Home U.K Archaeologists stunned by rare bronze-age coffin and axe found underneath golf course

Archaeologists stunned by rare bronze-age coffin and axe found underneath golf course

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Britain’s Pompeii: Archaeologists excavate Bronze Age settlement

Golfers are always on the lookout for things to avoid when playing 18 holes, whether that be bunkers, water or the rough. In Lincolnshire however, the hazard in question was almost a 4,000-year-old coffin. Historic England confirmed the details of the remarkable discovery on Friday, which was made while works were being carried out on a golf course pond.

The accidental discovery, made in July 2019 during a spell of works at the Tetney Golf Club, sparked a desperate rescue mission to save the contents of the coffin after its exposure to sunlight and air. 

A £70,000 grant from Historic England funded the recovery and preservation project.

Initially thought to just be a soggy log, the coffin is the size of a telephone box, carved from a single piece of oak, and was packed with yew or juniper leaves to cushion the body.

Inside are the remains of a man, who was buried with an axe.

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Bronze Age coffin discovery

The coffin contained the remains of a Bronze Age VIP. (Image: York Archaeological Trust)

Bronze Age coffin discovery

The coffin is 4,000 years old. (Image: York Archaeological Trust)

The level of preparation and the presence of the axe, still perfectly preserved, is believed to have been a symbol of the man’s status. Only 12 of these axes have ever been found in Britain.

Archaeologists have concluded the coffin was made from hollowing out an oak tree trunk.

The conditions it was found in allowed for the preservation, however archaeologists faced a race against time to stop it from crumbling once it had been unearthed.

Tim Allen of Historic England said: “Bronze Age log coffins are rare and for them to survive after their discovery is even rarer.

Perfectly preserved axe inside Bronze Age coffin

The axe is perfectly preserved, and signalled that a man of high-status was buried. (Image: York Archaeological Trust)

“Once the wet wood was out of the ground there wasn’t long to react.”

Mr Allen explained how archaeologists from nearby Sheffield University were able to attend after an initial inspection from local authorities and Portable Antiquities Scheme staff.

Dr Hugh Willmott, of the University of Sheffield, led the team who recovered the find. He said: “Organic material was preserved in the damp and airless conditions within the hollowed-out tree trunk.

“This can tell us about the plants that were chosen to cushion the body and even the time of year this man was laid to rest.

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The axe that will go on display

The axe will go on display at the Lincoln Collection museum. (Image: York Archaeological Trust)

“Luckily when the burial was found I had staff and students from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield working on a nearby research and training excavation.

“This was a brilliant learning experience for our students to see what can be achieved at short notice.”

The team prepared the coffin for removal to a cold storage unit at the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth, before a team in York could carry out specialist conservation work and analysis. 

This work confirmed the contents of the coffin, which was covered in a burial mound that was eventually claimed by the sea.

Ian Panter helping to restore the coffin

The coffin will take two years to be fully treated. (Image: York Archaeological Trust)

Mr Allen explained: “The man buried at Tetney lived in a very different world to ours but like ours, it was a changing environment, rising sea levels and coastal flooding ultimately covered his grave and burial mound in a deep layer of silt that aided its preservation.” This land would have later been recovered from the waves, and the golf course built on it.

York Archaeological Trust’s Ian Panter said the axe will hopefully be preserved within the next 12 months, but the coffin will need at least two years due to its size.

It is one of around 65 Bronze Age coffins that are known in Britain.

The site of the discovery has now been protected as a Scheduled Monument by the Secretary of State.

Mark Casswell is the owner of Tetney Golf Club. His family had farmed the land for many years before deciding to convert it into a golf course. He said: “I’d never have imagined that there was a whole other world there buried under the fields.

“As soon as we realised what we’d brought up working on the pond we contacted the local authority and they put us in touch with the archaeologists from the County Council and Historic England.

“It’s amazing how well preserved the axe is with its handle still there like it was made yesterday. We’ll have a nice photograph of it up on the clubhouse wall, all those years that people have been living here working the land, it’s certainly something to think about while you’re playing your way round the course.”

The coffin is now at York Archaeological Trust, where conservation work continues. 

Once completed, the coffin and axe will be displayed at the Collection Museum in Lincoln.



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