A team of archaeologists have discovered an early Bronze Age burial chamber during a joint venture between the Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen.
The chamber, which is believed to be around 4000 years old, was discovered at Forteviot, Perthshire, during the 2009 summer season of the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project.
A four tonne sandstone slab had been found in 2008, but the team had to wait until this year for the stone to be lifted.
The huge block had sealed the grave so well that organic materials have survived intact, along with a fascinating range of metal objects.
Other items found included a bronze dagger with a gold band, possibly still in its leather sheath. There also lay a leather bag, strange wooden objects and other plant matter which may represent floral tributes.
Dr Kenneth Brophy, SERF co-director and Archaeology lecturer at the University of Glasgow, believes that the find is one of the most significant ever made in Britain.
Speaking to Guardian, he said: “The high quality of preservation is virtually unique in Britain and is of exceptional importance for understanding the important centuries when metals were first introduced into Scotland.
“To have leather, wood, plant material and possibly basketry surviving 4000 years after its burial is amazing.”
Dr Brophy also believes the find will increase understanding of how people lived in Bronze Age Scotland.
He explained: “While we have Bronze Age stone and metal tools, a huge range of materials are pretty much unknown, from clothing to wooden tools.
“The analysis of the cist contents should allow us an insight into everyday objects people had in the Bronze Age that we normally would never have access to.”
Since the crypt was opened in August work on the items has involved the use of X–rays, laser scanning and a CT scan at a hospital in Edinburgh.
The area where the find was made is within an extensive complex of prehistoric ritual monuments at Forteviot which go back to the Neolithic period and remained a centre of religious and political significance for many millennia.
Professor Stephen Driscoll, SERF co-director and Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, believes that the findings will help understand not only the people of Bronze Age Scotland, but also the country’s medieval rulers.
He explained: “This excavation is part of a long-term project to study the link between the emerging kingdom of medieval Scotland and its ancient prehistoric remains.
“This burial provides the strongest evidence of the presence of ancestral graves which may have been regarded as mythological heroes by the Picts who were also buried nearby.”