Dozens of human skeletons from around 3,000 years ago have been found during water pipe excavation work in Oxfordshire.
Thames Water made the gory and fascinating discovery during a £14.5m pipe scheme expected to ease pressure on a rare chalk stream.
The ancient settlement, which dates back to the Iron Age and Roman periods, was excavated by Cotswold Archaeology.
It is believed that some of the 26 human remains found at the Childrey Warren site are from ritual burials.
Cotswold Archaeology chief executive Neil Holbrook said: “The Iron Age site at Childrey Warren was particularly fascinating as it provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest.
“The Iron Age site at Childrey Warren was particularly fascinating as it provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest.
“Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice.”
There was also evidence of dwellings, animal carcasses and household items including pottery, cutting implements and a decorative comb.
The items were carefully removed for forensic examination so that the utility firm could begin laying a 3.7 mile (6km) pipe set to provide water to Oxfordshire villages from the River Thames and not Letcombe Brook.
Chris Rochfort, Thames Water environmental manager, said the discovery was one of their “biggest and most exciting yet”.
He said: “This is a £14.5m project which is going to have real benefits for the environment by reducing the need to take water from the Letcombe Brook, a chalk stream which is a globally rare and highly important habitat for us to protect.
“As a result, future generations will be able to enjoy it for years to come – and now they can also learn about their village’s secret history.”