THE testing of human bones found at a prehistoric burial site in Oxfordshire has revealed they belonged to people who may have died in a Neolithic Age massacre.

Remains of the 14 people - three of whom were probably killed by arrows - were discovered at Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound near the Uffington White Horse, in the 1960s.

Their bones were buried in the oldest part of the mound, known as a chambered long barrow, and researchers have now narrowed the date of their burials to between 3590 and 3560 BC, during the Neolithic Age.

The ground-breaking research, using advanced scientific dating methods, was carried out by English Heritage with the help of Cardiff University and the University of Central Lancashire.

Michael Wysocki, of the University of Central Lancashire, said the findings opened up the possibility that the people could have died as a result of a massacre, maybe in a fight for land or a cattle raid.

This, he said, suggested the Neolithic Age was marked by more violence than previously thought.

Mr Wysocki said "We know one person was shot through the lower abdomen, because we have found the tiny tip of a flint arrowhead embedded in their pelvic bone.

"We also know that the bodies of two people were scavenged and partially dismembered by dogs or wolves before their remains were buried in the monument.

"All this new evidence suggests that the period between 3625 BC and 3590 BC may have been one of increasing social tension and upheaval."

The research has also dispelled the traditional view that Neolithic long barrows were used over centuries.

Instead, their use has been revealed to be short-lived and intensive, with few barrows used for more than three to four generations.

The research also throws light on the different ways in which communities treated their ancestors.

The end of the active use of four Neolithic sites in southern England, including one at Ascott-under-Wychwood, was previously thought to be separated by centuries, as they were closed differently and human remains were deposited in diverse ways, but the researchers found all four were in use within a decade or so of 3625 BC.