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EXTRACTING THE PAST FROM KINGSMEAD QUARRY

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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 England.

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 stamp.

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 tremendous importance”.

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 country. 

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 2003.

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.

 

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