North York Moors (G-B) : Flickering embers of camp fires from 7,000 years ago

Joanne Ginley

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Archaeologists are investigating a possible Mesolithic campsite in the North York Moors National Park. Picture: Jon Prudhoe, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service

Yorkshire’s oldest campsite could have been unearthed in a national park.

But this was no holiday destination. The site that is being investigated by archaeologists in North Yorkshire could provide rare evidence of a nomadic lifestyle dating backing more than 7,000 years.

They are investigating a possible Mesolithic campsite in the North York Moors National Park. Fieldwork has been carried out at a number of sites across north east Yorkshire and attention is now focused on a site at Goldsborough, near Whitby.

In the autumn more than 450 flint fragments were discovered, some of which are tools about 7,000 years old. Many are burnt, indicating the presence of camp fires or hearths.

Archaeologists say it is very rare to find evidence of Mesolithic people and this discovery is the culmination of a major project that has been searching for traces of them in north east Yorkshire.

A spokesman for the project said: “Archaeological remains are rare from the Mesolithic period.

“Even busy base camps may have left little trace behind them. Structures such as shelters are likely to have been easily transportable and a few stake holes may be the only evidence for them.

“Even hearths and camp fires may have left few physical traces.”

The project is being carried out by Tees Archaeology and the North York Moors National Park Authority with the help of local volunteers and funding from English Heritage. If the find is confirmed it may provide evidence of what could be Yorkshire’s oldest campsite.

Archaeologist, Rachel Grahame, from Tees Archaeology said: “Mesolithic people have always been thought of as nomadic and in many places the only sign of their presence is tiny fragments of flint.

“But discoveries such as the Mesolithic houses at Howick in Northumberland, Star Carr in North Yorkshire and on the banks of the River Forth in Scotland, show that in some places at least they did settle down.

“It’s very exciting to think that we may find similar archaeological remains 

A number of methods have been used to identify the site at Goldsborough and it is proposed to carry out limited excavations in the spring to look for more evidence of hearths and buildings.

Over 7,000 years ago the people who lived in the area survived by moving around, hunting and herding animals, catching fish, and living off fruits and anything else they could find.

A spokeswoman for the North York Moors National Park Authority said: “They probably revisited some locations time and time again.

“The evidence of the activities of these Mesolithic people is difficult to find and usually comprises the remains of the flint and wooden tools they used to hunt their prey and work skins.”

The Mesolithic period, which is also known as the Middle Stone Age, lasted for over 6,000 years, from around 10,000 BC to around 4,000 BC. But despite lasting for such a long period little is known about it.

Those involved in the project say experts have pointed to Mesolithic activity being generally under-represented in the archaeological record for Northern England when compared to later periods and the area of north east Yorkshire is no exception, despite there being a concentration of sites on the North York Moors in particular.

Mesolithic hunter-gathers moved around from place to place to make use of the landscape, travelling around to find plants or animals at different times of the year. Today, this way of life can still be found in some traditional societies around the world.

Those behind the project have already discovered 450 flint fragments in work that they have done so far. They say that flint was used by Mesolithic people to manufacture tools and often these tools and flint from their manufacture is the only evidence that can be traced back to that period by archaeologists.

The tools produced were used for a variety of uses including engraving and piercing and cutting.

Star Carr, in the Vale of Pickering, is a significant archaeological site and a number of important artefacts have been found there which had been preserved in peat. These included head-dresses and beads. In 2010, archaeologists discovered Britain’s earliest surviving house, dating back to 9,000BC, at the site.

Regular updates about the project and the progress that is being made by the team can be found by visiting the website: