Bronze Age Cremation Pits Discovered

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Sometimes, archaelogists have to wait to deliver good news. Theories are all well and good, but results are needed to back them up. Well, those digging near Maud in Scotland have some good news to deliver about a little dig they’ve been conducting: Turns out that the cremation pits and artifacts uncovered during a routine digging for a gas pipeline are indeed from way back in the Bronze Age. And, the big news is that they make the first confirmed discovery of such signs of life from such a long-ago, darkened historical period.

Archaeologists have concluded that the people who were cremated lived in the village between 2000 and 1500 B.C. The finds from such times are usually reduced to arrow points or, perhaps, signs of settlements. But the extraordinary finds in this latest dig suggest a level of sophistication and preservation not seen much before.

The archaeologists celebrating their success have workers from the gas maintenance company Transco to thank. Those workers were doing what they do all the time – digging in the ground to make room for a gas pipeline from St. Fergus to Aberdeen. The discovery occurred in summer 2001, and it has taken this long for the archaeologists to excavate, catalog the discoveries, and become comfortable with announcing their conclusions.

Specifically, the dig uncovered a total of 29 cremation pits. Now, let’s stop to think about that for a moment. Cremation pits suggests that the people took care and time enough to make sure that the dead were honored and looked after. The ashes of both adults and children have been found, suggesting that perhaps the people buried members of families together. The ashes were stored in pottery urns, suggesting that the people either made those urns themselves or somehow acquired them from other cultures. And cremation pits also suggests that the dead were not buried as a general rule. Did these people not believe, as the ancient Egyptians did, that the body would continue on into the next life, whatever that happened to be? Did they instead believe, perhaps, that the soul transcended the body and that death was just another step in the journey of life? We will probably never know the answers to these questions, but they are intriguing to ask.

Also found were a pair of golden eagle talons. It is probably not an accident that those objects were included in the cremation pits. Was the eagle the symbol of the village or the tribe of people or, perhaps, of the warlord or leader? Or was the eagle somehow symbolic of the people’s belief in an afterlife?

More importantly, how did such expensive objects get to a rather out-of-the-way village in northern Scotland, where gold-making wasn’t exactly in fashion? Trade between cultures took a great deal of time in those days.

As with many things, the more that questions are answered, the more questions those answers create. Still, in all, it is a significant find.