A TIME team working in Berwickshire have struck archaeological gold by uncovering human remains dating from the early Bronze Age.
The discovery of the stone coffin and skeleton has been described as “very exciting” by the archaeologists working at the Fishwick site near Paxton.
A pot from the Beaker era has also been discovered buried beside the skeleton and is believed to date from around 2400BC.
“This is something that we never expected to find and it is going to be pretty significant,” said Kristian Pedersen, an hononary fellow at Edinburgh University who is heading the Paxton project with Graeme Young of the Bamburgh Research Project.
“Bronze Age burials have been uncovered elsewhere but none have shown up in the Borders for a long time and the last time was before we had all the technology that we have now. It means that this will be quite significant in our understanding of the early Bronze Age in Scotland.
“We were not expecting this but it is a very pleasant shock.”
The person buried is believed to be an older adult because of wear on the teeth but more tests will now be carried out to find out the sex and where he or she came from.
“One of the more famous Bronze Age burials that have been uncovered is the Amesbury Archer in the south of England. He was from Switzerland so it will be interesting to see where ours was from and to see what sort of movement there was at that time,” said Mr Pedersen.
Moles appear to have penetrated the coffin but while the skeleton has been moved around a little not much has been destroyed. The pot has been identified as one of the earliest Beaker pots from the very start of the Bronze Age at around 2400BC.
More work will now be carried out on the site using the latest technology and methods to find out more about the economy and society of the time.
Chris Bowles, archaeological officer at Scottish Borders Council, said the find was “very exciting”.
“This is the best game in town right now,” he said. “It is really exciting and pretty significant because it is fairly unusual.
“Not a lot of these burial cists have survived in the Borders and this will give us a insight into how these burials were constructed and how they were used over time.
“This is being done very scientifically to modern standards using modern scientific techniques and will give us new clues into what was happening in the Bronze Age.
“At the moment it is looking like the early Bronze Age, right at the end of the Neolithic Stone Age when people were moving out of small agricultural communities into bigger social systems that included religious ceremonies.”
Mr Bowles said it was interesting that the find had been right next to the 19th century mortuary church at Fishwick which is believed to have been built on top of a medieval Norman church.
“The belief is now that these places were significant as religious places from very early on and kept as spirirtual places for millenia right into Christian times,” said Mr Bowles.
“It is possible that this is a wider burial site as the way it is constructed looks like the stone on the end could have been removed over and over again.
“This points to the fact that it could have been reused by the community or it could have been to take out bones of their ancestors at special festivals,” he explained.
Funding of £58,000 has been granted for the project which is focusing on the Hutton/Paxton area.
Mr Pedersen, who specialises in the prehistoric past and Mr Young, who specialises in the medieval period, have been commissioned to head the project which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Borders Council’s Leader Programme.
At the end of last year the team, working at another part of the site, uncovered Bronze Age tools dating back to at least 1500BC.
The Paxton/Hutton area was originally part of the Kingdom of Bernicia that later became the Kingdom of Northumbria which stretched from the Humber to the Clyde.