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‘Significant’ 8,000-year-old Mesolithic pits with animal bones discovered in Bedfordshire

The Linmere pits are said to be ‘incredibly significant’  (Albion Archaeology)
The Linmere pits are said to be ‘incredibly significant’ (Albion Archaeology)

Twenty-five Mesolithic pits that date back 8,000 years have been unearthed in an “exciting discovery” by archaeologists in Bedfordshire.

The Linmere pits are “incredibly significant” because there are very few substantial Mesolithic sites in the UK, the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) said on Monday.

Scientists hope they can gather more information about the Mesolithic period beyond limited existing evidence, such as flint tools and “occasional butchered animal remains”.

Animal bones found in the pits helped scientists to radiocarbon date them back to between 8,500 and 7,700 years ago.

Archaeologists found the remains of several wild species, including aurochs, marten, deer and boar. Aurochs were a wild species of cattle, and there was evidence on the bones that people were eating them.

Professor Joshua Pollard, an expert from Southampton University, said the pits were a “very exciting discovery”.

“While we know of other large and enigmatic pits dug by hunter-gatherers from elsewhere in Britain, including at Stonehenge, the Linmere pits are striking because of their number and the wide area they cover.”

The site was discovered during two separate projects carried out in 2019 and 2021 by Albion Archaeology and MOLA, and further pits may still be found outside the excavation areas.

Specialist examining animal bone from the pits (Albion Archaeology)
Specialist examining animal bone from the pits (Albion Archaeology)

As people in Mesolithic Britain were nomadic hunter-gatherers, digging 25 large pits would have been a monumental task.

Measuring up to five metres wide and 1.85 metres deep, it would have been a huge undertaking to dig a single pit. The pits appear to be laid out in multiple straight lines, up to 500m long.

The shape and size of the pits makes it unlikely they would be used to store food, MOLA said. Their location next to water suggests there could have been “some spiritual or special significance”.

Archaeologists are carefully studying whether the pits are aligned on any major celestial events such as the solstice.

These kinds of pits have been found in sites across Britain and France, but mostly in sparse numbers. Even the landscape surrounding Stonehenge, which contains thousands of prehistoric pits, only has five dating to this period.

The pits at Linmere are very similar to those around Stonehenge, both in date and the number of finds.

Archaeologists are continuing to radiocarbon date more animal bones and analyse environmental samples to learn more about the ancient landscape.

An artist reconstruction of the pits (Hugh Gatt)
An artist reconstruction of the pits (Hugh Gatt)

They are hoping to discover whether the pits were all dug and in use at the same time, as well as understanding more about the plants growing nearby.

They have already identified evidence of oak, hazel and pine, and are now studying tiny pieces of pollen.

Last month the most “intact” Roman masusoleum in Britain was discovered in Southwark at a new development site.

The mausoleum would have been used by wealthier members of Roman society, it is understood.

It may have been a family tomb or perhaps belonged to a burial club, where members would have paid a monthly fee to be buried inside.

Archaeologists didn’t find any of the coffins or burials that would have originally been inside the mausoleum. However, over 100 coins were discovered, together with some scrap pieces of metal, fragments of pottery and roofing tiles.