A Cumbrian archaeologist has discovered the remains of some of northern Britain’s earliest humans.
Found at Heaning Wood Bone Cave in Great Urswick, south Cumbria, the cave has been confirmed as a burial site by experts from an international team from the University of Central Lancashire.
Local archaeologist Martin Stables has been working at the site since 2016, with academic analysts brought in to interpret the evidence.
Mr Stables has previously discovered human and animal bones, stone tools and prehistoric pottery at the site.
He told reporters: “After six years of digging, it’s all ended up in a place I never expected it to come to.”
Dr Rick Peterson, who led the academic team on the project, said: ‘This is a fantastic discovery. We were pleased to confirm that Martin’s incredible find dates back some 11,000 years and provides us with clear evidence of Mesolithic burials in the north.
“This is particularly exciting as these are some of the earliest dates for human activity in Britain since the end of the last ice age.”
Studies involving researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, along with academics from Pennsylvania State University, were able to carbon date many of the remains found at the site.
Dr. Peterson continued: “Cave burials such as this one are well known from certain periods of British prehistory and the Heaning Wood burials are an important addition to our knowledge of burial practices.
Previous excavations at the site in the 1950s and existing archaeological work by Liverpool John Moores University have dated some materials from the site to the Early Bronze Age, around 4000 years ago.
Prior to this recent find, the earliest ‘Northern’ excavated was a 10,000-year-old burial from nearby Kent’s Bank Cavern, Morecambe Bay, discovered in 2013.
Dr Peterson said: ‘To put that into perspective, the last ice age lasted until about 11,600 years ago. After that time, global temperature warmed rapidly over about 100 years to give us the climate we have today.
“These people are just starting out as we might expect them to be: pioneers reoccupying the earth after the Ice Age.”
Mr Stables, from Ulveston in Cumbria, told reporters: ‘I never expected anything like the Early Mesolithic connection in my wildest dreams.
“I can’t wait to hear all the final results. So far it’s stunning. Hard to imagine what it would have been like around here more than 11,000 years ago.”
Further research on the site will continue to establish what happened to the discovered individuals, their origins and whether they were related.