Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ancient Weapons Dug Up in England

Staff at the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) have been excited by the results from a recently excavated major Prehistoric site at Asfordby, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The Mesolithic site may date from as early as 9000 BC, by which time hunter-gatherers had reoccupied the region after the last ice age. These hunters crossed the land bridge from the continental mainland -- 'Britain' was only to become an island several thousand years later.

The site was excavated during 2009 by ULAS in advance of a residential development for Jelson Homes Ltd. Initial trenching work identified several worked flint blades of characteristic Mesolithic type, and clearly in an unworn and undisturbed state. Further work confirmed that these rare flint finds were preserved in a Mesolithic soil, buried by a much later ploughsoil. Because this early soil had survived intact, it was thought possible that original features such as hearths and structures might still remain, and activities linked to the flint scatter could also be found.

Excavation targeted an area just ten metres square, where the limits of the flint scatter had been identified from test results. Within this small area, a charcoal rich former hearth was found, and also several postholes and arcs of stones that may show the position of tent-like structures. Burnt animal bone and further charcoal chips were also found indicating cooking activities. The site is probably located where it is at least partly because the local soils have natural flint chunks or 'nodules' that could have been used for flintworking. Also, the site would have been a shallow valley in Mesolithic times, and sheltered from the elements.

As important as this evidence was however, the worked flint from site was what really made the excavations significant. Over 5000 worked flints came from this small area, including flint cores used for tool creation, blades, flakes and 'debitage' (small chips from tool-working), and scrapers, piercers and microlith tools with the latter being used in composite arrowheads. The Mesolithic people were occupying this site making and repairing broken flint weapons and tools on a large scale. Some of the microlith projectile points have impact fractures indicating that they had been used in arrowheads which had then been collected and reused. These tasks would have been carried out as part of a range of activities associated with their hunting expeditions.

Further work on the finds from this regionally unique site is still to be carried out at the University of Leicester. The finds -- worked flint, animal bone and charcoal, will allow archaeologists to identify the flintworking processes and other tasks carried out, the different animals that were hunted, and the environment at the time of the Mesolithic hunters.

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