10,000 year old Mesolithic site at Stanstead Abbotts.

Written by Robert J Kiln, transcription of Parish Magazine article (circa 1972) with additions by R.Dixon from a copy by our Society Secretary Charles Lovick (deceased).

Proving just how far back our ancestors lived in our village is a find of their hunting evidence near Roydon Road in 1971. The following was reported in the Parish Magazine.

Around 10,000 years ago, the climate of England was cold, rather like Siberia today. Gradually during the next few thousand years, it warmed up as ice retreated northward. As the climate improved, the land became forested and the herds of of animals which had roamed the plains disappeared. On the edges of river valleys, like the Lea there were sand banks and open areas. Men who had been hunters on the plains became fishermen and hunters of small game and forest animals such as deer and wild pig. Their camps and settlements tended to be in the river valleys like the Lea where fish, game and water were plentiful.

Evidence of one of these temporary camps, along with a possible hunting kill came to light in April; 1971 during the construction of a swimming pool at Stanstead Abbotts on the east side of the valley near the bottom of Cats Hill.

Due to prompt action of the owner a "find" of bones was reported and a team of archaeologists from Hertford Museum and East Herts. Archaeological Society were able to do a quick "Rescue" operation over four days.

As a result, a good deal of evidence was obtained of how these people lived which will add its bit to the history books of the future.

The piece goes on to say there were lectures and exhibition of the items at Welwyn College and Richard Hale.

Now to the excavation he continues;

A pile of bones was reported; they were lying some 5 feet deep under a layer of peat. When examined, the sand on which they lay contained small flint flakes or blades. To us they were a clear indication of a "Mesolithic site". The blades being used for harpoon barbs by hunters and fishermen of the so called Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, who occupied N.W. Europe from around 8,000 B.C. - 4,000 B.C.

Our provisional inspection took place on Wednesday evening and we mounted an immediate rescue excavation, calling out our team of amateur helpers on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The area of the bottom of the pool was small and wet, very wet in places, and we could only get access to a small part and some of the archaeological layer had been removed in construction.

Firstly, the peat was removed from the pile of bones. They were cleaned, photographed, drawn and removed. Next the peat layer, which contained no remains but which sealed the sand underneath, was removed.

Next the sand layer was studied, photographed and recorded as it contained black areas where trees and possibly stakes had once stood. Then the sand was removed and sieved and finds recorded. It appeared that the pile that the pile of bones was associated with a rough wooden shelter near an area of harder gravel. To the north of this were the remains of a brushwood platform, possibly a a living surface or a pile of fire wood.

All over the site we found flint flakes, including some microliths and cores from which they had been struck, some 50 cores and 1400 flakes.

These flakes were mixed in kind, scrapers for scraping wood or hides, spoke shaves. Arrow and harpoon barbs, "chisels" for working wood, bone and so on and one sandstone weight, which may have been a net sinker for fishing..

Samples of soil were taken for pollen analysis so that we can know the trees and flowers that grew in the valley at that time and to help date the site. Wood samples to discover the type of trees and wood samples for dating by Carbon 14 radioactive analysis were also carefully collected, as well as bones themselves, for experts to identify (we think it is a wild boar).

The site must have been an occupation site of a hunting community and possibly dated around 5,000 B.C., (although this is not certain yet).

Mr Kiln then goes on to say this information was all due to the foresight of the owner in letting them know and for the reader to do the same if ever they discover a "find".

I intend following up this report to find out what the experts had to say on the discoveries. Other finds in the area parallel this era in our history and since the 1970's spectacular remains of decorated art on bone and different artefacts highlight the culture as more sophisticated than we thought then such as 6,000 year old musical instruments found in Wales.

Not far from Stanstead Abbotts we have evidence of societies this early (burials next to the Stort 3 miles away ) proving from an early stage we had structured communities, some living in raised huts above lakes and rivers not just roaming nomadic hunters in small groups. More evidence is beneath our feet...

It only takes a small find such as this to help us know our past.

Kiln was an early supporter of Rescue, the Trust for British Archaeology; he arranged the organization's first office at 15A Bull Plain, Hertford, and was its treasurer from 1971-6. He became known to a wider audience through his association with Magnus Magnusson in the Chronicle awards for archaeology, originally sponsored by BBC Television. Kiln founded the Hart Archaeological Unit in 1973 and published, jointly with Clive Partridge, Ware and Hertford: the Story of Two Towns in 1994. He died on 16 August 1997.

To be continued.