Archaeologists In England Are Preparing To Excavate A Potential Bronze Age Burial Site Revealed By Peat Erosion

Published May 21, 2024
Updated May 22, 2024

Archaeologists believe peat erosion at Dartmoor National Park in Devon, England, has revealed a 4,000-year-old cist, or ancient coffin.

Dartmoor Bronze Age Cist

English HeritageTo avoid contamination, the exact location of the burial chamber in Dartmoor National Park has been kept secret.

Thousands of years ago, someone was laid to rest in present-day Devon, England. Peat grew over their burial chamber as the centuries passed, obscuring it from view. But as the peat began to erode, archaeologists discovered the Bronze Age tomb anew.

Now, they’re heralding the 4,000-year-old grave as a potentially significant discovery and are planning to excavate the site to learn more.

But many questions still remain — including whether or not what was discovered in Devon is really a burial chamber at all.

Discovering The Bronze Age Burial Chamber

The potential Bronze Age cist — a type of ancient coffin — was discovered two years ago at Dartmoor, a sprawling national park in Devon, England.

Dartmoor National Park Landscape

Bernard Blanc/FlickrArchaeologists believe that the cist discovered at Dartmoor could be something “special” and may be 4,000 years old.

For now, archaeologists have kept many details about the cist secret. They have not yet revealed its exact location out of concern that the public could damage it before it’s properly evaluated. But they are confident that it may be of historical significance, especially given that it could be 4,000 years old.

“We have every potential for this to be something quite special,” lead archaeologist Lee Bray explained to Devon Live. “We don’t know for certain if this is a cist, but it certainly looks like one. All the evidence we have points to it being a cist from the early Bronze Age.”

It’s not the first time the moors of the national park have yielded a historical treasure. In 2011, a woman’s burial chamber from 1700 B.C.E. was discovered at Whitehorse Hill.

Whitehorse Cist

Dartmoor National Park AuthorityArchaeologists excavating a cist found at Whitehorse Hill in Dartmoor in 2011. It contained the remains of a woman buried in 1700 B.C.E.

And because the peat around this new cist is waterlogged, archaeologists suspect that the artifacts within could be stunningly well preserved.

It’s just a matter of deciding what to do with it.

Excavating The Cist At Dartmoor National Park

According to Bray, there are three options when it comes to the newly discovered cist: Archaeologists could leave it alone, try to stop the erosion of the surrounding peat, or excavate it.

Dartmoor Burial Chamber

Herby/Wikimedia CommonsA different burial chamber discovered on Dartmoor.

Leaving it alone, Bray noted, would be “poor archaeological practice” and could mean the loss of something “significant.” And stopping the erosion would not prevent air from getting into the burial chamber and corrupting its contents, which “are deteriorating slowly as we speak.”

Bray supports an excavation, although it would be both delicate and expensive. First, archaeologists would need to scan the site with a laser to determine what it contained. Then, they would need to cut the cist out of the earth “like a piece of cake,” an endeavor which might also require a helicopter to airlift the cist off the moor.

Bog In Dartmoor

Herby/Wikimedia CommonsA bog in Dartmoor National Park.

Still, Bray says that an excavation of the burial chamber would be “better for archaeology and better for Dartmoor.”

So far, there’s support for an excavation of the cist. Dartmoor National Park Authority allocated £90,000 ($114,500) for an excavation, and member Andrew Cooper told an authority meeting, “There’s no gain without pain.”

He continued: “Now we know what Whitehorse Hill did for Dartmoor, I don’t think we’ve got any other option. We might end up with peat on our faces because there’s nothing there, but you never know unless you try.”

After reading about the potential Bronze Age burial chamber found in England, discover the story of the Druids, the Celtic priests of the ancient world. Or, learn about the Picts, the fierce Scottish warriors who held off the Romans.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Archaeologists In England Are Preparing To Excavate A Potential Bronze Age Burial Site Revealed By Peat Erosion.", May 21, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.