Neolithic finds reveal snapshot of life from thousands of years ago
PUBLISHED: 12:48 28 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:57 28 June 2018
Archaeologists working in Suffolk on one of Europe's largest ever digs have uncovered a site of "international significance" revealing fresh details of life in the county thousands of years ago.
A team of 70 working at a site near Woodbridge has discovered a rare Neolithic trackway dating back more than 4,000 years to 2300BC.
While carefully unearthing the prehistoric monument – a 30-metre long wooden trackway and platform, along with numerous other features – they also discovered the skull of an Auroch, an extinct species of large wild cattle, which has been carbon dated to circa 4,300 BC.
The skull has been cut in a way that suggests it had potentially been used as a totem – either fixed to a pole or used as some form of headdress.
At the time the trackway was built, the skull was already 2,000 years old, suggesting it was a significant item and had been in use by members of the community for generations.
Substantial numbers of white pebbles, not common in the area, were also found beside the track. The positions in which these items were found suggests that they were deliberately deposited in a way that had significance to the people at the time.
The archaeologists say natural water springs, which are still evident in the area, have created conditions that led to the excellent preservation of organic materials like bone and wood. Initial theories suggest that the springs could also have been the reason the area was chosen as a special place more than 4,000 years ago.
The site – exact details of location are a closely-guarded secret – was one of 50 across Suffolk investigated over the past 18 months along 37km, commissioned by ScottishPower Renewables as part of a project to install underground cables to connect the company’s East Anglia ONE offshore windfarm to the national grid.
Wardell Armstrong was commissioned to oversee the archaeological work programme, working closely with Suffolk County Council. Up to 400 archaeologists have been involved, with a peak on-site workforce of around 250.
At the Neolithic site near Woodbridge, Wardell Armstrong is supervising teams from Archaeological Solutions (Bury St Edmunds), Archaeology Wales and Cotswold Archaeology.
Richard Newman, associate director at Wardell Armstrong, said: “Undoubtedly this is a site of international archaeological significance. It is exceptionally rare to find preserved organic materials from the Neolithic period, and we will learn a great deal from this discovery.
“Some of the wood is so well preserved we can clearly see markings made by an apprentice, before a more experienced tradesman has taken over to complete the job. Initially some of the wooden posts looked like they were maybe one hundred years old, and it is incredible to think that they are over 4,000 years old.”
Kate Batt, of Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, said: “Because organic finds of this age are so rare and vulnerable when exposed, they needed to be kept wet during excavation. The features containing the organic material have been flooded every night and the archaeologists continually sprayed the wood to keep the trackway preserved as they worked.
“The wood and other artefacts have been sent for further analysis, and some of the leading experts on the Neolithic period have already visited to help us build the full picture of activities on the site. Together with some of the other finds over the least two years, we hope that important artefacts can be displayed by local museums following completion of the analysis.
“The entire archaeological archive will be deposited with Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, to ensure that the material remains available for future study.”
Charlie Jordan, East Anglia ONE project Director for ScottishPower Renewables, said: “One of the unanticipated legacies of our windfarm will be a greater understanding of Suffolk’s history. In the last two years our project has been responsible for uncovering artefacts form the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods, but it seems that best has been saved to last.
“We have worked closely with the archaeologists on a daily basis, and we have even made changes to our plans to ensure the site can be fully explored.”
Once fully operational, 102-turbine East Anglia ONE will provide enough energy to power the equivalent of almost 600,000 homes, the majority of households in Suffolk and Norfolk.
The onshore cable route runs between the landfall site at Bawdsey, to a newly constructed substation near Bramford.
Offshore construction started earlier this year, with turbine foundations currently being installed. Towers and blades will be installed in 2019, before the project is fully operational during 2020.
Other major archaeological discoveries in Suffolk have included ...
Sutton Hoo: The site on the banks of the River Deben is one of the most famous in the world following the exploration of 1,400-year-old Anglo-Saxon burial mounds which revealed the tomb of a king – believed to Raedwald – in his 90ft long ship along with a hoard of golden treasure, the richest ever found in Europe.
Village of the Kings: Discovered five years ago at Rendlesham, the site is believed to be where Raedwald had his palace, a high status gathering site which revealed a host of intricate finds showing how people lived and how their crafstmen worked.
Mildenhall Treasure: Now in the British Museum, the hoard found at West Row included 34 stunning pieces of Roman silver tableware dating back to the 4th Century AD. The items, which included a dish weighing more than eight kilogrammes, are said to be the most valuable Roman items ever found in Britain.
Dallinghoo Gold: In 2010 a metal detectorist unearthed more than 800 Iron Age gold coins worth nearly £600,000 in a field.
Hoxne Hoard: Valued at £1.75million at the time, the hoard of 14,865 Roman gold, silver, and bronze coins and around 200 items of silver tableware and gold jewellery from the fourth and fifth centuries were found in 1992 by detectorist Eric Lawes.