An Early Bronze Age (c.1950-1500 BC) ring-ditch has been excavated by Archaeological Research Services (ARS) above the floodplain of the River Ribble at Clitheroe, Lancashire.

A bipartite collared urn
One of the bipartite Collared Urns found in the ring-ditch [Image: © ARS Ltd]

This ring-ditch takes one of the characteristic forms of Early Bronze Age burial site in northern England, that of the flat ‘ringwork’ that lacks either an earthen or stone mound. This form is associated in particular with the Pennine Uplands. Pit-like features around the southern side of the ring-ditch, although predominantly natural in origin, might represent the bases of trees or shrubs that were intentionally planted to enhance the monument’s visual impact within the landscape.

The excavation identified nine cremation burials in a central position within the monument, four of which were found within near-complete bipartite Collared Urns (pictured), and two others in fragments.

Analysis of the cremated bone reveals it included juveniles and adults of both sexes, consistent with a familial group or extended family, with burial rites based on kinship rather than status. This is very much in keeping with the pattern noted for Early Bronze Age upland settlements, where roundhouses and associated fields and paddocks appear to have a small monument associated with them. It is interesting that the only juvenile remains identified on-site were contained in a double-urned burial, the smaller urn containing the cremated remains having been inverted so the rim was in contact with the base of a larger upright urn.

Palaeoenvironmental analysis of charred material among the bones suggests that the wider surroundings of the burial site within its marginal Pennine location supported local cereal production, together with stands of mature woodland, younger saplings and fruit trees.

Radiocarbon dates from the cremated remains and Bayesian mathematical modelling demonstrate distinct ‘pulses’ of burial activity: the first cremation was followed shortly afterwards by another, then by three cremations that are statistically indistinguishable from one another; finally, there were two further cremations, also statistically indistinguishable. Dates obtained from seven of the nine cremations show that cremation activity at the site probably had a start date of 1995-1765 cal BC and an end date of 1750–1530 cal BC: a span with a minimum of 40 years’ activity and a maximum of 415 years (95% probability).


This news article appears in issue 358 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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