Hunter-gatherer Settlement 10,500 Years Old Discovered in Britain

Archaeologists excavating near Scarborough in North Yorkshire, Britain, have uncovered the remains of a small settlement — including bone, antler and stone tools and weapons, the bones of animals, and traces of woodworking — inhabited by groups of hunter-gatherers around 10,500 years ago.

A barbed antler point found at the Mesolithic site near Scarborough in North Yorkshire, Britain. Image credit: University of Chester / University of Manchester.

A barbed antler point found at the Mesolithic site near Scarborough in North Yorkshire, Britain. Image credit: University of Chester / University of Manchester.

The newly-discovered settlement originally lay on the shore of an island in an ancient lake and dates to the Mesolithic period.

Over thousands of years, the lake slowly filled in with thick deposits of peat, which gradually buried and preserved the site.

“It is so rare to find material this old in such good condition,” said University of Manchester archaeologist Nick Overton.

“The Mesolithic in Britain was before the introduction of pottery or metals, so finding organic remains like bone, antler and wood, which are usually not preserved, are incredibly important in helping us to reconstruct peoples’ lives.”

The animal bones found at the site show that people were hunting a wide range of mammals in a number of different habitats around the lake, including large mammals such as elk and red deer, smaller mammals such as beavers, and water birds.

The bodies of hunted animals were butchered and parts of them were intentionally deposited into the wetlands at the island site.

The archaeologists also discovered that some of the hunting weapons made of animal bone and antler had been decorated, and had been taken apart before being deposited on the island’s shore.

This shows that Mesolithic people had strict rules about how the remains of animals and objects used to kill them were disposed of.

“People often think of prehistoric hunter-gatherers as living on the edge of starvation, moving from place to place in an endless search for food, and that it was only with the introduction of farming that humans lived a more settled and stable lifestyle,” said University of Chester archaeologist Amy Gray Jones.

“But here we have people inhabiting a rich network of sites and habitats, taking the time to decorate objects, and taking care over the ways they disposed of animal remains and important artifacts. These aren’t people that were struggling to survive.”

“They were people confident in their understanding of this landscape, and of the behaviors and habitats of different animal species that lived there.”

“We know from research carried out at other sites around the lake, that these human communities were deliberately managing and manipulating wild plant communities,” said University of Chester archaeologist Barry Taylor.

“As we do more work on this site, we hope to show in more detail how humans were altering the composition of this environment thousands of years before the introduction of agriculture into Britain.”

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