6,000 Years Older than Stonehenge: Oldest house in Britain discovered to be 11,500 years old
It’s small, bulky, and unlikely to win architectural awards. But according to archaeologists, this wooden hut is one of the most important British buildings ever designed.
As our artists were impressed, the newly discovered circular structure is the country’s oldest known house. Built more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge, it provided shelter from the icy winds and storms that battered the nomadic hunters who roamed England at the end of the last ice age.
The remains of the 11ft-wide building, discovered near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, date back to at least 8,500 BC. It is located next to an ancient lake and close to the ruins of a wooden riverbank.
Dr Chantal Conneller, from the University of Manchester, said it was between 500 and 1,000 years older than the previous record, a building found at Howick, Northumberland.
‘This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last ice age,’ she said. ‘We used to think they moved around a lot and left little evidence.
‘Now we know they built large structures and were very attached to particular places in the landscape.’
None of the wood used to make the building has survived. Instead, archaeologists found the tell-tale signs of 18 timber posts, arranged in a circle. The centre of the structure had been hollowed out and filled with organic material.
Researchers believe the floor was once carpeted with a layer of reeds, moss or grass and may have once had a fireplace. Dr Conneller said the hut has been in use for at least 200 to 500 years – and may have been abandoned for a long time.
‘We don’t know much about it and we don’t know what it was used for,’ she said. ‘It might have been a domestic structure, although you could only fit three or four people in it. It could have been a form of ritual structure because there is evidence of ritual activity on the site.’
Previous archaeological digs have unearthed head-dresses made from deer skulls close to the hut, along with remains of flints, the paddle of a boat, antler tools, fish hooks and beads.
The researchers also found a large wooden pedestal next to the ancient – and long-disappeared – lake at Star Carr. It is made from sawn and hewn wood.
The foundation, which may have been a jetty, is the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe. At that time, Britain was connected to the rest of Europe. The hut occupants were nomads who migrated from an area that is now under the North Sea to hunt deer, elk, wild boar, elk, and wild cattle.
Dr Nicky Milner, from the University of York, said: “This is a sensational discovery and tells us a lot about the people who lived at this time.
‘From this excavation, we gain a vivid picture of how these people lived. For example, it looks like the house may have been rebuilt at various stages.
‘It is also likely there was more than one house and lots of people lived here. And the artefacts of antler, particularly the antler headdresses, are intriguing, as they suggest ritual activities.’
Although England has been visited by hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, it was only at the end of the last ice age, when the last glaciers withdrew from Scotland, that the country was permanently occupied.
Thousands of miles away, in the ‘Featured Crescent’ of Mesopotamia, the earliest farmers learned to sow seeds and tame animals in a discovery that would transform the world – and herald the ages of the village, script and civilization.
But in Northern Europe, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that served prehistoric humans for millennia remains unchallenged.