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Beaker Bones, Brickearth and Beads

Why there are no images of the skeleton

958 A better preserved Neolithic burial from the same site

The acid nature of the clay-rich brickearth, frequent flooding from the adjacent Colne Brook and the high water table at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton are not ideal conditions for the preservation of bone and collagen. Such conditions result in excessive physical breakdown of bone , and human bone recovered from graves - cut through and backfilled with the same material - is often found in various states of decay and is extremely fragile when exposed during excavation. In the case of the Beaker period skeleton some bones were so degraded that they survived as little more than a stain and others, such as the skull and the long bones, comprised degraded bone fragments and comminuted splinters rendering it almost impossible to lift them. Due to the poor bone preservation, the burial remains were recorded during excavation by osteoarchaeologist Jacqueline McKinley. The surviving fragments of the skull and other parts of the skeleton were lifted within soil blocks so that they could be more carefully excavated under laboratory conditions. All of the lower grave fill, ie, the soil that surrounded the burial remains, was collected and carefully processed to ensure full recovery of bone/tooth fragments and small objects such as beads. 
Unfortunately, when the feature was first found it did not look like a grave and, consequently, some information and very small objects from one part of the grave (not that containing the skeletal remains themselves) could have been lost. The heavy, clayey, redeposited brickearth fill of such features is difficult to excavate by hand and is generally a challenge even for experienced excavators. Despite their small size, the gold beads were easily visible against the darker brown colour of the brickearth. Similarly, the larger amber beads, even with their oxidised and decayed surfaces, could be recognised by their shape. However, the smaller amber bead fragments and all of the black lignite beads were near invisible to the human eye during excavation. Here, our decision to lift parts of the skeletal remains in soil blocks was rewarded as we discovered many tiny black lignite beads adjacent to the neck area and from the torso region close to both the Beaker pot and close to where it appears the hands had rested.

955 Beaker burial during excavation

Preliminary examination of the skeletal remains indicates that they are those of an adult of over 35 years of age. There is less confidence regarding the sex of the individual, with insufficient osteological evidence to say whether they were male or female. Sexing the remains has been based on contextual evidence and prior archaeological knowledge regarding such burials: the position of the body with the head towards the south, the presence of so many beads, and an absence of ‘male’ objects associated with hunting and warfare.
For more information about our work at Kingsmead Horton click here.


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