Archaeologists in Wales owe an unusual resource to the discovery of prehistoric artifacts on a remote island: burrowing rabbits.
Guards on Skokholm Island, a nature reserve about two miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, found a slippery stone tool near a rabbit hole near their cottage.
The ‘chamfered pebble’, used to skin seals, dates back to the late Mesolithic period, some 9,000 years ago, and is the first evidence of Stone Age inhabitants on the island, experts say.
The next day, the guards found pottery fragments kicked up by the same rabbits that came from an urn buried nearly 4,000 years ago.
Archaeologists believe the site was an early bronze burial mound built over a mid-Stone Age hunter-gatherer site that was “ disturbed by rabbits. ”
This ‘chamfered pebble’ used to skin seals dates back to the late Mesolithic, discovered in a rabbit hole on Skokholm some 9,000 years ago. It is the first evidence of Stone Age inhabitants on the island, experts say
Giselle Eagle and Richard Brown have lived alone on Skokholm since 2014, when they were hired as guards by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.
The island is known for the tens of thousands of seabirds that nest there, including puffins, ducks, Manx shearwaters and petrels.
It was established in the 1930s as the UK’s first bird observatory.
The nearby Skomer Island is better known for its archeology, including stone walls and remains of Iron Age round houses and megaliths dating back to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.
Skokholm is a remote island in the Celtic Sea about two miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Wales
Tens of thousands of seabirds live in Skokholm, including puffins, ducks, Manx shearwaters and petrels. Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, who discovered the artifacts unearthed by the rabbits, are the island’s newest wildlife keepers and only full-time residents.
Earlier this month, however, Eagle and Brown retrieved a smooth rectangular stone from a rabbit hole in the shelter of a rock next to their cottage.
Suspecting it was man-made, they sent images to researchers, who confirmed it was a late Mesolithic tool dating back to between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago.
Known as a “ beveled pebble, ” the tool is said to have been used by hunter-gatherers to make skin-lined seal boats or to process shellfish and other foods, said Andrew David, a stone tools expert who led excavations at Mesolithic sites in Pembrokeshire.
While these types of implements are well known in mainland coastal towns of Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, as well as Scotland and Northern France, this is the first specimen from Skokholm and the first solid evidence of late Mesolithic inhabitation on the island, said David. .
“It’s exciting to find an example on Skokholm,” he said.
The same rabbit hole provided even more old bounties the next day, when Eagle and Brown saw another Mesolithic pebble tool and large pieces of pottery excavated by the burrowing bunnies.
When the couple returned to the rabbit hole the next day, she found large pieces of pottery believed to be part of a Bronze Age cremation urn. While such urns are not uncommon in West Wales, they have never been found in any of the western Pembrokeshire Islands
Jody Deacon, a curator of prehistoric archeology at the National Museum Wales, recognized the clay fragments as part of an early Bronze Age cremation urn.
Dating between 2000 and 1750 BC, such urns are not uncommon in West Wales, but have never been found on Skokholm Island or any of the western Pembrokeshire Islands.
“We know from previous aerial surveys and aerial laser scanning by the Royal Commission that Skokholm has the remains of some prehistoric fields and settlements, although none has ever been excavated,” said Toby Driver, an archaeologist at the Royal Commission Wales.
“Thanks to the keen eyes of the guards, we have the first confirmed Mesolithic tools and the first Bronze Age pottery from Skokholm,” he said.
Driver theorized that the site was an early bronze burial mound built over a mid-Stone Age hunter-gatherer site that had been “ disturbed by rabbits. ”
“It’s a sheltered spot, where the island’s cottage now stands, and it has clearly been inhabited for millennia.”
If the pandemic permits, Driver and his colleagues plan to visit Skokholm and discover more ancient artifacts.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT SKOKHOLM ISLAND?
Although there are no trees today, Skokholm is Norwegian for ‘Wooded Island’.
Its name bears a striking resemblance to the Swedish capital of Stockholm, and it was mentioned by Vikings visiting the Bristol Channel.
The remote island is a wildlife refuge, home to 4,500 puffins and about 2,000 auks and guillemots, which nest on the cliffs.
The populations of Manx shearwaters on the two islands are one of the largest in the world, representing about 50 percent of the world’s seabird population.
Gray seals are present in the waters around the island all year round and can bask on the rocks at low tide.
An undated charter shows William Marshal the Younger, Earl of Pembroke (1219-1231), giving Gilbert de Vale land in Ireland in exchange for land in Pembrokeshire, including ‘Scoghholm’ Island.
Skokholm last changed hands in 1646, when it was bought for about $ 415 by William Philipps, a founder of the Dale Castle Estate.
The family owned it until 2005, when the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales bought it for approximately $ 900,000.
The island’s ecological significance was made famous by naturalist Ronald Lockley, who turned the island into Britain’s first bird observatory in the 1930s.
“There can be few other islands in the world that can boast of the continuity of biological recordings, except in wartime, which took place on Skokholm,” said former director John Fursdon in 1946.