Oct 14, 2023

Builders Find a Slab of Wood Carved Before Stonehenge

A crew of builders in Boxford, Berkshire, England stumbled upon a large chunk of carved oak over 6,000 years old while digging foundation trenches for a new building, Historic England announced Wednesday.

The ancient slice of decorative oak, which was carved 2,000 years before Stonehenge and more than 4,000 years before the Romans set foot on the British Isles, is believed to be the oldest piece of carved wood in Britain.

The wood, which measures just about three-feet-long, one-and-a-half feet wide, and half-an-inch thick, was found snuggly underground in a thick layer of peat, which impeccably preserved the wood.

Since its discovery, the Mesolithic piece of wood has undergone scientific analysis by experts at Historic England in partnership with scientists from the Nottingham tree-ring dating laboratory, and the Centre for Isotope Research at the university of Groningen.

Radiocarbon and tree ring dating on the slab give a 95% chance probability that the wood was carved between 4,640 BC and 4,605 BC, at the tail end of the Middle Stone Age when inhabitants of England roamed in hunter-gatherer communities and began using stone tools.

While the meaning behind the carvings on the wood remain a mystery, experts say they are similar to the decorations on the Shigir Idol – a 12,500-year-old wooden sculpture that was discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia and is thought to be the oldest example of carved wood in the world.

Derek Fawcett, the owner of the land where the carved wood was found, will donate the artifact to the to the West Berkshire Museum in Newbury once scientific analysis is complete, Historic England said in a press release. The donation coincides with England's Museum Week which this year runs from June 5-11.

"This is a really brilliant find…and a tangible link to humans who lived in this area long before any towns and villages had been created," Janine Fox, curator at West Berkshire Museum, told Historic England.