Neolithic skull fragment discovered on banks of Avon

A 5,000-year-old mystery has been
sparked after part of a human skull
was found on a riverbank.
Archaeologists said the unbroken
piece of upper skull was in
"fabulous" condition with the
intricate marks from the blood
vessels still visible on the inner
surface.
There are suggestions it may have
belonged to a middle-aged woman
from the neolithic period – around
the time Stonehenge was built. The
skull is also prompting questions
about where it may have come
from.
A dog walker stumbled across the
fragment, which measures 15cm by
10cm (6in by 4in), this year but
initially thought it was part of a
ball or a coconut shell. The next
day he returned to the site on the
banks of the Avon near Pershore,
Worcestershire, for a closer look
and, realising what it was, called
police.
West Mercia police contacted
experts at Worcestershire
Archaeology, who sent the skull to
be radiocarbon dated.
"When I first saw the skull, I
thought it may have been Anglo-
Saxon or Roman but I knew that it
was not recent due to the colour,"
said Nick Daffern, senior
archaeologist. "But we were all
surprised when the radiocarbon
dating put it at between 3,338 BC
and 3,035 BC, or about the middle
neolithic period.
"It is so well preserved, it is
unthinkable that this had been in
the river for any length of time
which begs the question as to where
it has come from.
"We know of Roman, Saxon and
medieval burials along the river,
but this is very rare – it is an
exceptional find. "
He added: "I don't think it was
found where the remains were
buried. I think we've got a
riverside burial and then flooding
has brought this down the river.
Finding that burial site though
would be like finding a needle in a
haystack."
Daffern said that without the rest of
the skeleton it was difficult to draw
conclusions about the person
found, and certainly there is no
clue as to how they met their death.
"Myself and a forensic
anthropologist believe it is a
woman due to the slightness of the
skull and the lack of any brow
ridges although our conclusions are
very tentative because we're
dealing only with the top of a
skull," he said.
"There's no trauma to the bone,
and where it has broken those are
natural breaks, nor is there any
sign of disease so we've no idea as
to cause of death.
"The natural fusion of the bone in
the skull leads me to believe it may
be an older woman, possibly in her
50s, but that is very tentative
again. Unfortunately, it remains a
bit of a mystery."
The find is a few miles from
Bredon hill, which has been a
scene of human activity down the
ages and still boasts the earthen
ramparts of an iron age hill fort.
However, finds of neolithic
remains are rare.
"Whenever we come across
neolithic remains, there seems to be
a solid dividing line between where
they buried their dead and where
they lived, and that is no accident,"
he said. "But it is frustrating as an
archaeologist because although we
have the physical evidence, we still
don't have the answers as to why."
The skull is only the second set of
neolithic remains to be found in the
county, although two large 6,000-
year-old "halls of the dead" were
found in nearby Herefordshire this
year but without any human
remains present.