Dartmoor artefacts 'significant'

News Shopper: These beads and other items found on Dartmoor are thought to date back to the Bronze Age (Andrew Brown/BBC/PA) These beads and other items found on Dartmoor are thought to date back to the Bronze Age (Andrew Brown/BBC/PA)

Human remains and Bronze Age artefacts discovered on Dartmoor have been heralded as "one of the most significant findings of at least the last 100 years" by a team of researchers.

The organic remains, found in August 2011, are thought to offer an insight into life on the rugged south western moorland 4,000 years ago. They feature cremated human bones, wrapped in a type of animal hide, as well as what appear to be intricately designed jewellery and textiles.

The artefacts, discovered within a granite tomb-like casing known as a cist, are made from materials not discovered in Britain at the time and hint - for the first time, the researchers say - at trading links between the area and the continent.

The investigation, due to be broadcast as part of BBC One's Inside Out South West on Monday night, is considered internationally important and the remains have captured the interest of experts from all over the country.

Jane Marchand, senior archaeologist with the Dartmoor National Park, said the haul was among the most significant since the 19th century.

She said: "This is an incredible find, we had no idea when we started that we could end up with something quite as astounding as human remains. These artefacts, which are believed to be made from shale and amber, show that perhaps Dartmoor wasn't quite the isolated, hard-to-reach place we all thought it was 4,000 years ago. This has been fascinating to work on, but it's just one piece in a puzzle. The story is only part-told."

The investigation began 12 years ago, when archaeologists hoped the cist - one of the few unopened burial chests on the moorland - would offer vital clues about the environment from times past. But just three days into the dig, a much more significant discovery was made.

Mrs Marchand said: "We lifted the cist lid and saw some red fur with bits of bone sticking out. We thought a fox might have died there. But then a little black bead fell out and we realised it was something much more interesting. And it looked like the fur had been wrapped around some remains, lying on the granite base of the cist. We wrapped it in cling film and took it to the laboratory."

Tests later confirmed the presence of human bones, teeth, a type of basket, and around 200 beads. Materials included shale and amber, brought from overseas, as well as tin - suggesting that people had been working the mineral off Dartmoor much earlier than previously thought.

An exhibition detailing the findings is expected to be held in Plymouth in September 2014. BBC Inside Out South West is on BBC One (SW) on Monday at 7.30pm.

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