York archaeologists unearth Britain’s oldest dwelling

York Archaeology Professor Dr Nicky Milner works on the Starr Carr site. Photo credit: The Guardian

York Archaeology Professor Dr Nicky Milner works on the Starr Carr site. Photo credit: The Guardian

Archaeologists from the University of York have unearthed Britain’s oldest house, dating back 11,500 years.

The house pre-dates the dwelling previously thought to be Britain’s oldest in Horwick, Northumberland, by over 500 years.

The University of York’s Dr Nicky Milner has been working conjointly at the Starr Carr site, situated near Scarborough, with a team from the University of Manchester, since 2004. The house was first excavated by the teams two years ago, and subsequent carbon dating and analysis of hundreds of scattered flint tools have revealed the building stood in 8,500BC, when Britain was still part of continental Europe.

Dr Milner called this a “sensational discovery” which “tells us so much 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”.

She continued: “We’ve excavated a trench all round it and there was nothing adjoining. But we are sure that there were other houses here. We sank our trench in just one small part of a large area covered with flint tools. It’s inconceivable that we’d have struck lucky and found the only house.”

Found in North Yorkshire, the house is 3.5 metres wide and of a circular structure. According to the archaeologists, the site was occupied by hunter gatherers from just after the last ice age, for a period of between 200 and 500 years.

Though the Starr Carr site was well known by archaeologists internationally, the teams had not expected to unearth findings of such huge historical importance.

“This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last ice age,” said Dr Chantal Conneller of Manchester University.

“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.”

The team said they are now excavating a large wooden platform, on the shore of the post ice-age lake, which is thought to be the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe. English Heritage have also announced that they are to declare the sight a national monument.

David Willetts, the Universities and Science Minister, commented on the findings: “This exciting discovery marries world-class research with the lives of our ancestors.

“It brings out the similarities and differences between modern life and the ancient past in a fascinating way, and will change our perceptions for ever. I congratulate the research team and look forward to their future discoveries.”

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