Archaeologists have uncovered a bronze aged cremation urn (known as a Cist) from a site on Whitehouse Hill in Dartmoor. The urn is a stone chest and what was unusual about this find was the contents could be distinguished. Apart from the cremated remains the box contained a woven bag or basket and amber beads.
Apparently it is extremely rare to find the contents so well preserved and those working on the project are very excited they believe the cist, which dates back around 4,000 years, could be one of the most exciting finds in the region for a 100 years. The cists are not uncommon on the moor and the contents is a good indication of wealth and prominence of the individual.
They have sent cremated remains and the receptacle, that contained shale disc beads, amber spherical beads and a circular textile band, off to Wiltshire for detailed examination. Where they will also examine samples from the surrounding soil to get a better idea what the environment was like at the time of burial, also the items will be analysed to reveal how they were made and what materials were used.
Jane Marchand, senior archaeologist at Dartmoor National Parks Authority DNPA, said: “This is a most unusual and fascinating glimpse into what an early Bronze Age grave goods assemblage on Dartmoor might have looked like when it was buried, including the personal possessions of people living on the moor around 4,000 years ago.”
Experts said the one discovered on Whitehorse Hill may have been better preserved because it is the only known example set within a peat mound. The cist was first discovered about ten years ago when what appeared to be its end stone fell out of the peat mound, since then the peat has slowly eroded away from the sides and the top.
Experts tried to protect the cist, which is a scheduled monument, but as the situation worsened experts from DNPA and English Heritage decided to excavate it in order to recover any surviving archaeological and environmental information before it is destroyed.
The cist is to be rebuilt once analysis is concluded. And apparently it is known that about 200 cremation urns / cist exist on the moor.
The word Cist appears to be an ancient British word which still survives in common parlance in the Welsh language, but has evolved to encompass more prosaic things like chest, a coffer, a box, or even the boot / trunk of a car. Oddly enough in Dartmoor cists are referred to as Kistvaen.