4,000-year-old Dartmoor grave holds perfectly preserved furs, jewels and bag
By Sarah Griffiths
Wednesday, Jan 27th 2016
Hoard of Bronze Age treasure unearthed in Dartmoor two years ago is thought to have belonged to a high status female aged under 25 years old
Precious jewellery made of amber and tin, plus delicate fur and fabric was preserved in peat and demonstrates craftsmanship and trade links.
It has been described as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 100 years.
And now the hoard of Bronze Age treasure unearthed in a remote area of Dartmoor two years ago has come under the spotlight again as experts think it could have belonged to a prehistoric princess.
Intriguing finds including earrings, beads, a studded bracelet and a near perfectly preserved basket and animal pelt. It will be the subject of a one-off documentary, before going on show to the public later this year.
The objects, which were pulled from an ancient cremation burial chamber in south Devon, have fascinated scientists since they were discovered in 2011 and have allowed them one of the best glimpses into life in Bronze Age Southern England that they have ever had.
In a BBC 2 documentary scheduled to air in early March called 'Mystery on the Moor,' viewers will be able to witness the moment an intricately coiled bag is opened for the first time in 4,000 years.
The basket held a collection of precious beads, wooden earrings and a flint flake, shedding light on an advanced society capable of amazing craftsmanship and international trade.
Intriguing finds including prehistoric wooden earrings , beads , a studded bracelet and a near perfectly animal pelt have just gone on show at a new exhibition.
The pelt was found in 2011 in a peat bog on White Horse Hill wrapped around artefacts found in the grave, including a woven basket containing precious amber beads and earrings, as well as the cremated remains of a Bronze Age princes (actor pictured)
The wooden earrings or buttons, which measure up to an inch (2.5cm) in diameter, have side grooves and are made from spindle wood – a hard, fine grained tree that grows in Dartmoor which is traditionally used to make knitting needles.
Archaeologists think the yo-yo-shaped studs were worn in the ears or set into leather belts or other clothing.
The objects were pulled from a prehistoric cremation burial chamber (pictured) in Devon and have allowed scientists to get one of the best glimmers of life in Bronze Age England.
A carefully-prepared animal pelt (pictured) was folded around the cremated remains of the individual as well as what is thought to be a skilfully-made decorative sash or belt, composed of textile and leather with a fringe of outward pointing leather triangles made from thin calf skin.
‘The studs are unique in British prehistory; they also represent the earliest evidence for wood turning in the UK,’ experts at the Dartmoor National Park Authority said.
Archaeologists are using the objects to build up a picture of the person who was buried at the site on Whitehorse Hill and it is thought they were of considerable importance in the local community.
They speculate that the items, which also include precious jewellery, belonged to a women between the age of 14 and 25-years-old, who was probably a princess.
An expert at Dartmoor National Park Authority told MailOnline that archaeologists came to this conclusion as other lesser, comparable items have been founded in prehistoric cairns.
The wooden earrings (pictured) measure up to two-and-a-half centimetres in diameter and and are made from spindle wood - a hard, fine grained tree that grows in Dartmoor which is traditionally used to make knitting needles.
Here, TV presenter Mike Dilger helps to recreate the earrings in his forthcoming programme. He will examine Dartmoor's place as an area of prehistoric importance and shed more light on the person to whom the preserved possessions once belonged,
The princess was of incredibly high social standing, as evidenced by the high position of her final resting place 600 metres above sea level on the northern moors, which would have been visible to nearby settlements and the valuable items that were buried with her.
Archaeologists first stumbled across the chamber a decade ago when a stone fell out of the peat hag which had been concealing it – far from other known prehistoric sites.
'The find fills in the blanks of the local map in terms of Bronze Age settlements, as before there was little evidence of inhabitation, so there must be a settlement nearby,' one local expert told MailOnline.
'There's much more to discover in the area,' he said.
A delicate woven bracelet with tin studs (pictured) was also unearthed. A total of 35 tin studs were held in place by a band of woven cow hair (although 32 remain). While the metal has oxidized, it would have been shiny in appearance.
The ancient burial chamber (pictured) was deliberately positioned high upon a hill to show the princess' high status, experts said. They expect to find a settlement nearby.
WHAT WAS BRONZE AGE DARTMOOR LIKE 4,000 YEARS AGO?
Bronze Age Britons were skilled at making tin and might have traded it with other far flung communities.
They used to create elaborate jewellery, such as the delicate bracelet that was found.
Other materials found at the site - including amber beads - show that people traded internationally.
A stone flint also discovered, showed that while people used bronze tools, there were also still using earlier tools, which again, would probably have been traded.
High status individuals were revered and were buried in elaborate burial chambers with precious possessions.
It is not known how many people the princess would have ruled over but Dartmoor was well inhabited 4,000 years ago.
The remains of 5,000 hut circles - Bronze Age houses have been discovered so far that had conical thatched roofs.
Archaeologists have previously found small clusters of these houses in fenced enclosures that would have protected people from animals.
People at the time had advanced cultural and religious beliefs.
High status people also took care with their appearance and wore carefully crafted clothes and jewellery from fur pelts to tin beaded bracelets.
A carefully-prepared animal pelt was folded around the cremated remains of the individual as well as what is thought to be a skilfully-made decorative sash or belt, composed of textile and leather with a fringe of outward pointing leather triangles made from thin calf skin, experts said.
But the discovery of beads made of tin got archaeologists particularly excited because they are the earliest evidence of tin production found in the South West.
Over 200 beads were plucked from and around the basket and some are made from amber.
The precious material from the Baltic was associated with supernatural powers and used as an amulet, which therefore suggests a very high status burial as well as demonstrating that Bronze Age Britons traded with people from the continent.
A delicate woven bracelet with tin studs was also unearthed. A total of 35 tin studs are held in place by a band of woven cow hair. While the metal has oxidized, it would have been shiny in appearance.
‘The use of tin for decorative objects is exceptionally rare within prehistoric burial contexts in Britain and despite tin being a locally available resource on Dartmoor, this is the first time it has been found within a prehistoric archaeological context,’ local experts said.
In the forthcoming programme, TV presenter Mike Dilger will examine Dartmoor’s place as an area of prehistoric importance, shed more light on the person to whom the preserved possessions once belonged and will also try and re-create the delicate tin bracelet and ear studs with the help of craftspeople.
The artifacts from Whitehorse Hill will go on display at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in September.
Over 200 beads were plucked from and around the basket and some are made from amber, demonstrating international trade as the precious material comes from the Baltic. The grey beads are made from shale and the centre bead from tin - another precious material showing the wearer was of high social status.
Here, a model wears modern replicas of what the prehistoric jewellery is thought to have looked like. The use of tin for decorative objects is exceptionally rare within prehistoric burial contexts in Britain and has not been discovered before.