Bronze Age burials beside Loch Ness

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Analysis of Neolithic finds and a Bronze Age cemetery uncovered near Drumnadrochit in the Scottish Highlands (see CA 346) has enhanced understanding of the site’s prehistory.

The beaker from Cist 2
The beaker from Cist 2. [Image: AOC Archaeology]

Recent excavations at Lewiston by AOC Archaeology revealed over 35 Neolithic pits arranged in six broad clusters. These contained broken Carinated Bowls, flint and quartz flakes, coarse stone tools, and finer flint tools, mixed in with burnt cereals and hazelnut shells. Bayesian modelling of radiocarbon dates obtained from hazelnuts and wood charcoal demonstrates that activity associated with the pits was short-lived, spanning less than 40 years between 3661 cal BC and 3532 cal BC – a period within the transition between the early and middle Neolithic. No direct evidence for structures was found, although the spatial patterning of the pits suggests they may have been arranged around ephemeral circular or more rectangular structures – the traces of which no longer survive – or natural features such as trees.

The site – which lies close to the western shore of Loch Ness – has also yielded evidence for six Bronze Age burials (five cists and one pit-grave), located in a rough linear arrangement measuring c.300m long across a slight rise. While only two of the cists were completely intact and human remains survived in only one, phosphate analysis of acid soils in the second intact cist and the pit-grave confirmed that human remains had once been present. Two Beaker pots, an all-over-decorated bowl, a stone wristguard, and a plano-convex flint knife were recovered from the burials.

Radiocarbon dating of the human remains and typological dating of the Beakers indicated that the cemetery was in use at least between 2290-1900 cal BC, during the Beaker–Early Bronze Age transition. Inhumation was not the sole funerary rite being practised on the site, however: Cist 5 contained a cremation burial. Cist 4 also produced a stone with geometric carvings along one edge, thought to represent art from a passage grave. Such engravings are typically seen in the 4th millennium BC, and it is believed that the recently found example had probably been reused from a Late Neolithic monument.

It is hoped that further analysis of the grave good assemblage will shed more light on the Bronze Age cemetery, and that future discoveries will help to determine the function of the Neolithic pits.

This news article appears in issue 360 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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