Stone Age Camp Fire Could Be Britain's Earliest Say Archaeologists

by Corinne Field | 06 October 2003
Shows a photograph of a hand holding a neolithic flint hand axe

Photo: Palaeolithic cutlery! Around 44 flint hand axes used to split carcasses were unearthed at the site. © Ken Whittaker.

Evidence of what could be one of the earliest fires in Europe has been discovered in Wiltshire.

Charcoal deposits that archaeologists believe date back 275,000 years were discovered during an archaeological investigation near Salisbury last winter.

The report of the findings has just been published and provides evidence of one of the earliest Stone Age camps ever found.

"The presence of charcoal at the site suggests people there made fires – this would seem natural when it is known that the climate was cold and damp at the time. It could be the earliest evidence of such fires in Britain and probably Europe", says Helena Cave Penny, county archaeologist for Salisbury district.

The ancient camp was found during an investigation of the proposed route for the Harnham Relief Road, one mile south of Salisbury on South Wiltshire’s chalklands.

Roy Canham, Wiltshire’s county archaeologist, says the archaeological content and potential for new discoveries on the chalklands is high so he pushed hard for an evaluation.

Shows a photograph of man carrying out excavation in a trench and in the foreground there is a pile of some of the flint axes they have found

Photo: 44 flint axes, animal bones and charcoal dating back some 275,000 years were found at the site. © Ken Whittaker.

RPS, specialist consultants employed by the road designers to give environmental advice, carried out the evaluation, a combination of geophysics and excavation.

According to Canham, the geophysics showed nothing of significance but flints found on the surface meant the site warranted further investigation.

Excavation uncovered animal bones and 44 flint hand axes, the earliest tool used by man probably to divide animal carcasses.

Archaeologists believe the site would have been used as a seasonal riverside camp by hunters who lived in early Stone Age Britain.

"These finds appear to be of national significance. This is a very exciting discovery that has helped our understanding of the period", says Helena Cave Penny.

The archaeological report can be inspected at Salisbury Reference Library. The finds will be catalogued and many will be put on display in Salisbury Museum.

"The museum does have a collection of similar finds”, says Roy Canham, “but with no explanation or context about the environments and deposits in which they were found. This should be a very interesting contribution to the Salisbury collection."

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