St Martin’s Discovery Is Rewriting The History Books

One of the 57 Mesolithic microliths found  in 2013. Photo: Hugo Anderson-Whymark

One of the 57 Mesolithic microliths found in 2013. Photo: Hugo Anderson-Whymark

A discovery made on St Martin’s is changing the way archaeologists think about the islands’ earliest residents.

And it turns out they may have had closer links with people hundreds of miles away on the Continent than with our closest neighbours in Cornwall.

The findings, just published in the journal Antiquity, show how small flint tools uncovered at Old Quay during a dig in 2013 are more similar in shape and manufacture to those found in Belgium, Northern France and the Netherlands, than in England.

One of the authors, Dr Duncan Garrow from the University of Reading, was part of the team that uncovered the so-called ‘microliths.’

Duncan explained that after the English Channel was formed, the tools made by our Mesolithic ancestors started to look very different on either side of the water.

He says two or three of these small flint pieces had been found during previous excavations at Old Quay, but two years ago they started to uncover much larger quantities.

It was then that their odd shape became apparent.

Duncan said they were lucky to have an expert in flint tools, Hugo Anderson-Whymark, present at the time, and he thought they looked “funny.”

So Hugo sent photos to experts on the Continent, who verified that they were the same as those found in the Benelux countries.

They didn’t even look like those dug up further west in France, in Brittany and Normandy, which again are closer to Scilly.

Duncan says the discovery was a “massive surprise” and entirely unexpected.

And he says it’s creating a lot of excitement in the field, representing an important piece in the ‘jigsaw’ of how agriculture and pottery arrived in prehistoric Britain, between 7000 and 4000 BC.

Most archaeologists had assumed that people living in Scilly would have had closer contact with the southwest peninsula.

But Duncan says this shows that contact was much wider.

He believes that boats may have been making long journeys up and down both sides of the Channel, stopping off in Scilly.

And it’s possible they could have been made by people from a vessel that was shipwrecked here.

Duncan says the findings are likely to “be talked about for years to come.”

And they could be as important in understanding the period as the cow bones uncovered in Southern Ireland, which turned out to be from France – potentially the earliest evidence of farm animals being brought to the British Isles.

Unfortunately Duncan’s team won’t be making any more investigations at the site in the foreseeable future.

He says his team are very sad not to be heading over to Scilly this year, as they have for the past few years, but he hopes he can get project funding for more excavations soon.