Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Mesolithic long distance journey with pet dog

Prehistoric man’s best friend was a dog, it seems – evidence of the earliest journey in British history has been uncovered and a pet dog came along for the gruelling 250-mile trip from York to Stonehenge. It is the first clear evidence showing Mesolithic people were travelling long distances – and with pets – thought to be an alsatian in this case, 7,000 years ago.

Crucially, this reveals that what came before Stonehenge was every bit as important as the monument itself as the journey adds to evidence from the excavation site of people coming to Stonehenge 2,000 years before it was built. The site, Blick Mead, a mile from Stonehenge, is under threat. The Government plans a £2billion tunnel around 100 metres away which would critically alter the water table making it impossible to dig up further bones and other organic material because it would rot due to lack of water.

Important Mesolithic site

University of Buckingham senior research fellow, archaeologist David Jacques, has dug up a dog’s tooth from Blick Mead, which has already yielded the most important Mesolithic finds in the whole of the World Heritage Site that includes the monument. Just over 35,000 flints were found there, the first evidence that man feasted on frogs’ legs (burnt bones), a house made out of an upturned tree, and the area is the longest continuously occupied in Britain in prehistoric times indicating that the site was of paramount importance in the Mesolithic era. Mr Jacques ran all the digs.

Isotope analysis of the tooth by Durham University reveals the geographical location of the water the dog drank and shows that this was likely to have been from the York area. Professor Peter Rowley-Conwy, of Durham University, said: “The findings reveal that the dog would have been roughly the size, shape and possible colour of an alsatian.”

David Jacques said: “The fact that a dog and a group of people were coming to the area from such a long distance away further underlines just how important the place was four millennia before the circle was built. Discoveries like this give us a completely new understanding of the establishment of the ritual landscape and make Stonehenge even more special than we thought we knew it was. It would be devastating if the tunnel obliterated our chance of piecing together the jigsaw to explain why Stonehenge was built.”

Prestige pet

At that time prehistoric people were starting to tame dogs and have them as pets. The alsatian would’ve been a prized prestige pet and may even have been brought to Stonehenge to exchange, in the way pedigree dogs are bought and sold. Bones recovered from Blick Mead indicate that the dog would’ve feasted on salmon, trout, pike, wild pig and red deer.

A slate tool from Wales has been found at the site, revealing people travelled a long way. Stone tools from the Midlands and the West of England have also been found. People met to exchange ideas and new technology. As the Ice Age had just ended one of the attractions of Blick Mead would’ve been a natural spring, in which the only puce stones in the country can be found due to unique algae which change the colour of the stone due to the warm water. It would’ve been relatively easy to reach because the nearby River Avon was the M1 of its time – a major route used by people travelling on logs from all over the country because it was a rich hunting ground. Large numbers of deer and aurochs – extinct massive prehistoric cattle – grazed there. Burnt stones, wood and aurochs bones from the site indicate that it was popular for feasting, an important ritual activity.

2016. “Mesolithic long distance journey with pet dog”. Past Horizons. Posted: October 7, 2016. Available online:

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