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Main » 2011 » June » 3 » At 9,000 years old, Britain's oldest house gives a glimpse of post-Ice Age domesticity
12:53
At 9,000 years old, Britain's oldest house gives a glimpse of post-Ice Age domesticity
Built 3,000 years before the miracle of Stonehenge, this is Britain's oldest and best preserved house.
The remains of the strongly built shelter, discovered on the Isle of Man, provide a rare window into the domestic life of hunter-gatherers 9,000 years ago.
Unearthed by accident during extension work to the island's airport runway, the 23ft wide pit is giving up extraordinary archaeological secrets.
Most exciting is the revelation that the people of the mesolithic age, long regarded as nomads who wandered ancient Britain in search of food, were actually very good at settling down.

Excavation nears completion of the Mesolithic house, defined by a ring of holes which once contained wooden posts

In fact, 12,000 pieces of worked flint, along with a stockpile of tools, show that the homeowners were in residence for long periods at a time. Not to mention the buried mounds of hazelnut shells found around the house - a strong hint of what the ancient inhabitants nibbled for dinner. 
It is thought the discarded shells were thrown into the fire and then swept out to the edges of the property in an ancient housework ritual.
A ring of postholes around the edge of the pit, along with carbonised timbers, suggests the building's supports were about six inches thick and far from a makeshift shelter.
Manx National Heritage field archaeologist Andrew Johnson confirmed the building showed that people from this time were settled for long periods.
'The received wisdom is that 8,000 years ago people constantly moved through the landscape as nomads, gathering their food from the land, rather than staying put and farming and harvesting it,' he said.
'But this building was constructed from substantial pieces of timber, and had a hearth for cooking and warmth.

'Its occupants lived here often, or long enough to leave behind over 12,000 pieces of worked flint, together with the tools needed to flake them, and food debris in the form of hundreds of hazelnut shells,' he added.
Project manager Fraser Brown of Oxford Archaology North told the Discovery Channel that hazelnuts were an excellent food source for an ancient family.
'Hazelnuts would have been an abundant and highly nutritious source of food that could easily be gathered in the autumn and stored for consumption through lean winter months,' he said.
The house, which was unearthed in Ronaldsway on the island, has some similarity to North American Indian tepees or Mongolian yurts, which can be used all year round.  
It was built in the mesolithic period, which spanned from the end of the last ice age in 10,000BC to the beginning of farming in 4,500 BC. 
At this time, sophisticated groups of hunter-gatherers moved into the north of the British Isles as the climate improved. They used spears and harpoons to catch food.
'They probably had a permanent base near the sea so that they could have easy access to marine resources, ' Mr Brown said.
'But given the small size of the Isle of Man, it would have been a simple matter to foray inland to exploit the different resources available there.'
He said once the residents arrived at the island by boat, they probably would have not strayed far from home since 'they could obtain all that they needed locally' - which could be the reason they set up a permanent home.
Although archaeologists believe this is the oldest dwelling yet found on the Isle of Man, radiocarbon dates are yet to be obtained.

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