Saturday, March 28, 2009


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

The Bronze Age burial chamber was accidentally uncovered on 26th January in a field at Langwell Farm (Sutherland). Farmer Jonathan Hampton immediately alerted Historic Scotland and also decided to notify police. (Evidently a big mistake!) But he claims officers completely botched up the find and is so angry that he has now decided to speak out. He says that when they were left alone at the site, the officers scooped up a number of the bones into a plastic bag, leaving part of the remains behind. And Mr Hampton alleges some important woven material he and others spotted in the grave have now gone missing.

"I just couldn't believe it when I discovered what they had done. I was in the depths of despair," he said. Police declined to respond to Mr Hampton's
allegations. 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 organization's protection.

Though the bones have subsequently been handed over to Historic Scotland, the farmer remains adamamant that some of the textiles, and basket-like materials have been lost. Many archaeologists were aghast at the force's behaviour.

Jim Crow, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh said that a find of textiles in a Bronze Age grave was unique in Scotland and extremely rare anywhere in Britain. "If they were dealing with a real crime, they shouldn't
disturb the scene in any case. But in any circumstances, people take human remains very seriously and there are a whole range of concerns, not just among archaeologists but among society at large. There are very strict procedures, whether the remains are ancient or modern," Professor Crow said.

A few weeks after the discovery, Historic Scotland called in Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) to excavate the grave. Dr Olivia Lelong arrived at Langwell on 6th February and worked on the site until 12th February. She said it was an exciting find. Tests are also to be carried out in the hope of determining the gender and height of the person. Dr Lelong said there could be other cists in the same area.

Sources: The Northern Times (12 March 2009), The Times (17 March 2009)


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