Iron Age skeletons unearthed in English dig

LONDON — It’s not your usual tweet from a water utility.

“We unearthed a footless skeleton with two sheep on her head in Wiltshire,” read the March 25 posting on Twitter by Wessex Water Services, a water and sewage company serving southwestern England.

Accompanying the online post was a photo of a spine, hip, leg and assorted bones believed to date from the Iron Age being examined by an archaeologist brought in by Wessex Water, which serves the Bristol, Bath and Bournemouth areas.

What archaeologists have discovered so far as they scour Wiltshire during 200 million pounds ($333 million) of water supply and pipeline works “is quite amazing,” Wessex Water spokeswoman Lucy McCormick said Friday by phone.

“A 10-year-old with a sword wound in the hip,” she said. “A lady without her feet with a couple of sheep on her head” that staff think were re-buried with her in a shallow site as a means to “ward off bad spirits.”

In total four skeletons thought to be from the Iron Age that lasted in Britain from 800 BC to the time of the Roman conquest that began in AD 43 have been unearthed in fields along the A303 motorway near West Knoyle, the company said.

Two were found with sword wounds to their hips. Three were male. Carbon testing may show further details including a more precise time of burial, diet or diseases, the company said on its website.

“Human remains from these periods are very rare and indicate the long period of settlement that has occurred in the area,” said Peter Cox, director of Wiltshire-based AC Archaeology, commissioned by Wessex Water to examine the area of new works ahead of excavation.

“Often we may find an old pot” during infrastructure works, McCormick said. Unearthing four ancient skeletons with a mystery attached? “That’s our most significant finding.”

The company worked with archaeologists along the pipeline route to “ensure that the past is protected,” Wessex Water said. Bones were carefully removed from the sites, will be cleaned, cataloged, then undergo radiocarbon dating.

Bath-based Wessex Water, bought by YTL Power International of Kuala Lumpur in 2002, supplies water to 1.3 million people a day and treats sewage from 2.7 million customers in the Somerset, Dorset and Salisbury areas.

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