- Skull is believed to be of a middle aged woman living in 3,300 BC
- Unbroken skull found on the banks of the River Avon in Worcestershire
- Carbon dating technology places the piece between 3,338BC and 3,035 BC
- The ‘exceptional’ find suggests there is an undiscovered burial site nearby
A 5,000-year-old human skull in ‘fabulous’ condition has been discovered on the banks of a river in Worcershire by a walker who thought it was a coconut.
Experts said the piece of ancient skull is an ‘exceptional find’ as the intricate marks from blood vessels are still visible on the inner surface.
The smooth dark outer side gives only a tantalising glimpse as to what the person may have looked like, although there are ‘tentative’ suggestions it may have belonged to a woman in middle age living in the Neolithic period – around the time Stonehenge was built.
The skull is not only prompting questions about the person it belonged to, but where it may have come.
A dog walker first stumbled across the skull piece, which is about 15cms (6ins) in length and 10cm (4ins) in width, earlier this year but initially thought it was a ball or a coconut shell.
Detectives from West Mercia Police investigated the scene and contacted experts at Worcestershire Archaeology, who sent the skull to be radiocarbon dated.
‘When I first saw the skull, I thought it may have been Anglo-Saxon or Roman but I knew that it was not recent due to the colour,’ said Nick Daffern, senior archaeologist.
‘But we were all surprised when the radiocarbon dating put it at between 3,338 BC and 3,035 BC, or about the middle Neolithic period.’
‘It is so well preserved, it is unthinkable that this had been in the river for any length of time which begs the question as to where it has come from.
‘We know of Roman, Saxon and medieval burials along the river, but this is very rare – it is an exceptional find.
‘What it suggests is that we have a Neolithic burial site very near here – we just don’t know where.’
He said: ‘I don’t think it was found where the remains were buried, I think we’ve got a riverside burial and then flooding has brought this down the river.
Mr Daffern said that without the rest of the skeleton it was difficult to draw conclusions about the person found, and certainly there is no clue as to how they met their death.
‘Both myself and a forensic anthropologist believe it is a woman due to the slightness of the skull and the lack of any brow ridges although our conclusions are very tentative because we’re dealing only with the top of a skull,’ he added.
‘There’s no trauma to the bone, and where it has broken those are natural breaks, nor is there any sign of disease so we’ve no idea as to cause of death.
‘The natural fusion of the bone in the skull leads me to believe it may be an older woman, possibly in her 50s, but that is very tentative again.
‘Unfortunately, it remains a bit of a mystery.’
The find is a few miles from Bredon Hill, which has been a scene of human activity down the ages and still boasts the earthen ramparts of what was an Iron Age hill fort, however finds of Neolithic remains are rare.
‘Whenever we come across Neolithic remains, there seems to be a solid dividing line between where they buried their dead, and where they lived and that is no accident,’ he said.
‘But it is frustrating as an archaeologist because although we have the physical evidence, we still don’t have the answers as to why.’
The skull is only the second set of Neolithic remains to be found in the county, although two large 6,000-year-old ‘halls of the dead’ were found in nearby Herefordshire this year but without any human remains present.
Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog