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5 October 2011
Unexpected trove of artifacts discovered near Stonehenge

An archeological treasure trove unearthed by a team from the Open University could transform our understanding of Stonehenge. The most significant artifacts uncovered are two carved ducks, the first of their kind to be found in Britain.
The ducks were likely, say the team, to be a result of the Bronze Age tradition of carving animal figurines which were then thrown into water as offerings.
     But while the ducks date back to 700 BCE, a ceremonial dagger was also found which was twice as old, originating around 1400 BCE. However, another item which the team of diggers initially believed was a cow's tooth was revealed by radiocarbon dating to date back to around 6250 BCE, some 3,000 years before work began on Stonehenge. It was part of a tranche of more than 200 animal bones that were buried alongside evidence of a large fire, suggesting a Mesolithic feast for up to 100 people. The bones transpired not to be from cows but instead from aurochs, a now extinct animal about the size of a buffalo.
     "It's probably one the earliest recorded hot meals in Britain, with these people likely cooking this huge creature," Open University tutor David Jacques, who led the field work, said. Further excavations revealed a hoarde of more than 5,500 worked flints and tools. Given that only a few Mesolithic items had ever previously been found around Stonehenge, the discovery is strong evidence of the continuity of human life at the site. That means Stonehenge could have been a site of great significance to humans for several thousand years before the monument was built.
     "It's not a surprise because we new there was a Mesolithic monument there somewhere, because of the (totem) posts that were found during the excavation of the car park some years ago," said Mr Jacques. "The massive missing link between those two things has been that there is no evidence of people using them until now," he added.
     Mr David Jacques, who runs a course on Roman History, used his OU students to excavate a site north east of the Iron Age hill fort known as Vespasian's Camp. Digging down into the bed of a former spring revealed the trove of artifacts. The team began its excavations at the privately owned land in 2005 and has relied on council and English Heritage funding. It is now hoping to attract more funds to support its work.

Edited from Mail Online, Salisbury Journal (4 October 2011)

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