Bizarre bone discoveries beneath ancient British village

Evidence has emerged that Iron Age Britons buried re-arranged animal parts, including those of horses and cows, beneath their homes in what was probably some kind of ritualisic rite.

The bizarre creatures unearthed by archaeologists included a cow, which had probably been sacrificed, and its legs replaced with those of a horse; and a cow’s skull which had its lower jaw replaced by one from a horse.

They also found the remains of a horse with a cow’s horn protruding from its forehead, but pointing inwards; and a cow’s upper leg bone with a horse’s hoof.

Other finds included five extra horse heads, 15 more cow heads, three complete pigs and three complete dogs.

There was also evidence of a human sacrifice – a young woman appears to have had her throat cut – and her body placed in with a carefully arranged assortment of sheep, cattle, dog and horse bones.

The evidence of the hybrid beasts unearthed in the remains of the village in Dorset point to Britain’s ancient Celtic population having some form of hybrid-animal monster myths, not unlike those well documented among Greeks, Egyptians and Mesopotamians.

Most of the animal “hybrids” appeared to have been back-filled into the base of storage pits under the entranceways to the houses on the site, probably around 2000 years ago when the houses were being abandoned.

Experts believe the village was occupied by members of Dorset’s Durotriges tribe.

Archaeologists have dubbed the town “Duropolis”. It was uncovered by Bournemouth University students as a part of an archaeological dig near Winterborne Kingston.

Remains of 16 Iron Age roundhouses have been examined thus far and a geophysical survey has revealed that at least 150 roundhouses and associated features had been built along the hill-slope in East Dorset.

An aerial view of the dig site. Photo: Bournemouth University
An aerial view of part of the dig site. Photo: Bournemouth University

The township is one of the largest ever discovered in Britain and also shed light on what life was like for inhabitants before the Roman invasion in the middle of the 1st Century AD.

Dr Miles Russell, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University, said the remains of the 16 roundhouses had been unearthed in two trenches.

“They are pre-Roman house structures – the last that inhabitants would have been living in before the Romans arrived. We know that there are around 200 of these across this area, so we’ve got ourselves a prehistoric town or proto-urban settlement.

“What we’ve discovered is extremely significant for the whole of Southern Britain because in the past archaeologists have tended to look at really obvious sites, like the big hill-fort of Maiden Castle, near Dorchester.

“What we have here is an extensive open settlement, not a hill fort, so it wasn’t visible as a settlement from the earthwork on the landscape. What we’ve discovered is one of the earliest and largest open settlements in Britain.”

Another Bournemouth University archaeologist, Paul Cheetham, said: “What this suggests is that there were other big centres of occupation before the Roman arrival; this is a big open settlement, probably one of the first that the Romans encountered when they arrived.

“It exposes the myth that everyone lived in protected hill forts – these inhabitants lived in this fertile farmland, away from the traditional hill forts we are all used to hearing about.”

Aside from the bones, students uncovered quern-stones (used for grinding), spindle whorls (used in weaving) and metalworking debris – all activities of life in what would have been a vibrant township in its heyday.

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