Stone Age village ‘had modern high street links’

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Work on an 8,000-year-old Stone Age settlement under the surface of the Solent in Hampshire is throwing up evidence of clear parallels of the modern “high street”, archaeologists say. 

Divers say they have discovered a Stone Age boatyard [Credit: BBC]

After 30 years of excavating the area around Bouldnor Cliff, a boatyard was uncovered last summer, which teams have been working on ever since. 

Since The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology spotted a swamped prehistoric forest in the 1980s, the Stone Age village was found by chance at the end of the last century. 

Divers taking part in a routine survey spotted a lobster cleaning out its burrow on the seabed and to their surprise the animal was throwing out dozens of pieces of worked flint – which turned out to be the first sign of the village. 

The discoveries, after analysing a mile-long stretch of seabed, are of “international importance” the trust says, because it sheds new light on how people lived in the Mesolithic period. 

“One area they were doing boat building, nearby they were on riverbanks and sand bars collecting reeds or doing a bit of fishing or elsewhere they would be hunting game,” said director Garry Momber. 

“Effectively you have all these activities happening which have strong parallels with the modern high street, but they’ve all just been a bit consolidated.” 

“We have found a pit with burnt flints, and evidence they were working wood, using technology that was 2,000 years ahead of its time.” 

Work to get the seabed to give up its secrets though, has required the removal of sediment that has protected the settlement for thousands of years – and this removal has given the tides the opportunity to erode that evidence away. 

‘Painstakingly slow’ 

“It is the only site of its kind in the UK,” said Mr Momber, pointing out that it is currently eroding by up to 20ins (50cm) a year. 

Divers search for Mesolithic flints [Credit: The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology]

The settlement would have been flooded around the time the English channel was created, as sea levels rose in about 6,500BC. 

At that time, the area near Bouldnor would have been covered with woods and freshwater lakes and rivers. 

“Sea levels came up and flooded the whole lot and it was abandoned,” continued Mr Momber.  

“It was covered by sediment and then by salt marsh and then by the sea.” 

So far, archaeologists have uncovered a part of a wooden boat, flints and remains of food eaten by the Stone Age people who were based there. 

Mr Momber said: “Fishermen were bringing up peat and trees in the 1980s from the sea bed, but we didn’t find the archaeological remains until 1999. 

“When I saw these trees lying on the sea floor, I thought there has to be evidence of humans. 

“We came across the first evidence of flints excavated under the sea bed in 1999. 

Mr Momber also said excavating the site was a painstakingly slow process. 

“You can probably only dive for up to an hour, working with the tide, and there’s maximum visibility of 1m and 3m, yet you have to explore this large area. 

“We only have resources to go down there two or three times a year.” 

Source: BBC News Website [February 16, 2012]

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