New Forest ‘prehistoric burial’ mystery unearthedPUBLISHED ON: 25 OCTOBER 2018
Archaeologists and volunteers have found an important prehistoric burial site near Beaulieu dating back thousands of years.
A community dig in a field at East End set out to investigate what they thought was a Bronze Age barrow which had been ploughed over and they were thrilled to find four cremation burial urns dating from that period around 3,000 years ago.
But as the excavation progressed further, the evidence began suggesting that the site might have been an important place for even older human activity which Bronze Age settlers then adapted.
New Forest National Park Authority Community Archaeologist James Brown said: ‘We were elated to find the urns – they were inverted in what we originally thought was the ditch around the barrow and one has a decorative band pattern on it that will help us to date them. These urns were domestic pots and contain cremated human bone placed into small pits. So we know this site was a place of memorial for people in the New Forest around 3,000 years ago.
‘But we didn’t find any evidence of the barrow’s mound or any burial activity in the middle as you might expect.’
He said the lack of evidence may be the result of the barrow being ploughed out, or destroyed by the later field boundary ditches that run through the middle. The site was fully metal-detected as part of the archaeological investigation with the only finds being modern metal work in the topsoil.
‘However, there was evidence of human activity below the level of the urns’, he said.
‘We also found two Neolithic flints from around 5,000 years ago, one of which probably would have been attached to a wooden shaft and used as a spear. Geophysics scans showed that there may have been two entrances to the site. So the evidence is strongly hinting at a much earlier Neolithic monument that was then re-used in the Bronze Age.’
Volunteer Ian Richardson, from Poole, said the volunteers were fascinated to see what the site revealed.
‘It is always good to find something when the day has been spent moving mud and stone!’ he said. ‘You get in touch with the past and think the last person to pick that up was here thousands of years ago.’
National Park Senior Archaeologist Frank Green said: ‘The archaeologists will now analyse the urns and soil and use scientific techniques to date them, conserve them and hopefully display them in the New Forest. Ongoing work will attempt to try and fully understand what might prove to be an incredibly important part of the New Forest’s prehistoric past.’
Thanks to the Beaulieu Estate and the tenant farmer, the dig provided a rare chance to excavate on farmland in the New Forest. As the Forest doesn’t get built on as much as other parts of the country there are fewer opportunities for excavation while sites are being developed.
James said: ‘This often leads people to assume that the Forest didn’t see much early human activity – it’s probably there but we just don’t get the chance to see it. So the finds at this site are already adding to our knowledge in quite a substantial way of the story of people who have lived here in the past – the residents, their lives and how they exploited the Forest landscape.’
Notes to Photo Editor: National Park Community Archaeologist James Brown (centre) unearthing neolithic flints with volunteers Ian Richardson and Sue Pinyoun.