Past and Present
August 2010 - Recent research from the Universities of Manchester and York on Stone Age remains at Star Carr, near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has identified Britain's earliest known surviving house. The dwelling dates from at least 8500 BC, when Britain was still part of continental Europe, pre-dating the previous record holder found at Howick, Northumberland, by at least 500 years. Archaeologists consider Star Carr to equal Stonehenge in importance.
The research has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the British Academy, and English Heritage (who plan to schedule the site as a National Monument). The Vale of Pickering Research Trust also provided support for the excavation works. Dr Chantal Conneller and Barry Taylor from The University of Manchester, together with Dr Nicky Milner from the University of York started work on the site in 2004.
Researchers explain that the house was first excavated two years ago. It had post holes around a central hollow which would have been filled with organic matter such as reeds, and possibly a fireplace. The 3.5 metres circular structure was located next to an ancient lake. Current excavations are focusing on a large wooden platform constructed next to the lake using split and hewn timbers, the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe. A large, well-preserved tree trunk with bark intact dating from 11 000 years ago has also been found.
Nicky Milner said:
"This is a sensational discovery and tells us so much about the people who lived at this time. From this excavation, we gain a vivid picture of how these people lived. For example, it looks like the house may have been rebuilt at various stages. It is also likely there was more than one house and lots of people lived here. The platform is made of hewn and split timbers; the earliest evidence of this type of carpentry in Europe. And the artefacts of antler, particularly the antler head-dresses, are intriguing as they suggest ritual activities.”
Barry Taylor added:
"The ancient lake is a hugely important archaeological landscape many miles across. To an inexperienced eye, the area looks unremarkable - just a series of little rises in the landscape. But using special techniques I have been able to reconstruct the landscape as it was then. The peaty nature of the landscape has enabled the preservation of many treasures including the paddle of a boat, the tips of arrows and red deer skull tops which were worn as masks. But the peat is drying out, so it's a race against time to continue the work before the archaeological finds decay."
Researchers explain the the Star Carr site was inhabited by hunter gatherers from just after the last ice age, for a period of between 200 and 500 years. Migrating from an area now under the North Sea, they hunted animals including deer, wild boar, elk and wild cattle known as auroch. They also burnt part of the land to encourage animals to eat new plant shoots and kept domesticated dogs.
Chantal Conneller explained:
"This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last Ice Age. We used to think they moved around a lot and left little evidence. Now we know they built large structures and were very attached to particular places in the landscape."
English Heritage has entered into a management agreement with the farmers who own the land to help protect the archaeological remains at Star Carr.
Keith Emerick, inspector of ancient monuments for English Heritage, said:
"We are grateful to the landowners for entering into this far reaching agreement. Star Carr is internationally important, but the precious remains are very fragile. A new excavation currently underway will tell us more about their state of preservation and will help us decide whether a larger scale dig is necessary to recover information before it is lost for ever."
David Willetts, universities and science minister, commented:
"This exciting discovery marries world-class research with the lives of our ancestors. It brings out the similarities and differences between modern life and the ancient past in a fascinating way, and will change our perceptions for ever. I congratulate the research team and look forward to their future discoveries."
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