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Mesolithic Pits

10 September 2023

In the same issue of Current Archaeology, 403, on the very next page, 13, we have news of the discovery of 25 Mesolithic pits at Linmere near Houghton Regis. Pits found at archaeological sites, not just in the Mesolithic but continuing into the Neolithic and beyond, are often enigmatic as to what purpose they might have been used. Storage is one possibility, or burial. Did they lie open and for how long? Did they involve ritual of some kind? The possibilities seem endless.

Houghton Regis is an old town site going back into the medieval period. The area was occupied in the Iron and Bronze ages too. It lies not far from the Roman road now defined as the A5 route from London to North Wales and Chester. In more recent times the new town of Milton Keynes has grown up not too far away, and has a good museum as the consruction work involved considerable geological and archaeological investigation.

Lin-mere is derived from the same root as moor – wild waste land, very often heath. A mere can also be a watery location, a pond or marsh. At altitude it is a moor and at valley locations a watery zone. It is the site of the biggest, so far known, Mesolithic set of pits anywhere in the country. It is dated between 8500 and 7700 years ago. The site was located, we are told, around multiple stream channels. The pits themselves appear to be aligned  along multiple straight lines – one of which has a length of 500m. All the pits were over 2m wide and some were twice as wide. They had steep sides. They also contained animal bones – such as the inevitable aurochs as well as deer and boar and marten.

There may even be many more pits in the vicinity as the excavation was confined to the boundaries of a new housing development. The analysis is ongoing so expect future updates. What is clear is that practises often associated with Neolithic people were sometimes much older, going back into the hunter-gatherer period.

See also https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-66072487 … where we are told they were constructed around 8000 years ago, at 6000BC. We may note this date may itself be significant as we have a 200 year cooling period, a sort of mini dryas period, between 6200 and 6000BC [in old money]. IntCal dating methodology,using Bayesian techniques, has pushed that back to 8500 years ago, it would seem. 6000BC is also the dividing line between two climatic phases, the Boreal and the Atlantic – now a dated concept, although plenty of books still refer to the older designations.

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