Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Bronze Age chieftain buried with profound wealth: Instead of receiving just one cattle “head and hoof” offering in his grave, a prize item reserved for VIP burials of that age, the chieftain had four such offerings.
Even more confounding was the discovery of another burial near the chieftain’s remains, that of an older man buried in a seated position, according to Foundations Archaeology, a British-based archaeological consultancy. The older man was buried with one head and hoof offering and nothing else, said Andy Hood, an archaeologist with Foundations Archaeology, who helped excavate the site.
“One of the mysteries is, what was the relationship between those two men?” Hood told Live Science. The two likely had some type of social bond, but it’s unclear why they were buried so close to each other, he said.
Archaeologists found the burials in 2017, ahead of the construction of a skate park in Lechlade-on-Thames, a town in the southwestern county of Gloucestershire, England. Radiocarbon dating revealed that the two men lived in about 2200 B.C.
The chieftain’s burial held the skulls and hooves from four different cattle, Hood said. Head and hoof burial offerings were practiced in Europe during the Bronze Age, but were less common in Britain. “In fact, all previous examples here [in the U.K.] have been single cattle burials, so the Lechlade burial is unique in this regard,” because it had four, Hood said.
“It’s quite a significant investment of wealth to go into the ground,” Hood added. “There’s a chance that these animals were slaughtered as part of a ceremony related to the burial.”
The age and style of the burials, as well as artifacts found near the chieftain, suggest that these men were part of the Beaker culture, named for its beaker-like ceramic pots. According to recent DNA studies, the people in this culture arrived from mainland Europe around 2400 B.C. They were an impressive lot who might have been the first to use copper and bronze in Britain, “so we think that their arrival is a fairly important moment in prehistory,” Hood said.