Mysterious Iron Age burial site uncovered near Cheltenham

Archaeologists working on the A417 Missing Link scheme near Cheltenham have discovered a largely intact ceremonial Iron Age landscape — and it's been featured on BBC 2's new show, Digging For Britain.

By Zoe Gater  |  Published
Archaeologists in Gloucestershire have uncovered a range of artefacts dating back to the Iron Age. © BBC/Rare TV.

An Iron Age 'banjo enclosure' is the latest discovery made by archaeologists investigating the A417 bypass project near Cheltenham — and the curious finding has even been featured on BBC 2's show, Digging For Britain

Five miles south of Cheltenham, the unusual and enigmatic ceremonial burial site is located by the side of the main road approaching the Air Balloon roundabout, in the shadow of the Crickley Hill Iron Age hillfort.

The name 'banjo enclosure' comes from the structure's shape, which consists of a small round area with a long entrance track leading inward from one direction. This layout gives it the appearance of a frying pan or banjo.

Spending two months excavating the site, Cotswold Archaeology — in joint venture with Oxford Archaeology — were initially baffled as to what it could be, uncovering a range of artefacts dating back to the Iron Age, such as animal skulls, butchered animal bones and evidence of a metal working platform. 

In conversation with Professor Alice Roberts, the team clarified that the site was in fact ceremonial, with the excavation having exposed a young male's skeleton, in a crouched burial, in the very centre of the location. 

Given the grave’s position, it’s likely his death was marked as a significant event in the community’s history.

The £460 million A417 Missing Link scheme will help to eradicate the bottleneck, unlock Gloucestershire’s potential for growth, support regional plans for more homes and jobs and improve life for local communities — as well as preserving and enhancing the surrounding Cotswolds as a National Landscape.

The excavations will extend over 33 hectares and 27 research areas linked to the scheme, which was given the green light by the government in autumn 2022

You can catch the project and find out more during the latest episode of Digging For Britain, available on BBC iPlayer.

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