Hampshire Archaeology

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Buried in time – the Beaker phenomenon

The Chilbolton Beaker Burials

 A small round barrow, near Leckford, used between 2270 and 2140 BC

 The Beaker period marks the transition from the Neolithic (New Stone Age) to the Bronze Age. In some areas it is recognised as a very specific horizon, the Chalcolithic or ‘copper age’. It coincides with the appearance of metalworking (gold and copper) in Britain. A ‘Beaker’ is typically a flat-bottomed vessel intricately decorated with indented patterns all over the exterior surface.

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 The small circular ditch

 

The Chilbolton discovery was made in 1986 on the Leckford Estate during ground clearance. A small circular ditch was found, with two opposing gaps, enclosing a large central pit. This turned out to be a grave which had been used twice. Excavation was by Test Valley Archaeological Committee assisted by Winchester Archaeology Office.

Beaker burial with labelsChilbolton primary burial_0002
The primary burial; the bones have been disturbed and replaced – the arms at one end of the grave, skull at the other, and legs in the middle, including the femurs (thigh bones) in opposite directions.  The body must have been decomposed but the wooden chamber in which he was buried may have still contained voids.  The detail picture shows the copper dagger next to the Beaker vessel.

The first burial, a male aged 20-30 years, had been placed in crouched position on the floor of a timber mortuary chamber. A short time later the second burial, a male aged 35-45 years, was placed on top of him but this action disturbed the existing bones. They were replaced, but in the process many became jumbled and a put back in the wrong positions, including opposed thigh bones.  In life this young man was strong and robust and 5’ 10” in height. His right forearm had a healed ‘parry fracture’, so called because wounds like this can occur when deflecting a blow to the head.

chilbolton beaker grave

The rich collection of grave offerings; only the right hand Beaker came from the secondary burial

 

He was buried with a rich collection of grave offerings. A Beaker was placed at his feet and leaning against this was a copper dagger. Next to his head was a pair of gold, basket-shaped earrings, or hair tresses, with a second, smaller pair and a gold bead nearby. In addition, 55 stone beads were recovered by sieving the soil from around the burial. Flint flakes were also present and a flint ‘strike-a-light’ was found beneath the pelvis. At the southern end of the grave was an antler spatula which may have been used for flint knapping. The second burial was accompanied only by a pottery Beaker.

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 The secondary burial

 

Rich burials of this kind are rare but widespread and have encouraged a lot of speculation about whether it is ethnicity (migration), status or beliefs that are represented.

The Chilbolton finds are on display in the Andover Museum. A1986.1

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, with help from Stacie Elliot.