch. The terrain is flat now, but at the time of the burial it was a barrow with soil mounded inside the ring ditch. This design is also typical of Beaker cultural burials. Within the circular enclosure next to the central grave were the remains of an older man. He was 50-60 years old when he died.

“He was buried in an unusual ‘seated’ position — his legs were present extending downwards towards the base of his grave pit,” [Foundations Archaeology archaeologist Andy] Hood said. “We haven’t found a direct parallel elsewhere in Bronze Age Britain.”

Most people buried in Bronze Age Britain were arranged in a crouched position on their sides, as the chieftain was. So the older man’s proximity to the chieftain, as well as the man’s lack of a Beaker “package” and strange burial position, may remain a mystery for the ages.

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