|12 September 2003
Stone Age settlements found underwater in Britain
Archaeologists have stumbled across the first underwater evidence of Stone Age settlements in Britain. A team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England say they found flint artifacts including tools and arrowheads eight metres (26ft) under the North sea, off the coast near Tynemouth during a training session to prepare them for dive searches elsewhere.
They say the items pinpoint two sites: one dates back to the late Mesolithic period, about 8,000 years ago; the other, found further out to sea at the end of a long, rocky outcrop which would once have been a cliff face, is thought to be even older - possibly as old as 10,000 years. Both settlements would once have been on dry land but have been gradually submerged as the sea rose at the end of the Ice Age. The precise location of the sites is being withheld for their protection.
Dr. Penny Spikins, the archaeologist leading the team, said she had originally applied for funding to search for this type of site in Scotland and had been amazed to find the items lying undisturbed on the sea bed near such a built-up area. "I was learning to scuba dive and was in the middle of a training session in the sea, when I noticed a lot of pieces of flint beneath me, on the sea bed." she said. "These sites are set to provide us with a unique opportunity to begin to understand early Mesolithic coastal occupation," Spikins said.
David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage, hailed the discovery as "tremendously exciting", mainly because it is only the second such Mesolithic settlement to be discovered in the UK (the very first one has been discovered in the Solent near Southampton). "We know that there is a prehistoric Atlantis beneath the North sea, where an area equal to the size of Britain attached us to the continent. This discovery gives us a stepping stone into this unknown world." he added.
Although a fishing boat picked up a Mesolithic antler harpoon in the North sea early in the last century, experts believe the new findings could lead to significant further discoveries. Similar sites uncovered in the Danish North Sea have yielded a rich seam of artefacts; among the discoveries were preserved canoes, decorated paddles and even the remains of entire houses.
Sources: Reuters, BBC News (11 September 2003), The Guardian, The Independent, The Scotsman, Telegraph.co.uk News, This is the North East (12 September2003)
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