ARCHAEOLOGISTS and volunteers have found an important prehistoric burial site near Beaulieu dating back thousands of years.

A community dig in a field at East End set out to investigate what they thought was a Bronze Age barrow which had been ploughed over but were thrilled to find four cremation burial urns dating from 3,000 years ago.

However, as the excavation progressed further, evidence suggested the site might have been an important place for even older human activity, which Bronze Age settlers then adapted.

New Forest National Park Authority Community Archaeologist James Brown said: "We were elated to find the urns – they were inverted in what we originally thought was the ditch around the barrow and one has a decorative band pattern on it that will help us to date them."

The urns were domestic pots and contain cremated human bone placed into small pits, he said, showing the site was a place of memorial for people in the New Forest around three millennia ago.

In addition to the urns the archaeologists also found two Neolithic flints from around 5,000 years ago, one of which probably would have been attached to a wooden shaft and used as a spear.

Volunteer Ian Richardson, from Poole, said the team were fascinated to see what the site had revealed. "It's always good to find something when the day has been spent moving mud and stone!" he said. "You get in touch with the past and think the last person to pick that up was here thousands of years ago."

Now the urns and soil will be subjected to scientific techniques to help date and conserve them.