More than 80 Stone Age tools have been unearthed at a farm in Dartmoor in the U.K. Experts believe these tools may be 8,000 years old, made by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
The site, located near the village of Lustleigh, has been visited several times before, although never in this exact location.
“Each year we’ve found lithics at the site (lithics are chipped flint tools and the waste products of the manufacturing process) […] and each year our excitement grows as to how much more information the site will yield,” Emma Stockley, a Ph.D. researcher at the University of Leicester in the U.K., told Newsweek. “The type of site is known as a ‘lithic scatter‘, basically, an area of worked stone tools and the waste products of the knapping (making) process.”
Based on previous findings and predictive models, the researchers settled on the farmland location. “Within minutes of removing the turf from the test-pits, lithics were being found,” Stockley said.
Often, these ancient tools are not easy to spot. “You need extremely beady eyes,” Stockley said. “I think our smallest lithic found last week was only a few millimeters in diameter—spotted by an eagle-eyed student who was volunteering with us for the first time.”
Carved flints like this made up the majority of man-made tools during the middle Stone Age, also known as the Mesolithic period. “Flint is shaped into tools by hammers of pebble and antler and the tools would have included arrows for hunting with bows in the dense woodland and adzes (similar to an axe but not quite!) for working with wood,” Stockley said.
“Flint is an incredible substance for making tools. The particles are packed very tightly together, meaning that when a blow is applied, the break is predictable and the edge very sharp—making it a perfect substance for tool manufacture. The type of hammer used (pebble or antler) together with the force and angle of the blow, determines the nature and shape of the piece of flint that is removed. In this way, different tools can be made.”
Among other things, these flints would have been used to hunt down animals, which may explain why so many can be found at this particular site.
“It’s hard to say exactly what the site’s immediate environment would have been like,” Stockley said. “I like to imagine that the site was located in a small clearing within the woods, with far reaching views towards the valleys below. It would have been a perfect position within the landscape to keep watch for migrating herds.
“Perhaps small groups of men, women and children, dressed in furs and garments of leather and woven grasses sat in small groups around several fires, telling stories, making tools, discussing the anticipated migrations.”
The expansive Dartmoor moorlands would have also looked very different. “If we could travel back in time, we would instead find ourselves in dense birch woodland, with occasional stands of scented pine trees,” Stockley said. “There would have been openings in the tree cover around the heads of springs and also at the very tops of Dartmoor’s tors. These are places where grazing animals would have congregated – and would have been very appealing places to Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who survived by hunting prey such as red deer. “
Stockley hopes that the predictive models that have been built for this project will help inform future research into the Middle Stone Age.
“Through my research (of which this site forms part) I have been working to predict where these types of sites might be located on Dartmoor (using predictive modeling as mentioned above),” Stockley said. “This is so that we can protect these sites, and the fragile traces of Dartmoor’s earliest occupants.”