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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Dr Benjamin Roberts

Melton, N., Montgomery, J., Roberts, B.W., Cook, G. & Harris, S. (2016). On the curious date of the Rylstone log-coffin burial. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 82: 383-392.

Author(s) from Durham


Radiocarbon dates have been obtained from a log-coffin burial excavated in 1864 by Canon William Greenwell from a ditched round barrow at Scale House, near Rylstone, North Yorkshire. The oak tree-trunk coffin had contained an extended body wrapped in a wool textile. The body had entirely decayed and there were no other extant grave goods. In the absence of other grave goods, Greenwell attributed the burial to the Bronze Age because it lay under a ditched round barrow and had similarities with log-coffin burials from Britain and Denmark. This attribution has not been questioned since 1864 despite a number of early medieval log-coffin burials subsequently being found in northern Britain. Crucially, the example excavated near Quernmore, Lancashire in 1973, was published as Bronze Age but subsequently radiocarbon dated to ad 430–970. The Rylstone coffin and textile were radiocarbon dated to confirm that the burial was Early Bronze Age and not an early medieval coffin inserted into an earlier funerary monument. Unexpectedly, the dates were neither Early Bronze Age nor early medieval but c. 800 bc, the cusp of the Bronze Age–Iron Age transition in Britain. The burial at Rylstone is, therefore, one of only two sites in Britain, and is unparalleled elsewhere in north-western Europe at a time when disposal of the dead was primarily through dispersed cremated or unburnt disarticulated remains.