A Bronze Age cemetery near Helensburgh has revealed secrets of the ancient burial rites from the area.

An excavation at Sawmill Field was done in 2020 but the results have only just been revealed after specialist analyses.

And it reveals thousands of years of history to the area before even the Bronze Age.

The oldest of stone-lined graves, or cists, dated to 2,467-2,290 BC.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Layout of the Bronze Age Cist graves and the Neolithic cairn they were cut into Layout of the Bronze Age Cist graves and the Neolithic cairn they were cut into (Image: GUARD Archaeology Ltd)

There were no human remains, however, just fragments of pyre material, which experts said suggested that was enough to represent the dead.

GUARD Archaeology carried out the dig and has now released details of their find.

The largest of three cists there, Cist 1 and Cist 3, were constructed at least three centuries after the oldest, about 2,140-1,930 BC.

Both included cremated remains of at least two adults and a child or young person, but no grave goods.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Cist 3Cist 3 (Image: GUARD Archaeology Ltd)

"The long span of time between these cist graves indicates the lasting memory of burials here," said Iraia Arabaolaza, the principal author of the published excavation report.

"The reuse of the burial place at different periods may have reinforced land ownership or connections to ancestors."

Analysis shows the site was revisited between 50 and 300 years after the burials, around the first half of the second millennium BC. At that point, burial rituals had changed again to using a pottery vessel to hold cremated remains before being buried at the bottom of a pit.

Most of the remains found from this era included one or two adults and a young person together.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Cist 2Cist 2 (Image: GUARD Archaeology Ltd)

Remains from at least 14 adults and six young people were recovered from the cemetery.

Experts concluded the burials contained multiple individuals who were cremated and then collected together Iraia Arabaolaza said: "The incomplete nature of each of the individual remains suggest that the rite of cremation and burial were more important than keeping/collecting and burying the person as whole.

"This cemetery complex is not only chronologically diverse, but it also reflects the differences in the burial rites and material culture.

"The burial of multiple people together, part of the same burial rite and possible part of the same cremation process indicates the importance of the cremation rite and the community rather than the individual and the preservation of its body as a whole."

Helensburgh Advertiser: Grave pit containing burial urnGrave pit containing burial urn (Image: GUARD Archaeology Ltd)

GUARD Archaeology also discovered the Bronze Age community was not the first at the site.

There was a late Neolithic kerbed cairn from around 3,500 BC that had once been fronted by an "impressive stone façade". It was then cut into by the Bronze Age stone cist graves.

And flint tools were also found dating from about 5,000 years before even that - to around 8,4000 BC.

This shows some of Scotland's earliest inhabitants, during the late Upper Paleolithic or early Mesolithic periods were around Helensburgh too.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Bronze Age burial urn recovered from the excavationBronze Age burial urn recovered from the excavation (Image: GUARD Archaeology Ltd)

Bellway Homes funded the archaeological work as a requirement for planning permission by Argyll and Bute Council. West of Scotland Archaeology Service had said there was a potential for previously unknown discoveries buried at the site.

The full report, A Bronze Age cemetery, Sawmill Field, Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute by Iraia Arabaolaza , can be read at https://www.archaeologyreportsonline.com/reports/2023/ARO51.html.