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Golden eagle pin found in Bronze Age burial

Archaeologists from Cotswold archaeology have uncovered a pin made from a golden eagle’s phalanx during excavations of a Bronze Age burial in Oxfordshire, England.

The discovery was made during excavations on the site of the A40 Science Transit park & ride at Eynsham for Balfour Beatty, acting on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council.

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The team were excavating an Early Bronze Age cremation burial when they uncovered the grave of a child and a piece of worked animal bone in a shallow pit.

A closer examination by Sharon Clough (CA Osteoarchaeologist) and Matty Holmes (Consultant Zooarchaeologist) has revealed that the bone is actually a pin fashioned from the phalanx (toe bone) of a golden eagle, the only example found in a funerary context from the Bronze Age in England.

Golden eagles were common in England until populations began to decline in the 18th century as a result of illegal killings by sheep farmers and shooting by gamekeepers in the 19th century. By 1850, golden eagles became extinct in England and Wales, and in Ireland by 1912, although more recently they have been reintroduced numbering in the range of 400 to 500 breeding pairs.

A hole in one end of the pin suggests that it was worn with a fibre cord and was likely deposited in the burial as a pyre good. According to the researchers: “The choice of eagle bone is likely to have been significant and it is possible such an object could have been considered talismanic, or was linked perhaps with afterlife beliefs, raising further questions about its use as a pyre good for a child.”

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Excavations also revealed evidence for roundhouse buildings, post-built structures, and probable livestock enclosures dating from the Middle Iron Age. The roundhouses are defined by shallow ring ditches that represent drainage features enclosing a central building, and several pits and postholes were discovered within the interiors of two of these roundhouses, which would have held structural elements, such as posts for roof supports.

Cotswold Archaeology

Header Image Credit : Cotswold Archaeology

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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