Experts aghast as police disturb Bronze Age tomb

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Police officers in northern Scotland have been accused of vandalising a Bronze Age site through ignorance after they removed bones and textiles from the 4,000-year-old burial chamber, apparently because they thought they were investigating a crime scene.

The burial chamber, or cist, was discovered intact, in a field near Oykel Bridge in Sutherland. The area is rich in Bronze Age remains, but this find was of huge importance to archaeologists. Unlike the vast chambered cairns of the earlier Neolithic period, burials from the metal-working people of the Bronze Age are modest affairs with artefacts such as pottery most commonly found.

Inside the cist was a skeleton in the foetal position, an unusual “crouched burial”, and - rarer still - the chamber contained well-preserved items made of woven materials.

Oblivious to the importance of the site - described as unique by one authority - police removed bones and other materials from the grave for forensic analysis, in actions which were described as “clumsy and “incompetent” by critics.

As soon as a mechanical digger pulled back a slab, he realised he was looking into a 4,000-year-old tomb. After punching the air in delight, he secured the site and covered it with a tarpaulin, before contacting National Museums of Scotland and Historic Scotland and, fatefully, notifying the police.

Historic Scotland defended the police actions, and said the force had “an obligation to investigate an unexplained death”, adding that the site was not a scheduled monument, and so was not subject to the heritage organisation's protection.

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