Members of the Archaeology group found evidence of the earliest human inhabitants of our local area in a shed in the middle of a field in Abinger, writes Val Arundel
Just after Easter the Archaeology group visited a shed somewhere in Abinger. The aim was to find out about Abinger’s first inhabitants, the people who arrived just as the ice was retreating after the Ice Age. This was the Mesolithic period, from 8000 to 7000BC, a time when Britain was still linked to Europe by an area of land called Doggerland (today’s shipping forecast area, Dogger Bank). The greensand where the evidence was found was at that time at the edge of the frozen soil (tundra).
For about 5,000 years small bands of people roamed Britain hunting deer and other animals, fishing and collecting fruit, nuts and natural foods. It was a group of these people who stayed for a short time in Abinger, the women gathering food and the men hunting animals, including wild cattle, red deer and pigs.
The shed protects evidence of a pit dwelling, a type of temporary shelter relating to the Late Mesolithic period. This comprised what was thought to be a shallow pit covered by poles laid across it to support skins and bracken. Perhaps bracken was laid on the floor of the pit. Unfortunately, this is supposition to a certain extent as this type of soil does not preserve organic evidence.
What was found was the pit with rocks (possibly for a wall at the entrance or to weigh down skins, etc, on the roof) and some post holes, which would have contained wooden posts. There was also evidence of a hearth, although it is thought that the people spent most of their time outside and used the dwelling only in periods of bad weather.
What we did see was a large number of worked flints, ranging from tiny slivers to fit into arrows to scrapers for cleaning skins. No complete skeleton of the Mesolithic age has been found in Britain, although it is believed that the people would have resembled today’s Europeans but smaller in stature. There are two springs near by, which may be a reason why they picked this spot.
Major Beddington Behrens, who lived in Abinger Manor in 1950, visited Kenya in 1949 and met the famous Louis Leakey, the Kenyan archaeologist and naturalist whose work was important in establishing human evolutionary development in Africa. The Abinger site was excavated by them when Leakey visited the major in 1950. Beddington Behrens had noticed that there was considerable grouping of Mesolithic flint work in one of his fields.
They carried out an excavation over a period of three months, and what they found was on display in the shed. Leakey at the time was excavating areas in Kenya where obsidian (a dark glass-like volcanic rock) was being worked in the same way as flint in this country. He was very interested to make comparisons, and there were two flakes of Kenyan obsidian on display for us to compare.
Although this site was temporary there has been evidence of a number of these sites in the greensand area.
As we walked along the path to see the shed we passed a motte-and-bailey site: a steep-sided motte (mound) with a smallish bailey (open area) round it. It was difficult to see the whole area as trees have grown up around it. The top of the motte had post holes, which suggested two successive towers had been built for occupation. It was at one time surrounded by a moat (we were standing in part of it). This moat was originally lined with puddled clay and fed by an artesian well. Some of the drier years in the past century have resulted in the artesian well drying up. Attempts were made to refill it using modern liners but without success.
The register of land for that time shows that it was jointly owned in 1066 by King Edward (the Confessor) and a huscarl (elite bodyguard); in 1086 it was listed under properties owned by William Fitz-Ansculf under the Domesday Book name Abinceborne (Abinger).
The weather was beautiful, and we all enjoyed discovering so much early history so close to home. Thanks to our guide, Cherry Clark.