Archaeologists from Glasgow-based Guard Archaeology were called in when a cist – a stone burial chest – was inadvertently disturbed by construction workers during landscaping of an access track through Cullaird Wood in West Torbreck, south-west of Inverness.
The team undertook a rescue excavation and found the human remains had been part of a burial.
Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick analysed the bones and discovered that they belonged to a woman aged between 40 and 44.
She said: “As the radiocarbon date demonstrates, this occurred at some point between 1982BC and 1889BC.
“Dental disease in the form of periodontal disease and a cyst were present and are probably symptomatic of poor oral hygiene, and are probably secondary to the moderate dental wear observed on most of the teeth.
“Both the right and left femurs appeared quite robust with fairly prominent muscle attachments, suggesting that the individual probably led a physically active lifestyle.”
She added: “Preservation of the skeleton was fair with 50 per cent available for study. Much of the right side, which had been in direct contact with the subsoil, had not survived and those bones that had were affected by surface erosion.
“A single individual was present and was deemed to be of probable female sex based on pelvic and skull morphology.
“Unfortunately, height could not be established due to the incomplete state of the surviving long bones.”
Ms Kilpatrick said: “The burial appeared consistent with the early Bronze Age, which was confirmed by the post-excavation analyses..”
The cist is located within an area rich in prehistoric remains, many of which have only been discovered within the past few years, primarily due to development associated with the expansion of Inverness.
The area appeared important for prehistoric groups from early times.
Ms Kilpatrick added: “Despite the use of cists spanning a period of at least 300 years, many similarities exist such as location, orientation of burial and material used, suggesting that local traditions may have existed which continued over many decades.
“However, each cist is unique in some way and the West Torbreck burial is no exception.
“For instance, pottery vessels are not always included in cists. In this case, a beaker found in the West Torbreck cist was evidently part of the burial rites and its function was to accompany the individual to the afterlife.
“Although a few others have been found in north-east Scotland, they are generally rare in Scotland and Britain as a whole. This find gives weight to the importance of the region and its close links with the River Ness, and possibly the North Sea region beyond.”
The area immediately around West Torbreck cist remains relatively rural, with the nearest known archaeological site being the Torbreck stone circle, which lies approximately 200 metres to the east in an area of agricultural land.
This small stone circle consists of nine upright stones and two outliers, which are thought to be the remains of an outer circle.
The sides of the recently discovered cist pit were found to be fairly steep and were completely covered with fallen branches, tree stumps and moss.