Dozens of discovered prehistoric pits excited archaeologists


To the surprise of archaeologists, a prehistoric settlement with 25 monumental pits has been discovered in Bedfordshire, writes The Guardian. Found at Linmer, they date back to the Mesolithic period, 12,000 to 6,000 years ago, a time from which little is known about the lives of prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

The pits could offer completely new ideas, the scientists say. They are arranged in a row and grouped around the former stream bed, which suggests their sacred meaning.

The scale of this place is such that there are more such holes in one territory than anywhere else in England and Wales, including Stonehenge. Radiocarbon analysis has shown that they are between 7,700 and 8,500 years old.

Archaeologists from the Archaeological Museum of London (Mola), who are conducting the study, said: “This date makes this site incredibly significant because there are very few Mesolithic sites in the UK that are so significant. Evidence from this period is often scarce and consists only of flint tools and rare butchered animal remains.”

Professor Joshua Pollard, an expert at the University of Southampton who has worked on major landscape projects at Stonehenge and Avebury, described the discovery as very exciting.

He said: “While we know of other large and mysterious pits dug by hunter-gatherers from other parts of Britain, including at Stonehenge, the Linmer pits are striking in their number and the vast area they cover.”

Digging such huge holes would be an extraordinary feat. Each of them has a width of up to 5 meters and a depth of 1.85 meters, a rounded shape with steep sides, some expand to a wider base.

The site was surveyed as part of two separate development projects. Albion archaeologists were working in one area, while the Archaeological Museum of London was excavating in another. Inside some of the pits, archaeologists have unearthed animal bones, which are “the most important source of evidence.” Among them are the remains of a bison, a wild type of cattle, indicating that people fed on them.

Yvonne Wolframm-Murray, project manager at Mola, said the discovery was completely unexpected: “We knew there was archeology, but we didn’t initially know we had Mesolithic pits until radiocarbon dates were obtained. It’s very exciting… There are only a handful of known other pit sites that are comparable, of course, in terms of numbers.”

Archaeologists have wondered if the pits were used for hunting or food storage, but they believe their shape and size make such theories unlikely. They are amazed at how the pits were built in several straight lines up to 500 meters long. While there are other Mesolithic pits dug into slopes in Britain, the Lynmer slopes appear to be associated with former stream beds.

Archaeologists suggest that the effort expended on the construction of these pits, their location and proximity to water, have some kind of spiritual or other special significance. For example, they could mark an important place in the landscape. Archaeologists are studying whether these pits are associated with any major celestial events such as the solstice.

Yvonne Wolframm-Murray says: “During the Mesolithic period, the ice sheets covering much of the country retreated and sea levels rose, cutting Britain off from mainland Europe. This was a pivotal time of transformation in Britain’s past, and studying the site where humans left such a mark on the landscape could have a far-reaching impact on how archaeologists understand these ancient communities.”

It is possible that other holes have yet to be found in the area. Archaeologists analyze finds and evidence in the laboratory. They hope to find out if all the holes were dug and used at the same time, and learn more about the plants growing nearby. Scientists have already identified traces of oak, hazel and pine and are studying pollen from the Mesolithic period.

Wolfram-Murray notes: “This work will reveal the environment in which these people lived, and hopefully answer the question “what were these pits for?”

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