In what archaeologists are calling the missing link to Stonehenge, the world’s first “eco” home, and the oldest settlement yet found in the prehistoric monument landscape has been discovered. Built from the roots of a fallen tree, the “environmentally sensitive” dwelling is shaking up previously held notions about Mesolithic people, challenging the idea that they were nomadic, and effectively rewriting British history.
David Jacques, archaeology project director at the University of Buckingham said the find is “tremendously important.” Jacques has been leading excavations and research at the Blick Mead (also called Vespasian's Camp) site at Amesbury, Wiltshire, since 2005.
The discovery places these early people in the “important prehistoric landscape at the dawn of the Neolithic period, when Mesolithic people were thought to have been wiped out, and raises the question of whether they were the forefathers of those who built Stonehenge,” reports Belfast Telegraph.
"This is a key site for where Britain began,” said Jacques in a University of Buckingham press release.
The iconic Stonehenge at Whiltshire, UK. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Prehistoric Environmental “Eco House”: Back to their RootsResearchers unearthed the remains of the dwelling which was built out of the root system of a fallen tree. The living area was built into a nine foot (2.7 meter) wide hollow in the tree.
The house is said to have been “environmentally sensitive”, making use of the natural features of the location, and appears to be like nothing else found at Stonehenge so far.
Roots of a fallen tree served as a wall to the hollowed-out dwelling. Credit: University of Buckingham/PAThe press release describes the home:
“Our green ancestors used the giant base – around 9 meters – of a large tree which had fallen to make into the wall of their house. The earthy wooden wall had been lined with flints and the huge, roughly 3 meter pit left by the tree being unearthed had been lined with cobbles by the resourceful people, using stones flung up by the roots of the tree, when it was felled. It then appears to have been roofed with animal skin and had a stone hearth close by. Other indications that our precursors were eco-friendly long before we ever imagined are the presence of a number of large stones placed near the building’s wall which may have been primitive ‘storage heaters’ – warmed by a fire and placed close to where people slept instead of keeping a fire burning all night.”Stones had also been brought in from far-flung locations and placed around the dwelling as decoration or mementos.
The hunter-gatherers showed a level of sophistication not before seen with their home.
“Rather than seeing these people as making do with anything nature happens to throw up, a better way is that, environmentally, they are amazingly well attuned and have a skillful and sophisticated understanding of the landscape. They are adapting themselves around it,” Jacques said, according to The Guardian.The site has the potential to spur a shift in thinking. “It is suggesting that Stonehenge has got a back story and we have found a missing link to it,” said Jacques.
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Development Danger and Rescue ArchaeologyThis crucial discovery may be under threat if plans for a tunnel for the A303 road go ahead.
The controversial government-backed tunnel would be 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) long, and run within 65 feet (20 meters) of the dwelling. Archaeologists fear this may not only damage the discovered site, but obliterate other buried secrets of the ancient people who lived in the area.
In a bid to prevent the loss of history, Jacques is advocating that the road be rerouted and the entire Stonehenge area be made into a national park.
The government proposed the tunnel in 2014 to deal with congestion on the A303, and to direct the roadway away from Stonehenge—a move said to keep traffic pollution away from the ancient site, but also so as to block the view from the passing public.
A303 passing close to Stonehenge. (CC BY-SA 2.0)Officials from UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and sites visited the Eco House site in Blick Mead this week. There are many historical and preservation groups which support the tunnel development. The Guardian reports that Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage released a joint statement that they await further information on the tunnel plans and are confident the importance of the Eco House will be taken into consideration.
So-called “rescue archaeology” will be done on endangered sites and in the trenches of tunnel construction in a race to remove and archive as many artifacts as possible.
Photo showing a carriage and cart path passed close by to Stonehenge in 1885. (Public Domain)
Blick Mead, Unique Prehistoric HillfortAccording to the University of Buckingham, Blick Mead was built on a hill not far from the eventual site of Stonehenge. The hillfort was first built up during the late Bronze age (1100 BC – 800 BC), and is unique in that it has an unusual shape, looking like an arrowhead when seen from above.
It was later dubbed “Vespasian's Camp” in the incorrect belief it was an ancient Roman settlement.
Amesbury, Wiltshire North bank of Blick Mead (Vespasian's Camp). (Public Domain)
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A scene of continuous use for nearly 3,000 years, it’s believed Blick Mead may have been a place for the butchering of aurochs and a site of huge ritual feasts, as well as a tool making center.
According to Belfast Telegraph, Jacques is pressing for preservation of the crucial site, saying: “We already know it's the longest used Mesolithic site in the whole of Europe and that the earliest monuments at Stonehenge were Mesolithic.
“How much else is there out there? These are the earliest British stories, covering the time from the point where it wasn't an island to becoming an island.
“They're our stories, and they shouldn't be being squandered.”
Video:David Jacques and the excavations at Blick Mead near Stonehenge (2013)
By: Liz Leafloor