ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered the remains of a significant Bronze Age monument on the Beaulieu Estate dating back more than 4,000 years.
During two digs, the team of experts and volunteers unearthed a ring ditch thought to have played an important role in the local community for generations – although exactly what it was used for remains a mystery.
Five Bronze Age cremation urns were also discovered, along with some unexpected evidence of much earlier inhabitants from the Mesolithic period.
The Beaulieu investigations were part of an archaeology project led by the national park authority and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund through the Our Past, Our Future, Landscape Partnership Scheme.
Its final report has now been published and includes some fascinating facts about the prehistoric communities which once inhabited the New Forest.
Three of the urns discovered were carefully excavated at Bournemouth University, where they were found to contain cremated human bone.
And the investigation of the ring ditch has added significantly to the team’s understanding of monument building and burial practices in the region.
Jon Milward, project officer at Bournemouth University Archaeological Research Consultancy, said: “Monuments with entrances and apparent open interiors such as this one may have been meeting spaces used to carry out rituals and ceremonies that were important to the local community.
“There is evidence here of regular modification and an apparent continuity of use over a long time, implying that this monument was perhaps more than a burial place and played a significant role in the community for many generations.”
The charred remains of a hazelnut shell sent to America for radiocarbon dating was given a Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) date of 5736-5643 BC.
This shell and two flint tools from the same period were the earliest finds from the site and indicate there may have been a campsite in the area.
Mr Milward added: “Archaeological evidence from the Mesolithic period is rare, but now and again we do find flint tools and evidence for these temporary settlement sites. We know of a few Mesolithic sites close to Beaulieu River and it appears there was another at this site.”
Hilde van der Heul, community archaeologist at the NPA, said: “This project is a great example of how quality archaeological research can be undertaken as part of a community project, with volunteers learning archaeological techniques and processes.
“It aimed to give a better understanding of the New Forest’s prehistoric past, with the direct involvement of the local community.
“It was an exciting opportunity for volunteers with an interest in archaeology and heritage to get some hands-on experience in the field, especially with rare and important findings like these.”
For more information about the project, go to www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/blog/