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Bekesbourne Grave 44

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posted on 2021-11-10, 14:48 authored by Helena HamerowHelena Hamerow
The next tumulus which we attacked, is far the largest of any in this burial ground, it being seventy feet in diameter at its basis, and near ten feet in perpendicular height. It is the furthermost of them all, towards the south: it stands on the left side of the road towards Ileden, at the distance of five hundred and eighty paces from the tumuli where we began to dig, namely, near the clump of trees; and of three hundred and sixty paces from the prætentura, or bank. We began our work with opening a trench, diametrically, through the centre of it, from west to east, thirty feet long, and eighteen feet broad. In getting down we met with human bones dispersed here and there, at all depths, and in all directions: a certain indication that the tumulus had been, at one time or other, opened, either for the sepulture of fresh corpses in ancient times, or for satisfying the curiosity of some more modern inquirer like myself; and, indeed, while we were pursuing our work, and were not a little perplexed at what we had found, we were visited by one Mr. Reynolds, a substantial and sensible farmer in the neighbourhood, who told me that 'this tumulus had really been (attempted, at least, to be) opened, about thirty years ago, by some gentlemen, who came, as he thought, from somewhere towards Ashford; and he thought they found two or three copper coins.' But he could give no account who those gentlemen were, nor whether anything else was found, though he said he was present during great part of the time of digging. This information had like to have put a stop to our work; but whilst he was yet with us, we met with an entire human skeleton which never had been disturbed, lying in the usual position, namely, with its feet pointing to the east. It did not lie in the centre of the tumulus, or near it, as is usual, but towards the western side of it, and not above five feet deep in it; so that its grave did not reach even to the natural surface of the ground by at least five feet. I concluded from hence, that either those gentlemen had too soon grown weary of their work, if any such ever attempted the tumulus, or (which I think is more likely) the honest farmer had, for the sake of talk, told us a very great lie. There was no appearance of a coffin, nor was anything found with this skeleton. The bones were remarkably sound; but the skull, which was very firm when taken up, by lying on the bank an hour or two, exposed to the sun and wind, opened by degrees at the sutures, etc., in such a manner, that by only rolling gently down into the trench (which, however, was then pretty deep), it parted, and came all to pieces.The earth still continued, all the way, much in the same way as it had been before we came to the skeleton; loose and scattered bones every now and then still appearing; as also did the socket of the head of a hasta or spear, some sherds of a small black urn; many pieces or fragments of burnt brick, as they seemed. In many different places, and at different depths, we found heaps of very small bones, very sound, as of small birds, mice, or some such little animals.[1] Some of the heaps amounted, I am sure, to above a quart each. It is very remarkable that neither here, nor wherever else I have met with such bones before, any head, or at least enough of one, could be found, by which I could give any guess to what animals they had belonged. I think we here found, in the whole, nearly half a bushel of them; and some of them so low, as at the bottom of the tumulus. We also found three or four small parcels of wood coals and ashes, and some single wood coals; as also a great deal of blueish dust, which might be wood ashes too; but I could perceive no coals among it. There were also part of the skull of a young ox, as it seemed; the under jaw of a dog, as we thought; and the bones of some large bird or fowl; and on the surface of the natural rock chalk lay a skeleton, with its feet pointing, as usual, to the east. The bones were almost gone. No appearance of a coffin. Nothing material was found with it, or near it; but a pair of iron shears, as before; the blade of a knife, of a different shape from those already mentioned; a large iron nail; and the sherds of a small blue urn.[1]For numerous instances of the discovery of bones of rats and mice in ancient graves, see Collectanea Antiqua, vol. i, pp. 49-61, and Mr. Bateman's Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire, passim. See also note to No. 282. Kingston.- C.R.S.


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