People of the Heath

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Petersfield Heath is home to one of the largest Bronze Age burial sites in South-East England. In 2014, Petersfield Museum began excavations of this prehistoric cemetery.

Around 4,000 years ago, Early Bronze Age people buried their dead in barrows. 21 barrows survive on Petersfield Heath, showing the significance of the area long before the town existed. Most of the barrows are round mounds of earth. Five flat barrows, originally enclosed by a bank and ditch, are less easy to spot today.

During a four-year project, ‘People of the Heath’, archaeologists and volunteers excavated 14 of the Heath barrows. They discovered cremation urns and evidence of a variety of different funeral practices. They also revealed a Stone Age campsite floor with thousands of flint tools and flakes from about 9,000 years ago.

Did you know?

A woman, known to us as ‘Heather’, was buried in Barrow 19. Analysis of her bones and teeth revealed she was around 20 years old and had moved to this area, but probably not from far away.

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Urn and faience beads, Barrow 14

Bronze Age people in Britain learnt how to make faience, a glass-like material, from continental Europeans around 1900 BC.


Stone and ceramic beads, Barrow 22


Urn, Barrow 8

This urn burial is quite unusual. Firstly, there were no bones inside. Secondly, there are black forms attached, thought to be the fossilised remains of a leather or rope cradle used to lower the urn into its small pit. Finally, though ceramic cups are quite common, this was the first time archaeologists had found a wooden cup buried with an urn.


Flint knife, burnt with the body on the funeral pyre, Barrow 13


Wooden handle, Barrow 13

This fossilised wooden handle is unique. It was attached to a bag in which the cremated bones were carried to the burial site.


Unfinished arrowheads and whetstones, Barrow 13

Compare the unfinished arrowheads with the finished one found in Barrow 11. Unusually, both barrows contained unfinished arrowheads, suggesting that Petersfield was an important area for arrowhead manufacture. They were buried with whetstones for sharpening bronze and sanding wood and bone.


Bronze dagger, whetstone and sanding blocks, Barrow 11

This dagger was the only Bronze Age object found on Petersfield Heath to have been made from bronze. It was buried with a whetstone for sharpening the metal blade, and other stone tools.


Urn and worked flints, Barrow 19


Fire-lighting kit, Barrow 19

By striking flint against the mineral marcasite, you can make a spark and start a fire. This kit and the other flints were placed inside the urn in Barrow 19 in a deliberate circular arrangement.


Middle Stone Age flint tools, 8000 – 6000 BC

The basic tool kit of the Middle Stone Age contained scrapers, serrated blades and borers for making holes and grooves. Also included here is a tranchet axe, used to chop wood and bone or dig up roots.

Most flintwork found from this period is ‘debitage’: the by-products of toolmaking.


Old Stone Age flint tools, 12000 – 9500 BC

Some of the flints discovered on Petersfield Heath are over 10,000 years old. Their sharp edges have been worn down by sand blowing through the air before the end of the last ice age. Here you can see a scraper, blade and flint core, which is the remainder of the raw material used for making tools.