While investigating a 4,000 -year-old burial overlooking the Dornoch Firth, GUARD archaeology found that the grave’s Bronze Age occupant had been laid to rest wrapped in Britain’s earliest known sheepskin.
The Spinningdale Cist Burial
The remains of the 35 – to 50 year old woman, buried in a stone cist surrounded by a large pit, were found during archaeological work ahead of the construction of a septic tank at Spinningdale, Sutherland.
Archaeologists at the Spinningdale burial excavation site .
Accompanying her skeleton was a food vessel typologically dated to the early Bronze Age, while radiocarbon analysis of a bone and charcoal fragments placed the burial in 205l-l9ll BC. Closer examination revealed something more unusual however, traces of wool and sheepskin beneath the woman’s left arm were evident.
While wool textiles have been identified in numerous Bronze Age burials in Denmark, they are much less common in the British Isles, where just two other examples have been found: at Rylston, West Yorkshire, and Cromaghs, Co. Antrim.
The discovery of a sheepskin from this period is unprecedented. Analysis of the fleece’s coloration suggests that it came from an animal similar to the modern Soay sheep found on St Kilda: dark brown, with a white underbelly.
Project leader Iraia Arabaolaza said ‘ Findings of hide or fur are few and far between in Britain, but are often associated with ” rich burials” of adult inhumations’ She added, ‘The food vessel urn buried with the body contained carbonized material of non-botanical origin, unidentified cremated bone, and a fragment of a small ring. These features indicate belief in the afterlife and were most likely placed there to assist the individual’s journey into the next world.