Stone Age encampment unearthed in Kent

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Ranscombe Farm Reserve is already recognised as one of the best wildflower sites in the UK. But now it is also revealing the secrets of its ancient past. 

A flint arrow head discovered during the dig [Credit: KentNews]

A team of archaeologists from the Shorne Hubcap Project have revealed a previously unknown Stone Age encampment some 6-8,000 years old. 

Among thousands of fragments of flint have been found a variety of stone tools, including hand-axes, picks, and blades. 

The finds are the results of recent excavations at a site in Cobham Woods by a group of 20 trained volunteer archaeologists, under the supervision of Kent County Council’s community archaeologist, Andrew Mayfield. 

Over the past few weeks, the team has excavated some 20 small pits, each one metre square. Every pit has revealed pieces of worked flint, painting a picture of a camp site repeatedly visited over the years by a tribe of nomadic Stone Age people. 

Andrew Mayfield explained: “Because the people of the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, period were nomads, they leave no traces of buildings or earthworks. Flint finds like these are the only evidence they leave. 

“The Mesolithic period is a poorly understood part of Kent’s history, with few such finds elsewhere in the county. Because the finds at Ranscombe appear to be in much the same place they were dropped over 6,000 years ago, they could tell us a lot about our ancient past.” 

Most of the fragments of flint found during the excavations are small flakes, the waste created by chipping pieces off a large flint in order to create a useful tool. But carefully-worked hand axes and picks up to 15cm long have been recovered, as well as stone adzes probably used for working wood. At the other end of the size scale are tiny, thin, razor sharp barbs which would have been fitted into the heads of arrows or spears for hunting. 

Perhaps the finest piece found is not from the Mesolithic Period at all, but an arrowhead dating back some 4,000 years to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. This suggests a long period of human occupancy of the area. 

The site first came to notice late last winter, when Cuxton resident and history enthusiast, Dave May, noticed pieces of flint had been thrown up along a track during woodland management work. Mr May, whose work as a volunteer at Ranscombe Farm Reserve has given him a keen eye for Stone Age relics, soon spotted the flints for what they really were. He got in touch with Andrew Mayfield, who set up the detailed exploration. 

The archaeological digs have been completed for now, and are not in a part of the wood which is easily accessible to visitors. 

But the work will continue, with all the pieces being catalogued and sorted in order to gain a fuller understanding of how ancient people were using the site. There has been interest from the British Museum, and a full report will be prepared. It is also hoped to make more information, together with photographs of some of the most interesting finds, available via the internet. 

Ranscombe Farm Reserve is managed by wildlife conservation charity, Plantlife, in partnership with Medway Council.  

Source: Kent News [June 29, 2012]

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