Engineers Just Uncovered 26 'Ritually Buried' Skeletons While Digging a Pipeline in England
One of 26 human skeletons recently revealed during digging for a water-pipeline project in Oxfordshire, England: Local archaeologists believe many of the skeletons date to the Iron Age and may have been buried in a ritualistic manner.
Credit: Thames Water

Engineers were digging pits to lay a new water pipeline recently in the English countryside — but the pits were already occupied by the dead.

According to a statement released yesterday (April 15) from the British utility company Thames Water, a pipe-laying project in Oxfordshire has led to the discovery of 26 human skeletons, some of which are believed to be nearly 3,000 years old. [In Photos: Boneyard of Iron Age Warriors]

The oldest skeletons are thought to date to the Iron Age (which lasted from the eighth century B.C. to the second century A.D.), experts from the local Cotswold Archaeology heritage society said in the news release, providing fresh insights into how local communities lived before the Roman conquest of Britain began in the first century.

Some of the skeletons were buried in what appeared to be a ritual manner, as they show similarities to nearby Iron Age pit burials that "might have involved human sacrifice," Cotswold Archaeology Chief Executive Neil Holbrook said in the statement.

These pre-Roman communities are thought to be linked to the Uffington White Horse, a 360-foot-long (110 meters) prehistoric figure of a horse carved into a nearby hillside, Holbrook said.

Among the skeletons in the new find, the diggers also uncovered a trove of artifacts, including fragments of dwellings, pottery, cutting tools, animal carcasses and a decorative comb. The skeletons and objects have been removed for forensic analysis so that the pipeline project may continue.

Originally published on Live Science.