Monday, 9 January 2012

Culverwell - magic & molluscs

The first session of Dorset Archaeology at the Quakers Meeting Hall was an introduction to the Palaeolithic and the rare example of a UK Mesolithic settlement on Portland - Culverwell.  

Discovered by Susann Palmer in the mid '60s it is probably the oldest evidence for semi-sedentary occupation in England, if not Britain. Dated to between 8-8.5k years old it is a giant midden of mollusc shells with limestone and Portland stone being used to create a 'floor' drained by a natural gully. This is the earliest example of Portland stone being used in a construction and of course it is still used today. 

Stone & pebble
Remarkably, there is some evidence of ritual activity on the site. The floors have three phases and each one was marked by the depositing of a large stone, one of which was also accompanied by a small, smooth pebble. Under this was a small pit containing a pierced scallop shell, an axe of chert and another pebble, placed on its edge. Such pebbles have ritual significance in some modern aboriginal societies. 

Other artefacts found on the site included the usual microliths, 'picks' (elongated stone tools) and chopping tools. But it is the postholes for structures that are rare. Here it is suggested that huts and lean-to structures were made on this well constructed and dry floor and the people used this to then exploit the coastal and river food supply. Added to this is a number of other pierced shells for ornamentation.

The suggestion of a semi-permanent occupation of the site is underlined by the structures, hearths, the marine economy and the tools to exploit this resource, personal ornamentation and possible evidence of ritual and spiritual expression.

Over the last few years the Mesolithic is being reassessed. They were not just wandering nomads, but had semi-permanent camps, especially along the coasts, making use of a steady food supply and perhaps even domesticating dogs and other animals. 

A remarkable Dorset treasure that should be promoted and known locally and nationally.        

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