'Amazing' treasures revealed in Dartmoor bronze age cist

Samantha Smith looks at what has been called the most significant historical find on Dartmoor

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A rare and "amazing" burial discovery dating back 4,000 years has been described as the most significant find on Dartmoor and has given archaeologists a glimpse into the lives of the people who once lived there.

The discovery of a bronze age granite cist, or grave, in 2011 in a peat bog on White Horse Hill revealed the first organic remains found on the moor and a hoard of about 150 beads.

As the National Park's archaeologists levered off the lid they were shocked by what lay beneath.

The park's chief archaeologist, Jane Marchand, said: "Much to our surprise we actually found an intact cremation deposit [human bones] which is actually a burial alongside a number of grave goods.

"What was so unusual was the survival of so many organic objects which you never usually get in a grave of this period, they've long since rotted away."

Amongst the grave goods was an animal pelt, containing a delicate bracelet studded with tin beads, a textile fragment with detailed leather fringing and a woven bag .

Collection of beads The discovery of the White Horse Hill cist has increased the number of bronze age beads found on Dartmoor from eight to more than 150, including two amber beads

Ms Marchand said: "The whole thing was actually wrapped up in an animal pelt of fur. As we lifted it up very carefully a bead fell out and the thrill of realising that actually this is a proper burial, this is a bead which belonged to a burial.

"That's what's so exciting, you wouldn't expect to find any archaeology somewhere like this stuck out on this peak hag. You'll never be able to top this ever."

Despite there being about 5,000 remnants of buildings and 200 burial cists on Dartmoor the moor has offered up few of its secrets.

English Heritage archaeologist Win Scutt said: "A lot of it's to do with robbing, some people have actually robbed the stone, some have robbed the artefacts.

"But the biggest loss we've got is all the organic stuff, the bones have all been dissolved by the acid soil up here. The flowers, the gifts of drink and food which would have gone in, most of their life was organic, it was stuff that would rot away.

Librets The ear studs or librets are believed to be the only ones discovered in the South West

"If we could get the perishable items, the organic materials, it would really shine a big light into pre-history."

This discovery has provided a rare glimpse into history with an ear stud or libret found in the bag while it was being examined at the Wiltshire Conservation Lab.

Ms Marchand said: "I don't remember studs being recorded at any other excavation from this period. I've worked on Dartmoor for over 20 years and never anticipated getting anything like this.

"It's just amazing, it suddenly brings them to life and actually you feel much closer to them because this is someone who likes their jewellery, I like jewellery, and actually you can identify with that side of things.

"We're only at the beginning really I just can't wait for the results to start coming in."

Find out more on BBC Inside Out South West, on BBC One on Monday, 18 February at 19:30 GMT.

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