Archaeologists say 'exceptional' find by dog walker near Pershore, Worcestershire, raises more questions than answers.
|Part of a 5,000-year-old skull found on the banks of the Avon. |
Archaeologist says that where the fragment was found
was unlikely to be where it was buried.
Photograph: Richard Vernalls/PA
There are suggestions it may have belonged to a middle-aged woman from the neolithic period – around the time Stonehenge was built. The skull is also prompting questions about where it may have come from.
A dog walker stumbled across the fragment, which measures 15cm by 10cm (6in by 4in), this year but initially thought it was part of a ball or a coconut shell. The next day he returned to the site on the banks of the Avon near Pershore, Worcestershire, for a closer look and, realising what it was, called police.
West Mercia police contacted experts at Worcestershire Archaeology, who sent the skull to be radiocarbon dated.
"When I first saw the skull, I thought it may have been Anglo-Saxon or Roman but I knew that it was not recent due to the colour," said Nick Daffern, senior archaeologist. "But we were all surprised when the radiocarbon dating put it at between 3,338 BC and 3,035 BC, or about the middle neolithic period.
"It is so well preserved, it is unthinkable that this had been in the river for any length of time which begs the question as to where it has come from.
"We know of Roman, Saxon and medieval burials along the river, but this is very rare – it is an exceptional find. "
He added: "I don't think it was found where the remains were buried. I think we've got a riverside burial and then flooding has brought this down the river. Finding that burial site though would be like finding a needle in a haystack."
Daffern said that without the rest of the skeleton it was difficult to draw conclusions about the person found, and certainly there is no clue as to how they met their death.
"Myself and a forensic anthropologist believe it is a woman due to the slightness of the skull and the lack of any brow ridges although our conclusions are very tentative because we're dealing only with the top of a skull," he said.
"There's no trauma to the bone, and where it has broken those are natural breaks, nor is there any sign of disease so we've no idea as to cause of death.
"The natural fusion of the bone in the skull leads me to believe it may be an older woman, possibly in her 50s, but that is very tentative again. Unfortunately, it remains a bit of a mystery."
The find is a few miles from Bredon hill, which has been a scene of human activity down the ages and still boasts the earthen ramparts of an iron age hill fort. However, finds of neolithic remains are rare.
"Whenever we come across neolithic remains, there seems to be a solid dividing line between where they buried their dead and where they lived, and that is no accident," he said. "But it is frustrating as an archaeologist because although we have the physical evidence, we still don't have the answers as to why."
The skull is only the second set of neolithic remains to be found in the county, although two large 6,000-year-old "halls of the dead" were found in nearby Herefordshire this year but without any human remains present.
Article from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/30/neolithic-skull-fragment-avon-river-pershore
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