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CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 101

AYLESBURY D

RAMATIC evidence for what looks suspiciously like Iron Age ritual practice has come to light during excavations in the grounds of the Prebendal, Aylesbury. Parts of at leas t 5 huma n bodie s wer e discovered , arrange d roun d the western edge of a shallow hollow. The most striking was of a young person buried face up, spreadeagled with knees spread out and hand tensioned. On one side lay a goat, and on the other the ribs and vertebrae of a second animal not yet identified. Four other burials lay nearby on various different orientations, including another buried with a goat.

The human remains were vastly outnumbered by the animal. Parts of at least thirty beasts had been deposited in the central hollow, some of the limbs still articulated, showing that they must have been deposited as joints of meat. The material has ye t to be examined in detail by bone specialists, but it is clear that many of the animals were young: lambs around four months old were particularly common. In amongst the animal bones were also a few human bones. At the eastern end of the deposit there had been a substantial fire: many single bones showed signs of burning. A preliminary interpretation suggests that the burials were made over a relatively short period of time in a previously dug hollow, and that they may have been perfunctorily covered with soil at intervals. The whole mass of rotting remains must have been distinctly 'mobile', as was clear from the disposition of articulated bones.

Lying amongst the animal bones were pieces of flint-gritted finger-tip decorated pottery, two sherds being decorated with haematite, and also incised sherds with white inlay. Burnt fragments of weaving comb were also found. The pottery compares well with the assemblage from Chinnor (excavated in the 1930s) and can be provisionally dated to the seventh - fifth centuries BC. The deposit as a whole appears to be unique within the British Iron Age, and when the bone has been studied i t should provide important insights into Celtic ritual practice.

This young woman (or was it a man?) was buried on her back, her legs stretched out. She was accompanied by a goat buried on one side of her, and the ribs of a sheep or another goat on the other side. In the Middle Ages a rubbish pit was dug between her legs, while another removed her head.

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