Archaeologists working for the National Trust who made a surprise discovery of an ancient burial site have now established that it comes from a little known period at the end of the Bronze Age.
The burial site was uncovered at Long Bredy, between Dorchester and Bridport, where the National Trust was carrying out drainage and sewage works at a 17th century cottage.
Although there were no obvious signs of archaeology and planning permission did not insist there should be an archaeologist on site, the Trust decided to take up a watching brief during the work.
They commissioned Peter Bellamy and Mike Trevarthen to carry out the work and they were on hand to call a halt to the digging when the trench went through a burial site.
The grave turned out to contain the remains of three young people, aged between 18 and 25, who were found in a crouched position.
The find was reported and the discovery in the trench was carefully excavated with some of the bones removed and sent away for detailed analysis.
Initially it wasn’t clear how old the burial was but it turned out to be from the period between the Bronze and Iron ages – with radiocarbon dating giving a likely age between 800 to 600 BC.
Martin Papworth, an archaeologist with the National Trust, explained: “There are no previous burials from that time in Dorset so it is a very significant find from a period with little evidence for the disposal of the dead. It is important window into the past, the first clues of the people who lived in Dorset at that time.
“The archaeology of this field is now significant – although before the trench was put in there was nothing to show us that it had any archaeology at all. We removed some bone fragments for testing but the remainder of the three bodies we saw have remained in situ.
“The remains are of three teenage or young adults, probably crouched, are all from around the period when the first iron was being used in this country. No other burials in Dorset have been identified from this time. In wider historical terms, this period is marked by the foundation of Rome and the ascendancy of the Ancient Greek city states. The Assyrian Empire was the super power conquering the kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. In this country, the politics, religion and lifestyle of the population are poorly understood. In the landscape there are few monuments from 2800 years ago. It is long after the round burial mounds but before the great Dorset hillforts were being constructed. Somewhere buried nearby there should be evidence for the enclosed settlement of round houses where these young people once lived. ”
Because of the deep layers of soil, archaeological sites in West Dorset are often buried so deeply they cannot be seen, unless discovered by accident. However, the National Trust team have opened a small, but tantalising glimpse into a previously dark period of history for the county.