Time to Meet Our Distant Ancestors Close Up after More Than 5,000 Years

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Byline: By Rhiannon Beacham

Advanced scientific wizardry in Wales is helping to bring our ancestors to life and sharpen up the 'fuzzy' image of prehistory. Extra-precise dating techniques at Cardiff University are helping to paint a far clearer picture of what new archaeological finds might mean.

Scientists can date their findings much more precisely, allowing them to look at individuals' lives in detail instead of a grand historical timespan.

The techniques have been used in the dating of human bones discovered at a prehistoric burial site which indicates they belong to people who may have died in a massacre in the Neolithic Age.

Remains of the 14 people - three of whom were probably killed by arrows - were discovered at Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound near the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, in the 1960s.

Their bones were buried in the oldest part of the mound, known as a chambered long barrow, and researchers have now narrowed the date of their burials to between 3590 and 3560 BC.

The ground-breaking research was carried out by English Heritage with the help of Cardiff University and the University of Central Lancashire.

Professor Alasdair Whittle of the Cardiff School of History and Archaeology at Cardiff University, said, 'Up to now prehistorians have tended to emphasise long-term change, in search of long-running or underlying processes at the expense of shorter-term events and succession.

'This dating programme will help direct the study of prehistory to get much closer to people.'

Michael Wysocki, senior lecturer in forensic and investigative science at the University of Central Lancashire, said the findings opened up the possibility that they could have died as a result of a massacre, maybe in a scramble for land or a cattle raid.

This, he said, suggested the Neolithic Age was marked by more violence than previously thought.

'We know one person was shot through the lower abdomen because we have found the tiny tip of a flint arrowhead embedded in their pelvic bone,' he said. …