Stone Age human ‘campsite’ unearthed in New Forest archaeological dig

Experts have uncovered intriguing flint tools and the remnants of a 7,000-year-old hazelnut shell from an archaeological dig at the Beaulieu Estate in Hampshire’s New Forest. Radiocarbon dating of the shell conducted by University of Bournemouth and National Park Authority archaeologists suggests the site was active in the Middle Stone Age (5,736 to 5,643 BC).

Among the find’s highlights is a grisly ring ditch monument containing four urns holding Bronze Age (1,500 to 1,100 BC) human bones.

We know of a few Mesolithic sites close to Beaulieu River and it appears there was another at this site

Archaeologist Jon Milward

One of the flint tools is believed to have originally been a spearhead.

Jon Milward, a Bournemouth University Archaeologist said: “’Archaeological evidence from the Mesolithic period is rare, but now and again we do find flint tools and evidence for these temporary settlement sites.

“We know of a few Mesolithic sites close to Beaulieu River and it appears there was another at this site.”

The archaeologists hope further investigations of the ring ditch will transform our understanding of both ancient monument construction and local burial practices.

Mr Milward said: “Monuments with entrances and apparent open interiors such as this one may have been meeting spaces used to carry out rituals and ceremonies that were important to the local community.

“There is evidence here of regular modification and an apparent continuity of use over a long time — implying that this monument was perhaps more than a burial place and played a significant role in the community for many generations.”

Archaeological interest in the area intensified after the site showed as a crop mark in an aerial image shot in 2013 during a search for the remains of a World War 2 gun emplacement and a Roman Temple on the Beaulieu Estate.

Subsequent geophysical surveys revealed intriguing interior disturbances within the ring ditch.

These suggested either the presence of either primary funerary activity.

Ring ditches are usually found as the only remains of a former barrow mound.

However, in this instance, archaeologists understand the ditch feature may have been alone, with either an internal or external bank instead, resembling a ‘mini-henge’.

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Hilde van der Heul, a National Park Authority archaeologist, said: “This project is a great example of how quality archaeological research can be undertaken as part of a community project, with volunteers learning archaeological techniques.

“It aimed to give a better understanding of the New Forest’s prehistoric past, with the direct involvement of the local community.’

“It was an exciting opportunity for volunteers with an interest in archaeology and heritage to get some hands-on experience in the field, especially with rare and important findings like these.”

What was the Neolithic period?

The Neolithic Revolution is commonly understood by archaeologists as the world’s first agricultural revolution.

The period started in Britain between about 5,000 BC and 4,500 BC but spread across Europe from origins in the modern-day Middle East.

The Neolithic period saw the widespread transition of many disparate human cultures from nomadic hunting and gathering practices to ones of farming and building small settlements.

And this era is considered responsible for transforming small groups of nomads into settled communities who constructed villages and even small towns.

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