Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 18:37 UK

Dismembered skeletons discovered

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Skulls and rib cages, thought to be from young men, have been uncovered

At least 45 dismembered skeletons have been discovered in a burial pit by archaeologists digging on the site of a planned £87m relief road in Dorset.

The burial site on Ridgeway Hill near Weymouth is thought to date from late Iron Age to early Roman times.

Skulls, rib cages and leg bones, thought to be from young men, were arranged in separate parts of the pit.

Archaeologists said they appeared to have been victims of a "catastrophic event" like an execution or disease.

The skeletons were discovered during the earthwork operation for the Weymouth Relief Road.

David Score, Oxford Archaeology project manager at dig, said it was a "remarkable burial pit".

Many questions

"We have counted 45 skulls so far, these are in one section of the pit, and several torsos and leg bones in separate sections of the pit.

"It is rare to find a burial site like this one.

"There are lots of different types of burial where skeletons may be aligned along a compass axis or in a crouched position, but to find something like this is just incredible."

"At the moment we don't fully understand how or why the remains have come to be deposited in the pit but it seems highly likely that some kind of catastrophic event such as war, disease or execution has occurred," he added.

A torso found in the burial pit
The torsos of the skeletons were arranged separately

"We're still working on carefully recording and recovering all of the skeletons, which will be taken back to our offices in Oxford for detailed analysis, and trying to piece together the extraordinary story behind these remains."

Dorset County Council's head of highways Andy Ackerman said: "I'd ask members of the public to continue to stay away from the archaeological works.

"The burial pit is within the construction site, which can be a dangerous environment for anyone not trained in site safety."

The site has been fenced off and is under 24-hour security due to the unique nature of the find, he said.

Archaeological finds from the Weymouth Relief Road project will be put on show at a Dorset museum after they have been analysed and catalogued.

Work on the relief road is continuing.



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SEE ALSO
Permanent closure for relief road
10 Feb 09 |  Dorset
Ridgeway excavation film released
17 Jan 09 |  Dorset
Ancient burial ground uncovered
30 Dec 08 |  Oxfordshire
Relief road excavation to start
24 Sep 08 |  Dorset

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