Bones of cattle twice the size of bulls and pink flints which change colour have led the way to an archaeological breakthrough in Amesbury
Giant bull, wild boar and red deer bones left at a settlement a mile from Stonehenge prove that Amesbury is the oldest settlement in Britain and has been continually occupied since 8820 BC, according to archaeologists who say the giant monuments were built by indigenous hunters and homemakers rather than Neolithic new builders.
© Courtesy University of Buckingham
Carbon dating of aurochs – a breed twice the size of bulls – predates the settlers responsible for the massive pine posts at Stonehenge, suggesting that people had first lived in Wiltshire around 3,000 years before the site was created in 3000 BC. Experts had previously thought the stones had been the work of European immigrants.
© University of Buckingham
“The site blows the lid off the Neolithic Revolution in a number of ways,” said David Jacques, from the University of Buckingham, who led the dig at Vespasian’s Camp in the open basin of Blick Mead.
“It provides evidence for people staying put, clearing land, building and, presumably, worshipping monuments.
“The area was clearly a hub point for people to come to from many miles away, and in many ways was a forerunner for what later went on at Stonehenge itself.
“The first monuments at Stonehenge were built by these people.
"For years people have been asking 'why is Stonehenge where it is?' Now, at last, we have found the answers.”
Land clearing had been considered part of the farming culture introduced by continental Neolithic immigrants during the 5th millennium. The finds date clearances around an area of the spring to between 7500 and 4600 BC, when Mesolithic culture had been seen as nomadic.
“In effect, Blick Mead was the very first Stonehenge Visitor Centre, up and running in the 8th millennium BC,” said Jacques.
© University of Buckingham
“The River Avon would have been the ‘A’ Road – people would have come down on their log boats.
“They would have had the equivalent of tour guides and there would have been feasting.
"We have found remains of big game animals, such as aurochs and red deer, and an enormous amount of burnt flint from their feasting fires. There’s also evidence for a multi-cultural population at the site.”
Around 31,000 Mesolithic worked flints were found in a 16-square metre during excavations lasting little more than a month.
“Tool types suggest people were coming to it from far to the west of Stonehenge and from the east,” added Jacques. “Another possible reason why people were attracted to the area was the striking bright pink colouring of the flint, which isn’t that colour anywhere else in the country.
“The colouring is caused by algae - Hildenbrandia rivularis - and it is due to a combination of dappled light and the unusually warm spring water in the area.
“It’s unique to have people of that time come from so many different faraway places. The site and the Stonehenge areas were very well-known places to visit for a very long time – the London of the Mesolithic.”
Professor David John, of the Natural History Museum, said that the constant spring water temperature at the site would have been between 10 and 14 degrees, giving the flint its pink tinge once it had been removed from the stream for several hours.
“It is a rather magical effect now,” said Jacques. “It may well have been seen so back then.”
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
More from Culture24's Archaeology section:
Digging for victory: April 2014's top ten archaeology discoveries
Tree root beneath tomb, reused gravestones and Victorian alterations found at York chapel
Archaeologists find 'lost' medieval village full of pottery, coins and bones in Scottish Borders