University archaeologists reveal secrets of stone age society in new BBC programme
Release Date 09 February 2011
A major new BBC series, A History of Ancient Britain is featuring the University of Reading's ground-breaking research on the life of the hunter-gatherer.
During the series, viewers will see experts from Reading's renowned Department of Archaeology explain finds which show that stone age children as young as four were actively engaged in community life. They will also discover that human groups were colonising western Scotland as early as 9500 BP and how Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in that area moved between islands and the mainland using animal skin-covered boats or wooden dug-out canoes.
The series begins in the ice age and recounts the "epic story of how our land and its people came to be over thousands of years of ancient history".
The opening sequence of the series follows a team of Reading archaeologists examining the bed of the Severn Estuary at extreme low tide. Using power hoses they uncover the footprints of hunter gatherers left in the consolidated silt 7500 years ago.
The exciting discovery of a new area of footprints during filming for this series included four footprint trails which converged on a spot at the edge of a former island.
Leading the Severn Estuary research project is Reading's Professor Martin Bell. He said: "Fieldwork over the last 19 years has led to the discovery of a series of campsites which have been recorded as coastal erosion exposes them. The waterlogged sediments preserve a far wider range of evidence for past human activity than most sites on dry land, including evidence for the use of plant resources, fish, mammals, birds and worked wood tools.
"These new footprints show the location of a lost settlement. Using the footprint trails we can show how the activity areas represented by flint tools and bones articulated together as parts of a living stone age landscape. The footprints include those made by children, which is extremely exciting as the role of children tends not to be visible in the archaeological record. They show youngsters as young as four were actively engaged in the gathering and productive activities of the community."
Later, the series features Professor Steven Mithen's research in the Inner Hebrides. Steven has been studying the stone-age hunter-gatherers of western Scotland for more than 20 years, having discovered and excavated many of their settlements.
Professor Mithen said: "Scotland has emerged as a key region for Mesolithic studies, with debates concerning its early colonisation, diet, mobility and sedentism and the transition to the Neolithic period. Research at sites in the Inner Hebrides has established the presence of archaeological sites with stratified, in situ archaeological remains of the Mesolithic period, with diverse stone artefact assemblages, archaeological features, preserved animal bones and charred plant materials.
"I was impressed with this programme because it made a real effort to convey the scale of which stone-age hunter-gatherers operated, visiting several of the Hebridean islands to illustrate different elements of the settlement pattern - where fishing took place, where woodland was intensively harvested, where the best places were for stalking and hunting."
Both the Hebrides and Severn Estuary research projects have produced evidence for the effects of hunter-gatherer communities on the landscape. This particularly involves burning which may have been done deliberately to encourage the growth of wild plants, providing valued food for people, or the animals they hunted. Previously evidence of this kind was largely confined to the British Uplands."
Archaeologists have played a leading role in uncovering the history of the coastal zone, a topic of major current interest to heritage organisations. In addition to the two British projects covered in this programme, University of Reading archaeologists are involved in projects on hunter-gathers and the transition to the first farming in areas as distant as Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco.
Further press information from James Barr, University of Reading press office, 0118 378 7115, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for Editors:
The University of Reading's Department of Archaeology boasts five Fellows of the British Academy among its members and was recognised in 2010 when the University was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher Education. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (2008), the department was ranked as the UK archaeology department with the highest proportion of world-leading research (40% 4* research).
The Department's six core areas of research cover the entirety of human history in Europe and the Near and Middle East from the last glaciation to AD1600. The world-leading research areas have a direct relevance for contemporary environmental and climatic change and in which the five Fellows of the British Academy play a major role. They include: the development of the first complex societies in the Near and Middle East since the last glaciation (Prof Steve Mithen FBA); coastal and wetland archaeology and the relationship between humans and the environment in prehistory (Prof Martin Bell FBA); later prehistoric societies in north-west Europe (Prof Richard Bradley FBA); urbanisation in the Roman World (Prof Michael Fulford FBA); Digital Data Capture in the Field, Database Development and Digital Dissemination World (Prof Michael Fulford FBA) and the archaeology of medieval gender, religion and belief (Prof Roberta Gilchrist FBA).