A BRONZE Age burial site dating back more than 4,000 years has been unearthed in the New Forest.

Known as a ring-ditch monument, the "highly significant" site is thought to have played an important role in the local community for generations - but its exact purpose remains a mystery.

Bronze Age burial grounds often comprise a circular ditch surrounding an area that was used for cremations.

New Forest Post:

But experts say the one uncovered in the Forest appears to have been modified over a long period of time, suggesting it may have been used for rituals and ceremonies.

The ring-ditch, along with five Bronze Age cremation urns, is on the Beaulieu Estate.

During two digs at the location archaeologists and volunteers also found unexpected evidence of people living in the area during the much earlier Mesolithic period (8,000-2,700 BC).

Their work has provided fascinating facts about the prehistoric communities who once inhabited the area.

The investigations were part of a project led by the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund through the Our Past, Our Future, Landscape Partnership Scheme.

The team included experts from the NPA and Bournemouth University.

New Forest Post:

Community archaeologist Hilde van der Heul said: "This project is a great example of how quality archaeological research can be undertaken as part of a community project, with volunteers learning archaeological techniques and processes.

"The project aimed to give a better understanding of the New Forest’s prehistoric past.

"It was an exciting opportunity for volunteers with an interest in archaeology and heritage to get some hands-on experience in the field, especially with rare and important findings like these."

The digs were carried out in 2018 and 2019 but the results have only just been revealed.

Five Bronze Age urns were discovered, three of which were carefully excavated at Bournemouth University and found to contain cremated human bone. Soil samples were processed at the university while pottery, flint and other finds were analysed by specialists.

Jon Milward is project officer with Bournemouth University Archaeological Research Consultancy.

He said: "Monuments with 'entrances' and apparent open interiors such as this one may have been meeting spaces used to carry out rituals and ceremonies.

"There's evidence of regular modification and an apparent continuity of use over a long time, implying the monument was perhaps more than a burial place and played a significant role in the community for many generations."