THE ancient remains of four skeletons were interred at Highworth Cemetery last week to mark the summer solstice.

The partial male skeletal remains had been unearthed during local building work and excavations over the years and passed to Highworth Historical Society.

But following a change in the law about keeping archaeological remains the society made arrangements for their re-interment with help from local funeral directors, A E Baker of Highworth.

They were buried in wicker caskets in a single plot in the old part of Highworth Cemetery beside an ancient footpath in a non-religious service performed by Brian Elkington, elder of the United Reform Church.

Jo Clark, secretary of Highworth Historical Society, said a lot of thought had gone into burying the bodies. Each was buried with a 2007 copper coin from the Royal Mint and leaves from the seven sacred druidic plants. Some of the remains have also been wrapped in locally-produced wool.

She explained: "Recent changes to the law mean that there are many restrictions surrounding the retention of archaeological remains. The society decided that it would be appropriate if the remains were re-interred in the area in which they were originally laid to rest.

"We have chosen summer solstice and a non-denominational ceremony because of the age of the remains, before the religious doctrines we know today.

"The burial site, away from the main area of the cemetery, is ideal and will allow local people to see the grave if they wish.

"Members of the society said a few well-chosen words to mark the occasion. We believe this is a fitting end for these men who probably lived and worked in or around Highworth many centuries ago."

Much care and consideration has been taken to arrange the ceremony. The remains were buried with a number of appropriate items including locally-sourced mead, honey and a bread roll as "sustenance for the journey."

The remains included two Bronze Age partial skeletons (from around 4,000 years ago) found at Wrde Hill, Highworth, on November 29, 1977, one complete Romano-British skeleton (from the period AD46-AD600) found in Oak Drive, Highworth, on August 14, 1965 and a partial skeleton found in a mediaeval enclosure ditch at Haresfield during 1978-9 which dates back to the period between the 12th and 16th centuries.

Due to the age of the skeletons the coroner's office of Wiltshire Police was required to give permission for the re-interment.

A E Baker & Sons, part of The Midcounties Co-operative, Highworth Memorials, which is preparing a headstone, and Highworth Town Council, which manages the cemetery, waived fees for the service.

With help from Highworth Cemetery a special plot has been found in an older part of the cemetery which can be visited without any disturbance to other visitors.