Exceptionally rare, Early Bronze Age, worked Golden Eagle bone pin

This worked Golden Eagle bone (first phalanx, or toe bone) was found in the Early Bronze Age cremation burial of a child, discovered during A40 excavations in Eynsham, Oxfordshire, and is currently the only example found in a funerary context in England! One other similar example has been identified in Scotland, also associated with the burial of a child.

A piece of fragmented Golden Eagle phalanx, with a hole at the top. Scale is 50mm
The Golden Eagle pin

The cremation deposit had been placed in a shallow pit alongside charcoal from the funeral pyre (a structure, often made from wood, which is set on fire as part of the funerary rites). No evidence of a funerary urn was identified but the cremated remains could have been buried in an organic container, such as a leather bag, wicker basket, or animal pelt. The burial belonged to that of a child, and we’ve been able to date it to the Early Bronze Age through radiocarbon analysis, which provided a date range of 1881–1693 cal BC (SUERC-108039, at 95.45% probability).

The cremation under excavation
The Early Bronze Age cremation under excavation

The worked eagle bone was discovered during analysis of the burial by our Osteoarchaeologist Sharon Clough, and identified at the Natural History Museum stores by Matty Holmes (Consultant Zooarchaeologist). Identified as a pin by Claire Collier, our worked-bone specialist, it had been shaped and perforated at one end, suggesting it may have been suspended, perhaps using fibre cord. The pin was likely to have been included as a pyre good; possibly representing a personal item that had been worn by the individual in life. It’s possible that pyre goods, such as food, drink, and pottery, were offerings to accompany the individual into the afterlife, and they are thought to represent personal or social connections between the deceased and the objects themselves, and/or the wider community they were a part of.

Archaeologically, eagle feet are the part of the bird most often recovered from the Bronze Age. The Golden Eagle (aquila chrysaetos) is an indigenous species of the UK, which disappeared during the 19th century under the pressure of extreme persecution; today it is found in the uplands of Scotland, where 510 pairs are successfully breeding. The identification of this worked bone from the cremation burial of a child demonstrates the historical importance of these birds, and highlights associations they had with death and/or rebirth in Bronze Age Britain.

Grace Griffith (Publications Officer)
Sharon Clough (Senior Environmental Officer – Human bone)

Golden Eagle (aquila chrysaetos)
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