Mixed Ashes of Man and Animal Give Insight into Bronze Age
From The Herald 22 March 2004.
A birdwatcher who unearthed the 4000-year-old cremated remains of a young man has given archaeologists fresh insight into the close, superstitious bonds between humans and animals in prehistoric society.
Experts have conducted a detailed analysis of the discovery of a Bronze Age burial urn which contained the remains of a male aged between 25 and 40, found within a boulder shelter at Glennan, Kilmartin, in Argyll.
After his demise, the man had been ritually burned alongside a goat or sheep. Their remains were deliberately mixed, giving evidence of a perceived bond between farmers and their animals which may have been thought to transcend death itself.
Dr Gavin MacGregor, of Glasgow University archaeological research division (Guard), explained the significance of the vessel and its contents.
He said: "Although the sample is small, the evidence suggests that, depending on the burial rite, some species of animals were considered more appropriate than others for inclusion. Pigs are associated with inhumation (burial) and goat or sheep are associated with cremation burials.
"The choice of a domesticated animal to accompany the mortuary rites may reflect the perceived inter-relationship between the cultural landscape of people and their livestock.
Dr MacGregor said the upland location of the Glennan find was also interesting.
"It indicates that, while many of the more visible ceremonial and funerary sites of the second millennium BC may focus on the floor of the glen, other parts of the landscape were also significant for such activities," he said.
Analysis of the deposits found below the peak of Beinn Bhan, also revealed that the man had suffered from slight spinal joint disease and mild iron deficiency anaemia, though neither seems likely to have affected his general health.
He was cremated soon after death, together with a young sheep or goat, and their remains taken from the pyre and co-mingled before burial in the urn. An unburnt flint knife was also recovered.
Patrick Ashmore, principal inspector of ancient monuments at Historic Scotland, said the Glennan urn burial raised fascinating questions.
He speculated that the man was not buried in the burial cairns in nearby Kilmartin Valley because these were reserved for special people, or because he may have been an outsider.
He added: "But the most intriguing possibility is that the cairns were only part of a much wider sacred landscape, and that this spot on the far slope of Beinn Bhan from Glennan was selected as a special place."
The burial was discovered during the exploration of a boulder shelter at Glennan. A local birdwatcher had begun to clear the area for use as a hide when burnt bones were noticed amongst debris from the interior of the site.
Radiocarbon dating, organised by the National Museum of Scotland, dated the remains at 2030-1910 BC.
"Progress was all right. Only it went on too long."