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Was Fred Flintstone the first Geordie?

Byline: By Sarah Knapton

Stone Age remains found in sea

Yabba Dabba Doo - boffins have discovered the region's very own Bedrock under the North Sea.

They have discovered a stone age settlement which could be the earliest site in the UK off the coast of Tynemouth, North Tyneside.

And just like in The Flintstones the site would have been an ideal `des res' for the modern stone age family.

David Miles, chief archaeologist, English Heritage, said: "This is a tremendously exciting discovery. We know that there is a prehistoric Atlantis beneath the North Sea where once an area equal to the size of present day Britain attached us to the continent and where prehistoric people and animals roamed.

"It is potentially an area for exploration and this discovery by the Newcastle University team gives us a stepping stone into this unknown world."

The exciting find was discovered by accident by an archaeological team from the University of Newcastle who claim the history books may now need rewriting.

The team, from the university's School of Historical Studies, discovered the sites while they were training.

Dr Penny Spikins, who is leading the international research team behind the Submerged Prehistoric Landscapes Project, said: "I was learning to scuba dive and was in the middle of a training session in the sea when I noticed lots of pieces of flint beneath me, on the sea bed.

"To the average person they would seem like ordinary stones you would find on the beach, but to a specialist they were something very exciting indeed."

What Dr Spikins had discovered were stone artefacts, including tools and arrowheads clustered around two distinct areas, which are being kept a closely guarded secret.

They belonged to the Mesolithic period or Middle Stone Age - 10,000 to 5,000 years ago - when hunter gatherers lived along the prehistoric shore line of the North East.

One site dates back to the late Mesolithic period - 8,500 to 5,000 years ago.

The second site, found further out to sea at the end of a long, rocky outcrop which would have once been a small cliff face, is thought to be early Mesolithic - 8,500 to 10,000 years ago.

Both sites would once have been on dry land but have been gradually submerged as sea levels rose following the end of the last Ice Age.

Dr Spikins added: "Archaeologists thought that the sites left by people who lived five to ten thousand years ago had simply been lost to the sea but our finds could change our understanding of the earliest occupation of the British Isles.

"We originally thought that we would find submerged sites in more remote places such as Scottish islands like Skye or Orkney, or in north Northumberland.

"Often in built up places like Tyneside all the sites of archaeological interest have already been discovered while the land is developed.

"We suspect these two sites have remained a secret because they were underwater, and people who were not experts on Mesolithic cultures did not realise what they were.

"We think that Tynemouth could have been an important place for the early settlers because as well as having the luxury of coastal resources they had the River Tyne nearby."

The flint artefacts they have found at the sites, which are under up to eight metres of water, range from a core, which was used to make knives and other sharp objects, to a microlith - the experts' word for an arrowhead.

It is the first evidence of sites under the North Sea since a fishing trawler picked up a Mesolithic antler harpoon early last century.

An early Mesolithic site has been discovered in the Solent near Southampton, but because so little evidence of submerged sites exists, archaeologists know little about these early coastal dwellers.

Dr Spikins added: "We can't believe this is a unique site. We will be fully investigating it and using the knowledge we gain in the process to try to find other sites nearby and elsewhere."

The team are seeking funding to continue their investigation in Tyneside as they believe that more interesting material could be found underneath the sea bed.

Similar submerged Mesolithic sites in the Danish North Sea have yielded artefacts made of organic materials such as wood, bone and leather, ranging from preserved canoes, decorated paddles and even remains of house structures.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 11, 2003
Words:727
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