Archaeologists have unearthed a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer settlement in England. It is estimated that the remains date back to about 10,500 years ago.
The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from the University of Chester and the University of Manchester at a site near Scarborough in North Yorkshire. By examining the remains, archaeologists determined that the site was about 10,500 years old. That’s only about 800 years after the Last Glacial Period ended in England.
During the Last Glacial Maximum, two-thirds of Britain was covered by glaciers. The ice sheet, which advanced to the North Yorkshire coast 27,000 years ago, left Britain completely about 11,300 years ago.1
Archaeologists uncovered many animal bones, tools, antlers, hunting weapons and wooden materials during their excavations in the site. Additionally, they noted that the remains were surprisingly well preserved. Because the settlement was located on the shore of an island in an ancient lake when it was occupied by hunter-gatherers. Over time, this settlement was covered with thick deposits of peat that served as a protective shield. Thus, the remains have survived for more than 10,000 years.
Nicholas Overton, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester, said organic material this old and well preserved is rarely found.
The remains unearthed at the site also contain clues to the social structure and lifestyle of Mesolithic groups in Britain. The animal bones found indicate that the people in the area mostly hunted elks, red deers, beavers and water birds. Also, some antler remains show that people took the time to decorate them.
They Were Not People Struggling to Survive
Amy Gray Jones, an archaeologist at the University of Chester, thinks that these hunter-gatherers, unlike many Mesolithic groups, were not people struggling to survive.
People there lived in a resource-rich environment, took time to decorate objects such as antlers and bones, and took care in the way they disposed of animal remains.
Britain in the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic
Britain, previously occupied by Homo antecessor(?), Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis, was connected to continental Europe in the Paleolithic period by a region called Doggerland.
About 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens reached Britain through this region. However, it is estimated that the occupation was not permanent. That’s because there is no evidence of human habitation during the Last Glacial Maximum.
The Mesolithic peoples’ permanent occupation of Britain began about 11,000 years ago.2 With the retreat of the ice sheet, people reached as far north of Scotland.
The warming of the climate led to the spread of trees such as hazel, birch and oak across Britain. With the spread of woodlands, the numbers of red deer, elk, and pigs increased.
Rising sea levels due to melting glaciers caused Doggerland to be submerged around 6500 BC and Britain separated from continental Europe.
- “The LGM British-Irish Ice Sheet: an introduction“, Andy EMERY, AntarcticGlaciers.org, August 12, 2020^
- “Early Humans”, Nicholas ASHTON, ISBN: 9780008150358^