Guardians on the tiny island of Skokholm, off the UK’s coast, recently stumbled upon 9,000-year-old stone tools near a rabbit hole. The next day, they found the remains of pottery expelled from the same burrow.
Beaten by storms, the high cliffs of the small isolated island of Skokholm, off the coast of Wales (United Kingdom), are a true paradise for seabirds who come to lay their eggs in late spring. However, that was not always the case.
We know that the Vikings settled there in the 10th or 11th century. “Skokholm” is also a Nordic name which means “wooded island”. Today the trees are gone, but there were some in their day.
The Scandinavians, however, were not the first. Obviously, others have also frequented the island for several thousand years.
First prehistoric tools
Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, seabird experts, are the guardians of these lands. Taking advantage of the tourist-free days granted by the pandemic, they recently explored the island in more depth. A few weeks ago they then fell on an unusual tool lying next to a rabbit hole.
Such a terrier is not unusual. Nowadays, tourists roam this island on tour packages to see the countless puffins and other seabirds that flock to it. And like many islands, Skokholm also has served as a rabbit farm during medieval times. The breeders there were indeed safe from predators.
The burrow itself looked quite old, however. At one point, one of these occupants may have evicted the object from its den, voluntarily or not.
The two guards then retrieve the tool, take pictures of it and send the pictures to Andrew David, an expert in the field. The latter examines the object and quickly identifies it as a beveled pebble from the Late Mesolithic period. He explains that this tool would have been used by hunter-gatherers ago 6000 to 9000 years for the preparation of sealskins or for the processing of foods such as crustaceans.
“Although these types of tools are well known in coastal sites in Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, as well as in Scotland and northern France, this is the earliest example of Skokholm and the earliest solid evidence of l ‘Late Mesolithic occupation on the island“, Emphasizes the researcher.
A funeral urn
That’s not all. The next day, the two keepers return to the burrow and come across a second tool of the same type, then notice large pieces of pottery. The two guards then imagine that by redecorating its burrow, a rabbit had thus revealed new signs of human occupation.
This time it’s Jody Deacon, curator at the National Museum of Wales, who recognizes their importance. These fragments probably included a Bronze Age urn generally associated with cremation burials. Dating from ago about 3750 years, this type of object was quite common at that time in West Wales.
And so it was, thanks to the keen eyes of these keepers, that the first confirmed Mesolithic tools and the first Bronze Age pottery from the island of Skokholm were identified.