ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Perthshire have unearthed a spectacular early Bronze Age grave containing a gold-banded dagger still wrapped in its 4,000-year-old sheath.
The discovery follows drama at the site last week, when a giant crane was brought in to lift a four-tonne capstone that had sealed an ancient burial chamber for four millennia.
While few traces survive of the body buried in the primitive stone coffin, found near the village of Forteviot, several clues suggest the remains are those of a tribal leader or warrior of “tremendous importance”.
More astonishing, said archeologists, were the organic materials preserved in the sealed grave. They include a wooden bowl, what may be a leather bag, plant fragments and tree bark. There were gasps of astonishment from watching archeologists when the grave, which dates back to the time of the construction of the Egyptian pyramids, was revealed intact.
“The high quality of preservation is of exceptional importance for understanding the centuries when metals were first introduced into Scotland,” said Dr Kenneth Brophy, of the University of Glasgow. He is co-director of the Strathearn Environs & Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, which also involves experts from the University of Aberdeen.
Only two or three daggers from this period have been found in Scotland, but this find is even more unusual.
Dr Brophy said: “It is also incredibly rare to find some kind of animal skin wrapped around the dagger. The metal is in good condition. It’s a spectacular and unusual find.”
The materials have been brought to Edinburgh for conservation and examination, and are currently being kept in cold storage at the laboratory of the AOC Archaeology Group.
Rated of national importance, the finds are likely to become part of the National Museum of Scotland‘s collection. Markings on the underside of the capstone may be pecked carvings of an axe. Two more axes may also have been pecked into the stone next to where the head would have lain.
Dr Brophy said: “They dug a huge hole, then placed a stone coffin in the ground, about a metre long and 70 centimetres across. The body would have lain crouched on its side. Then they placed a four-tonne stone on top of it. They would have used ropes and pulleys of some kind. It would have been very crude techniques.”
And he added: “The scale of the effort and the unique carvings are all pointing to a person of huge importance.”
The grave had been laid in a bed of quartz pebbles in sand. The Bronze Age chamber was placed in a complex of Stone Age sites at Forteviot, dating perhaps as early as 3,000BC.
J. Wall ‘The role of daggers in Early Bronze Age Britain: the evidence of wear analysis’ Oxford Journal of Archaeology 6 (1987) 115-8.
Gerloff, S. 1975. The Early Bronze Age Daggers in Great Britain and a reconsideration of the Wessex Culture. Prähistorische Bronzefunde VI, 2. Munich: Beck.
Baker, L., Sheridan, J.A. & Cowie, T.G. 2003. ‘An Early Bronze Age ‘dagger grave’ from Rameldry Farm, near Kingskettle, Fife’. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 133, 85–123.
White, Andrew (2003) ‘An early Bronze Age dagger from the Kendal area.’ Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 3 (3rd series) . pp. 214-215.
VOLUNTEERS AIM TO RECREATE ANCIENT LOG BOAT
IT MAY have taken Bronze Age man months to do the original job, but yesterday a team of volunteers began a challenge to build a replica of a 3,000-year-old log boat in 21 days.
The 10m-long vessel, to be hewn from the trunk of a single Douglas fir, is being built on the shores of Loch Tay in a joint project involving Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust and the Scottish Crannog Centre.
The two groups have commissioned Damian Goodburn, who specialises in prehistoric methods of woodwork, to lead the team.
The aim is to recreate the Bronze Age vessel known as the Carpow log boat, which was discovered in the Tay, near Abernethy, nine years ago.
Dr Steven Timoney, the outreach officer with the heritage trust, said the team were using a mixture of both Bronze Age and modern day tools to ensure they meet their deadline.