Archaeology isn’t just about outrunning giant boulders, avoiding having your heart ripped out, and choosing the right grail. It’s really about discovering ourselves by looking into the past and figuring out how previous generations lived. Ever since the British Islands were linked by a land bridge to the European continent, human beings have lived here. Each era of British history has an archaeological site in which more is being discovered about the people who have populated these isles. Enjoy these five ancient sites and let us know some of your favourite archaeological spots to visit.
Beginning in 2004, archaeologists discovered some of the earliest human settlements in Britain on the Norfolk coast near Happisburgh. The excavation work was based on a pair of Neolithic axe heads found in the area around 1997. Hominid fossilised footprints dating back even further by 800,000 years to the Paleolithic period. These footprints effectively became the oldest such footprints in the world. Many more flint tools have been uncovered there, leading archaeologists to believe that it is the oldest settlement in Northern Europe and as they work, the scientists uncover more about how these early humans lived and what they ate.
Flag Fen (Bronze Age)
Flag Fen Archaeology Park is a Bronze Age settlement that existed over 3,000 years ago. Built over a fen, excavations uncovered an extensive network of vertical timbres and planks that helped the people move across the service. Archaeologists also found evidence of religion and a class system based on the finding of swords, gold earrings, pins, brooches, and spearheads. The park also has exhibits dedicated to later eras in the settlement’s history from the Iron Age homes to the Roman herb garden. The park is open throughout the year and offers guided tours.
Danebury (Iron Age)
Hampshire is home to the Iron Age hill fort known as Danebury. The fort was built something around 550 BC and remained in use for the next five centuries. Hill forts were always something of a mystery to most Britons until they began to be unearthed during the late 19th Century. Danebury itself was first subjected to archaeological expeditions beginning in 1968 and running to 1989, led by Barry Cunliffe. These excavations uncovered homes, roads, domesticated plants such as wheat, domesticated animals, and even wild animal remains that showed both a hunting and agrarian society. Work continues on the site to this day, and it is open to the public.
Not the oldest Roman site in Britain, but certainly an important one. Vindolanda is a Roman fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall and provided an important supporting role to the Roman defense of Britannia. It was actually built before the wall as an important post next to the Stengate Road and a gateway to the northern frontier. The fort and the surrounding settlement were rebuilt several times before the Romans finally abandoned Britain in the 5th Century. Excavations on the site began in the 1930s and uncovered homes, temples, the garrison, and even a Roman Christian church, amongst other buildings and artefacts. The site encourages volunteers to assist with excavations and for more professional archaeologists to apply for their own digs.
Sutton Hoo (Anglo-Saxon)
Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in Suffolk is one of the most important archaeological sites when it comes to artefacts and knowledge of the Anglo-Saxons. The site bridges the gap between the end of the Roman occupation and the Norman invasion as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes came to England and changed the cultural landscape. The site is home to one of the largest Anglo-Saxon gravesites in the UK, most prominent among them are Mound 1 that contained a prominent ship-burial. Many important artefacts are still at the site, and others are on display at the British Museum in London. You can tour the site and explore the exhibition there at Sutton Hoo.
Carrs Wetland says
I couldn’t possibly let this go by without championing Star Carr…. My favourite ‘oldest’ archaeology site, in North Yorkshire. Sadly there are few clues above ground to show where it is and the scheduled site itself is on private farmland. But there are some incredible things researchers have uncovered here and some unique artefacts on show in for example the British Museum, The Yorkshire Museum, and my particular favourite the Star Carr exhibit in The Rotunda Museum, Scarborough. The scientific research team’s website http://www.starcarr.com has lots of info. plus there is some on the Carrs Wetland blog..