Bronze Age secrets: Ancient cemetery unearthed at Saxavord spaceport

Archaeologists uncover a remarkable Bronze Age cemetery at SaxaVord Spaceport, the potential site for Europe's first vertical rocket launches.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Rocket taking off
Representational image of rocket taking off.


In the rugged landscapes of the northernmost Shetland isle lies a site captivating archaeologists and space enthusiasts alike. Welcome to the SaxaVord complex on the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst, where the past and future intertwine. This location hopes to make history by becoming Europe's first spaceport capable of hosting vertical rocket launches, but its grounds reveal a secret buried in time.

During groundworks for the ambitious spaceport project, an unexpected discovery took archaeologists by surprise. They stumbled upon what appears to be an ancient cemetery, potentially dating back to the early Bronze Age, around 2200 to 1800 BC. Pits, large boulders, and burnt bone were uncovered, and white quartz, often associated with burial tombs and rock artwork, suggests it was a ritual cremation cemetery.

"The Bronze Age is perhaps the period of Shetland's past which we know least about, and this is a wonderful opportunity to change that," says Dr. Val Turner, Shetland's regional archaeologist, her excitement evident as she talks about the significance of the discovery. With limited knowledge of Shetland's Bronze Age history, this find has the potential to shed light on a time long past and reveal ancient practices and beliefs.

While the archaeological work is capturing attention, the SaxaVord spaceport remains steadfast in its mission to become Britain's first-ever vertical rocket launch site before the end of 2023. The discovery, however intriguing, will not hamper the spaceport's progress. SaxaVord wholeheartedly supports the study of the ancient cemetery, understanding the importance of preserving history even as it forges into the future.

Debbie Strang, Chief Operating Officer of SaxaVord, expressed her optimism about the spaceport's future. "We believe they will deliver the spaceport license by the end of the summer," she confidently stated. If successful, this license will be a major milestone for Shetland or the UK, but for all of Europe, marking the continent's first vertical launch site. SaxaVord's vision reaches beyond national borders, and the excitement is palpable.

But SaxaVord is not just about launching rockets. The company understands the significance of inspiring the next generation and engaging the public in the wonders of space exploration.

To that end, they recently co-launched the Starflight Academy, an education initiative that invites children into an interactive virtual classroom to learn about space and the astronaut's journey.

Working alongside education tech company RM Technology and NASA teacher Mike Mongo, SaxaVord is fostering a love for space that might one day propel these young minds to reach for the stars.

Growth of the UK's space industry.

The UK's space industry has been on a steady rise, worth a staggering £7 billion ($9 billion) to the economy last year. As it seeks to become a major global player in the sector, engaging the public is key. Projects like SaxaVord's Starflight Academy bridge the gap between the enigmatic world of space and everyday life, encouraging a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Back at the excavation site, the Bronze Age cemetery continues to unravel its secrets. Katie O'Connell from site assessors AOC Archaeology explained, "The number and density of cremations suggest that the location of their discovery was likely a cremation cemetery that may have been in continuous use over time in prehistory." The presence of a quartz setting further adds to the mystery, hinting at a potential ritual complex.

Dr. Val Turner's speculations about Shetland's ancient rings of boulders and low stones being Bronze Age cremation cemeteries are beginning to bear fruit. The ancient cemetery discovered at SaxaVord is a testament to the enduring significance of these ancient sites, standing strong through thousands of years, from the Bronze Age to the Space Age.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board