UK’s first vertical space launch to take place on Bronze Age burial site

By Sarah Knapton,
Published byThe Telegraph, 21 July 2023

Archaeologists uncover ‘tremendously exciting discovery’ at SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, Shetland during construction work

Britain’s first vertical space launch will take place on the site of an ancient Bronze Age crematorium, after archaeologists uncovered the remnants of charred human bone.

The remains of what appears to be a ritual cremation cemetery dating back to 2200-1800BC have been found on the SaxaVord Spaceport site in Unst, Shetland.

Archaeologists have been keeping a watching brief during construction work on the site which already holds Viking field enclosures and remains from the Second World War from when the area was an RAF base.

The burnt bones were found inside an arc of large granite boulders set into pits in the ground. A small platform of white quartz pebbles was also discovered which may have once been linked to a burial.

Quartz is often associated with burial tombs in the prehistoric, and covered the entire outside wall of Newgrange in Ireland.

The dig to lay the foundations uncovered what appears to be a cremation cemetery Credit: Space Centre/PA Wire

Dr Val Turner, Shetland’s regional archaeologist, said: “I’ve always suspected that some of Shetland’s rings of boulders and low stones could in fact be Bronze Age cremation cemeteries, so it is hugely exciting to be proved right.

“The Bronze Age is perhaps the period of Shetland’s past that we know least about and this is a wonderful opportunity to change that.

“With the modern techniques available now, we can potentially find out far more about the individuals who lived and died here than we could have discovered even 20 years ago.”

The SaxaVord spaceport, on Britain’s most northerly island, is due to start testing rockets this autumn before its first satellite launch next spring.

The discovery was made near to where a satellite tracking system will be installed and is not expected to hamper the construction.

‘Bronze Age to the Space Age!’

Frank Strang, the chief executive of the Shetland Space Centre, added: “This is a tremendously exciting discovery and we will be supporting further study of the remains to find out the full story.

“With Unst’s Viking heritage, we had always thought of the timespan from the longship to the spaceship. Now we know there has been activity on our site for more than 4,000 years: it’s the Bronze Age to the Space Age!”

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