An international team led by archaeologists at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has discovered the earliest human remains ever found in north Wales.
A human bone and a pearl shell bead found at Heaning Wood Bone Cave have been analyzed and dated to around 11,000 years old.
Rick Peterson and Ph.D. Student Keziah Warburton has examined the human remains and prehistoric artefacts excavated by local archaeologist Martin Stables in Great Urswick Cumbria.
Dr Peterson, Reader in Archaeology, said: “This is an amazing find! We are delighted to confirm that Martin’s incredible find is around 11,000 years old and gives us clear evidence of Mesolithic burials in the north. is exciting as these are some of the earliest dates for human activity in Britain after the end of the last Ice Age.”
The enthusiast has been excavating the site since 2016 and has found human and animal bone, stone tools, prehistoric pottery and beads made from perforated shells.
The UCLan team has been able to prove that at least eight different people were buried in the cave. Despite the fragmentary condition of the human remains, the accompanying artefacts are likely to have been deliberate burials.
Dr. Chris Jazwa and his colleagues from the University of Nevada, Reno, along with academics from Pennsylvania State University were able to radiocarbon date seven different burials from the site.
The results show that the cave was used for burials at three different periods in the past: around 4,000 years ago in the Early Bronze Age; around 5,500 years ago in the Early Neolithic Era; and about 11,000 years ago in the very early part of the Mesolithic period.
They found a date on one of the shell beads which indicated that it was around 11,000 years old and was probably used in a burial.
Martin said, “I never expected anything like the Early Mesolithic link in my wildest dreams. After six years of digging, this ended up where I didn’t expect it to. No I can’t wait to hear all the final results, it’s amazing so far, hard to imagine what it would have been like around here over 11,000 years ago.”
Earlier human remains are known from southern England and Wales, but the devastating effect of past glaciers means that such finds are rare in north Wales.
Prior to this discovery, the “earliest northern” was a 10,000-year-old burial from nearby Kent’s Banks Cave discovered in 2013.
Rick added, “Cave burials like this are well known from several periods of British prehistory and the Heaning Wood burials add significantly to our knowledge of burial practices. Together with the slightly later dates from Banks Cave in Kent, it shows it, how people were re. – occupying the land, how important all of Britain was to this process.”
Research on the site is continuing, and a detailed study of what happened to each person after they were placed in the cave is still ongoing. Scientists from the Ancient Genomics Laboratory, at the Francis Crick Institute, have also sampled the burials to look for ancient DNA evidence that could show where the people buried in the cave came from and how they were related.
Available at the University of Central Lancashire
Quote: Earliest human remains found in northern Britain (2023, 25 January) Retrieved 25 January 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-01-earliest-human-northern-britain.html
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