Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 16:35 UK

Site yields 6,000-year-old tombs

Archaeologist Dr Helen Wickstead
The two tombs represent some of the earliest monuments built in Britain

A prehistoric complex including two 6,000-year-old tombs has been uncovered at a site in Hampshire.

The Neolithic tombs, also known as long barrows, were discovered at Damerham, by Kingston University archaeologist Dr Helen Wickstead and her colleagues.

Dr Wickstead said the tombs could contain human bones.

This summer, volunteers will survey the site, where stone tools have already been found, to record more artefacts brought to the surface by ploughing.

Ritual burial

The importance of the site at Damerham first emerged in 2003 when English Heritage spotted crop marks - which can indicate buried archaeological sites - on aerial photographs of the area.

"To find any new monuments of this date still visible as humps on the ground is unusual but to find two is fantastic - we were flabbergasted," said Dr Wickstead.

"If we can excavate, we will be able to say a lot more about Neolithic people in that area and find out things like who was buried there, what kinds of lives they led, and what the environment was like 6,000 ago.

The site of the dig at Damerham
The undiscovered Neolithic tombs were found at a site at Damerham

"It is rare to find sites of this kind and the tombs are likely to be of national importance."

Nearby there are cropmark traces of some larger circular enclosures which may have been built at the same time as the prehistoric monument at Stonehenge, which is 15 miles away, added Dr Wickstead.

In Neolithic times, a ritual burial involved leaving a body out so the flesh would decay.

Some of the bones were later put in a tomb, or relatives may even have kept some bones as a special talisman.

Dr Wickstead said: "We don't know whether these sites contained chambers with bones in them - some long barrows never contained bones at all, rather like cenotaphs today. "



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