Archaeological excavations at
Kingsmead Quarry, have revealed a rare ‘Beaker’ burial of
‘Copper Age’ date (2500-2200 BC). The burial represents an unusual and
important find as the remains were those of a woman and within the grave
were some gold ornaments.
This follows the find at Kingsmead of four Neolithic
houses which date back over 5,700 years, unprecedented on a single site in
Dr Stuart Needham, a leading expert on Copper Age
metalwork, who is presently studying the gold ornaments said: “Beaker
graves of this date are almost unknown in South East England and only a
small number of them, and indeed in continental Europe, contain gold
ornaments. The tubular beads that were found at Kingsmead Quarry are
certainly rare in Britain.
The burial contained the remains of a woman who was
at least 35 years old. At the time of her burial, she wore a necklace
containing small tubular sheet gold beads and black disc beads of lignite
- a material similar to jet.
A number of larger perforated red amber
buttons/fasteners were also found in the grave, positioned in a row along
the body. They may indicate that the woman was wearing clothing, perhaps
of patterned woven wool, at the time of her burial. Further lignite beads
from near her hands suggest that she may have been wearing a bracelet.
Most early Beaker burials are found to contain male
skeletons. It would appear that according to their religious beliefs, they
were buried in a crouched position with the head resting to the north and
facing east. However, with women the body position is often reversed with
the head to the south, as at Kingsmead.
This woman of importance was found with a large
drinking vessel, unusually placed on her hip rather than by her feet or
shoulder. The fine pottery vessel had been decorated with a comb-like
Gareth Chaffey, Site Director, Wessex Archaeology
who has been excavating the site for the last seven years, said: “It is
interesting to think who this woman was within her community. She was
probably an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing
which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items. She could
have been a leader, a person with power and authority, or possibly part of
an elite family - perhaps a princess or queen. This gives the grave
The ornaments found within the grave are all the
more interesting when it is considered where they came from. The gold may
have originated from Southern England or Ireland, the lignite beads from
Eastern England and the amber buttons/fasteners from as far away as the
Baltic or made from amber collected from the east coast of England.
Another significant ‘find’, a ‘Picardy’ pin,
was also unearthed at Kingsmead
Quarry. Thought to date back to the Bronze Age, probably around the 11th
century BC. The well-worn pin could have originated from Picardy, which is
an historical province in the north of France, and is approximately 20 cm
long. It is thought to have been used either as a costume or hair pin.
From other finds on the site, which have included flint tools, arrowheads,
broken pottery and a bronze and leather working tool, plus evidence of a
field system and the burnt remains of some of the crops, it is believed
that the inhabitants of the area were farmers.
The most significant and an
extremely rare find on the site in July 2008, was one of the best
preserved examples of the site of a Neolithic house. It was believed to be
over 5000 years old and was one of two or three prime examples in this
Sand and gravel have been quarried in the area since 1946, and
over the next 10 years, archaeological investigations will continue at
Kingsmead as mineral extraction on the site progresses. Andrew Fitzpatrick
of Wessex Archaeology, the company which is carrying out the
archaeological investigations, explained: “These finds are key to
enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the history around the Rivers
Colne and Thames, to the benefit of local communities and historians. They
also reflect the scale of general changes in society over the centuries..
The excavations are part of CEMEX’s £4 million
archaeological programme on the site, which has been in operation since
A decorative pin of ‘Picardy’ type recovered from the corner of a
segmented enclosure, apparently from a random and non-ritualised
deposition. The pin shaft has a complex incised linear motif and, although
now missing, the pin-head may have held a setting of glass or amber.