History Files


Prehistoric Britain

Ancient Massacre Revealed

Edited from BBC News, 12 March 2007

Bones found at a prehistoric burial site seemed to indicate that they belonged to victims of an ancient massacre. The remains of fourteen people were discovered at Wayland's Smithy, near Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire in the 1960s.

English Heritage carried out the work with the help of Cardiff University and the University of Central Lancashire. The latest techniques available at the time (2006) dated the bones to 3590-3560 BC, leading experts to believe that these people may have died in a Neolithic Age massacre.

Flint arrowhead

Michael Wysocki of the University of Central Lancashire stated the findings suggested that the Neolithic Age was more violent than previously thought. The victims - three of them probably killed by arrows - could have died in a rush for land or livestock, he added.

One of the victims was shot through the lower abdomen, the tiny tip of a flint arrowhead being found by archaeologists, embedded in their pelvic bone.

It's also known that the bodies of two people were scavenged and partially dismembered by dogs or wolves before their remains were buried in the monument. All this new evidence suggests that the period between 3625 BC and 3590 BC may have been one of increasing social tension and upheaval.

Revealing comparisons

The research also indicated that the use of Neolithic long barrows was short-lived - and did not take place over hundreds of years as previously thought.

English Heritage radiocarbon dating expert Alex Bayliss was able to point out that, thanks to this research, the Neolithic period could now be thought of in terms of individuals and communities. Useful and revealing comparisons could be made between their choices and behaviour in the remote past.

He was of the opinion that the new dating programme demanded a revolution in thinking about prehistory in general, and not just that of early Neolithic burial monuments in southern Britain.

  This dating programme demands a revolution in our thinking about prehistory

Alex Bayliss
English Heritage


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