Bronze Age burial mound discovered beneath former Oxford college

A fragment of skull and part of a human jawbone were also uncovered.

Archaeological work at Oxford University, which earlier year this revealed the remains of the former St Mary’s College, has now unearthed evidence of what is believed to be a 4,000-year-old Bronze Age burial mound.

A fragment of skull and part of a human jawbone were also uncovered.

The remains of the possible Bronze Age barrow mound (C), on top of the original prehistoric ground surface (B), cut by the foundations to St Mary’s College (A). Photo: Peter Beilby, Beard.

Excavations at Brasenose College’s Frewin Annexe are being conducted by Oxford Archaeology ahead of a development project (headed by construction firm Beard) for new student accommodation.

The team previously announced the discovery of floor tiles and limestone wall foundations from the old St Mary’s College. Founded in 1435 as a residence for Augustinian canons studying at the University, it was abandoned a century later following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Ben Ford, Oxford Archaeology’s senior project manager, said: ‘It is exciting to have now discovered underneath it and nearby the remains of an earthwork, a fragment of skull, and part of a human jawbone.’

The disarticulated human jawbone discovered at the site. Photo: Oxford Archaeology.

According to Mr Ford, these finds strongly suggest the south-eastern part of St Mary’s College was built over remains typical of a Bronze Age barrow used for interment.

Initial assessment, he adds, shows that the mound is constructed from reddish colour soils and natural gravel, and that the jawbone is ‘robust and clearly from an individual of some stature.’

The team is now searching for traces of the ditch that would have encircled the burial mound, as well as any further surviving skeletal remains.

Aerial view of the excavation. PHOTO: Oxford Archaeology.

With previous discoveries of a Neolithic henge and extensive Bronze Age burial grounds along the Oxford promontory, this area was likely to have been sacred, and would have held great significance among prehistoric communities in the commemoration of the dead.

You can find out more about this discovery in an upcoming issue of Current Archaeology (CA 386).