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19 July 2010
Neolithic carvings discovered in Cambridgeshire

A remarkable piece of Neolithic rock art, unlike anything previously found in Eastern England, has been unearthed in the Cambridgeshire village of Over. The hand-sized artefact, which could date back to 2,500 BCE, was found by a participant in a geological weekend course which was being run by the University of Cambridge's Institute for Continuing Education. It consists of a hand-sized slab of weathered sandstone with two pairs of concentric circles etched into the surface - a motif which, according to archaeologists, is typical of 'Grooved Ware' art from the later Neolithic era. This is the first time that any such find has been encountered in Eastern England.
     "It really is a fantastic find. In fact, it's unique in Eastern England, with the nearest comparable example being the similar scratch patterns on a sandstone plaque from a Grooved Ware site in Leicestershire. Otherwise you would have to look to Wessex or Northern Britain and the much more formal Megalithic Art of the period," Dr. Chris Evans, Director of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which operates out of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, said. "The big question in the case of the Over stone is whether we should actually be calling it meaningful art, or if it amounted to no more than Neolithic doodling. Either way it's a great find," he added.
     The stone was found by business language teacher Susie Sinclair, who was taking part in the weekend course led by Dr Peter Sheldon (from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The Open University) at Hanson Aggregates' Needingworth Quarry. "I had not found many fossils when this rock caught my eye. It was just resting against a pile of rocks and the sun was shining onto these two circles. I thought it was a fossilised worm. I picked it up and showed it to our course leader Dr Peter Sheldon who realised it was more significant than a fossilised worm," Ms Sinclair said. "Everyone who has seen it has interpreted it differently. It's a talking point whether it's a piece of art or a meaningless doodle," she added.
     The Cambridge Archaeological Unit has been excavating sites within the quarry for 15 years, partly in an effort to better understand the shape and nature of the landscape in prehistoric times. The remains of several settlement clusters from the late Neolithic period have already been found. The Over stone, however, was hidden in the quarry's spoil, one of the heaps of waste geological materials discarded by quarry workers. Researchers believe it had been deposited within one of the river's ancient palaeochannels crossing the area and that, with the existing information they have about the geographical layout of the region, the point where it was found can be reconstructed with relative ease.
     According to the latest research, at the time the Over stone was being carved, the countryside would have been dominated by the snaking course of the river, its tributary channels and flooding. This would essentially have broken the area up into a delta-like landscape of small islands, channels and marshlands.

Sources: Physorg (16 July 2010), BBC News, Telegraph.co.uk (17 July 2010)

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