Topic: Mesolithic adapted fire
New and exciting evidence has been found at a threatened archaeological site on the Severn Estuary that seems to show Mesolithic people knew how to adapt their environment to suit their needs.
Encouraging specific plants
Researchers from the University of Reading found 7500 year-old worked flint tools, bones, charcoal and hazelnut shells while working at Goldcliff, near Newport, south Wales, in September 2012.
Charcoal remains discovered on the site suggest these people used fire to encourage the growth of particular plants, such as hazelnuts, crab apples and raspberries. This evidence may indicate that Mesolithic people were deliberately manipulating the environment to increase their resources, thousands of years before farming began.
A missing diet
Most evidence for hunter-gatherer diet relates to the meat gained by hunting. This is easier to recognise and study than plant based foodstuffs, due to the greater survival of bone in the archaeological record. The Severn Estuary sites are however exceptional in providing evidence for a wide range of plant resources.
A complete environmental picture
Professor Martin Bell, Head of the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology, who is leading the Severn Estuary project, said: “Previously it was thought that these people were mainly hunting deer and simply responding to the spectacular environmental changes around them, such as sea level rise. Now there is increasing evidence that they were adept at manipulating their environment to increase valued plant resources.
“Combining our finds with the trees, pollen and insects from the area we can build a picture of the environmental relationships of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. These people were highly adaptable and continued using the same site as the environment changed dramatically from old woodland to reedswamp, to saltmarsh and back to fen woodland.”
Ancient footprints in the sand
Over the last two summers researchers from the University of Reading have found Mesolithic footprints at Goldcliff. New finds, including the tracks of animals and birds, are frequently being made in the Severn Estuary.
Professor Bell continued: “The 7500 year old footprint trails show how the activity areas represented by flint tools and bones articulated together as parts of a living prehistoric landscape. The footprints include those made by children, which is extremely exciting as the role of children tends not to be visible in the archaeological record. They show children as young as four were actively engaged in the productive activities of the community.”
Severn Tidal Barrage may impact on unique archaeology
The UK House of Commons Select Committee on Climate Change is once again considering a Severn Tidal Barrage. This scheme would have a major impact on the rich archaeological resource of the Severn Estuary.
“From an archaeological point of view construction of a Severn Tidal Barrage would have very serious consequences alongside the more widely recognised ecological risks to fish, birds and many other organisms,” continued Professor Bell. “The tidal range will be reduced, sites will be permanently submerged, sedimentation will increase in some areas and, as patterns of erosion change, some site, including those with exceptional preservation of organic artefacts, may be rapidly destroyed.”
Jan 14, 2013
Mesolithic foot print