Photo: field walkers from Wessex Archaeology covered a 90-hectare area in three weeks in search of ancient artefacts. Photo: Elaine Wakefield. © Wessex Archaeology.
Archaeologists have discovered a 5000-year-old polished stone axe head during an investigation of an area that forms part of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
Dating back to the Neolithic Age - 3000 to 2500 BC - the axe head was found, along with a leaf-shaped arrowhead, during a three-week field walk of farmland by Wessex Archaeology.
Covering a 90-hectare area, the farmland is situated within a kilometre of both the Stonehenge monument and the stone circle at Avebury.
Tony Trueman of Wessex Archaeology told the 24 Hour Museum the exercise was part of a project to improve the conservation of the area by turning ploughed land into grassland pasture.
"The general point is not to plough up land so close to such important remains, because it damages them," said Tony.
Photo: the Stonehenge World Heritage Site has an unusually high concentration of prehistoric remains. © English Heritage.
Explaining that the conversion to pasture gave archaeologists the chance to look for artefacts turned up by the plough, Tony added that there was only a short window of opportunity.
"After a while the grass gets too high to see anything, so we have to catch the moment before it gets too long."
With its unusual concentration of prehistoric remains, the landscape around Stonehenge is continuously yielding fascinating artefacts.
Although the axe head has not been used, tools of its type would normally have had a wooden shaft and would have been put to work cutting down trees.
Photo: tools similar to the axe head would have been put to work chopping down trees to clear land for pasture. Photo: Elaine Wakefield. © Wessex Archaeology.
"The axe head is a very interesting find," explained Andy Crockett, Wessex Archaeology Project Manager, "because it relates to a period in our past when farmers first started to chop down trees to start growing crops and keeping livestock."
Nowadays, farmers are provided with a special grant by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to change the use of land in archaeologically rich areas.
The scheme is also intended to improve the ecology of the area by providing extended chalk grass habitats for birds, insects and wild flowers.
"These projects are a major step towards the long-term conservation of the Stonehenge landscape," added Isabelle Bedu, Stonehenge World Heritage Site Co-ordinator.
For more information on this and other top stories click on this link to visit the Wessex Archaeology website.