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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Iron Age skeleton found on isle
Skeleton with disc
The stone disc was found tucked in beside the skeleton
Archaeologists have discovered a burial ground dating back more than 2,000 years in Shetland.

Experts who started work on the site on the island of Unst two months ago have managed to rescue artefacts and, unexpectedly, a skeleton.

The burial site at Sand Wick is believed to date back to the Iron Age and has been badly eroded by waves.

Team members believe they have obtained valuable information from the site, before it is lost to the sea.

The skeleton was found lying on its back with a polished stone disc tucked inside its mouth.

It is already telling us a lot about how people lived in Iron Age Shetland
Dr Olivia Lelong

Near the arm was a tiny ornament formed of rings of copper alloy and bone which the team believes was some kind of pendant.

Team members also found hundreds of sherds of pottery, limpet shells and animal bones left over from ancient meals.

The project received 50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and 20,000 from Historic Scotland.

Link to past

The dig was carried out by specialists from Glasgow University, Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problems of Erosion Trust (Scape) and local volunteers.

The university's Dr Olivia Lelong said: "The skeleton was a totally unexpected find.

"It was a beautifully composed burial, obviously put together with a great deal of thought and care, from the way the body was placed to the objects buried with the person.

"It is a fascinating building to dig. It's rare to find walls standing so high and so much well-preserved evidence for what went on inside the cells.

"It is already telling us a lot about how people lived in Iron Age Shetland."

Team dig
A member of the team records the detail of the grave

Head of archaeology group Shorewatch Tom Dawson said: "By excavating this eroding site, we are both obtaining valuable information before the site disappears and giving people a chance to get actively involved."

Last year, coastal communities in Scotland were urged to play a bigger part in preserving local history.

Archaeologists and other experts on natural and cultural heritage said the aim was to try to work out how to tackle the threat from erosion to thousands of historical sites.

Professor Christopher Smout, of St Andrews University, said the potential losses ranged from coastal stone age settlements to mediaeval castles, 16th Century salt pans, early harbours and Second World War defences.

He urged more recording of the coastline, undertaken by bodies like Shorewatch, to prioritise the best sites for excavation to rescue the most important artefacts.

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