This is a unique early Bronze Age pin, made from the first phalanx (or toe-bone) of a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). It is the only example ever found in a Bronze Age funerary context in England, with only one other similar find recovered from a child’s burial in Scotland.
This pin was also associated with the cremated remains of a child, found during excavations by Cotswold Archaeology in Eynsham, Oxfordshire, in advance of the construction of the A40 Science Transit Park & Ride. The burial had been placed in a shallow pit alongside the charcoal from the funeral pyre. No evidence of a funeral urn was identified, so it is probable that the remains were kept in some sort of organic container – such as a leather bag, wicker basket, or animal fur – that has since disintegrated.
Although the pin is broken in several places, a perforation in the wider end suggests that it may have been worn suspended, perhaps using a fibre cord. It is likely to have been part of the pyre goods specially chosen for the child, and thus may have had special significance either in life or in death. Radiocarbon dating of the burial has been carried out, providing a date range of 1881-1693 cal BC.
While the golden eagle is a fairly rare breed in the UK these days – 510 breeding pairs are known predominately in the uplands of Scotland, after a period of heavy poaching in the 19th century – it is an indigenous species and was once found much more widely. This rare pin offers a clue as to the importance these birds may have had to people in the distant past.
This burial was the only evidence of Bronze Age activity found at the site, but the team from Cotswold Archaeology discovered Iron Age settlement activity as well, including the remains of roundhouses, post-built structures, and livestock enclosures. Two triangular loom weights, which would have been used on a vertical weighted loom of a type that was common at this time, were uncovered in two of the roundhouses, suggesting that at least part of the site was probably used for the manufacture of textiles.
Image: Cotswold Archaeology / Text: Kathryn Krakowka