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13 December 2013
Neolithic wooden tridents on display in Cumbria

Carlisle's Tullie House museum (England) has been donated two very rare Neolithic wooden tridents by Cumbria County Council, and is putting them on display for the public to give their theories on what they were used for.
     Only four other similar tridents exist in the UK. Nearly identical finds were made in Cumbria and Northern Ireland around 200 years ago. All show a proficiency in woodworking suggesting they were made for a purpose. Theories including fishing, hunting or agricultural use, however they do not appear suited for digging or fishing, and no wear is evident on the tines or elsewhere.
     The two recent finds have been carbon dated between 5,900 and 5,400 years ago, when people were first starting to farm in Cumbria. They measure over two metres in length, and were expertly crafted from a single plank of oak split from a tree around 300 years old.
     They were associated with a multi-period prehistoric site - an island between two ancient river channels, which also yielded a large assemblage of finds dating predominantly from the very end of the Mesolithic and into the Neolithic.
     Finds of worked wood and stone within the channels indicate various phases of human activity from from around 5,500 BCE onwards. Other tools were also recovered, such as leaf-shaped points and polished stone pieces usually considered to be later in date. One possible conclusion is that the site is transitional, encompassing the Mesolithic-Neolithic continuum.
     Subsequently, a Neolithic phase starting in the early part of the fourth millennium BCE comprised the construction of a wooden platform and other structures in a channel and the accidental or deliberate deposition of various wooden and stone artefacts. This included the two large wooden tridents, several polished axeheads and fragments of stones for polishing stone axeheads.
     Burnt mounds, a sauna type structure, fish traps, and medieval exploitation of the river continue to show the area's importance over thousands of years.

Edited from The Westmoreland Gazette (3 December 2013), Past Horizons (6 December 2013)

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