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9,000-year-old house reveals Stone Age lifestyle

The house was surrounded by buried mounds of burnt hazelnut shells and stocked with stone tools, according to archaeologists working on the project and a published report.
Image: Stone Age dwelling
Workers appear above the foundation of the hunter-gatherer house. This prehistoric abode predates Stonehenge by 4,000 years and offers archaeologists a glimpse of domestic life during the Mesolithic era.Mike Pitts
/ Source: Discovery Channel

The remains of a 9,000-year-old hunter-gatherers' house, uncovered during construction at an airport, have been unearthed in Great Britain's Isle of Man. The house was surrounded by buried mounds of burnt hazelnut shells and stocked with stone tools, according to archaeologists working on the project and a report in the latest British Archaeology.

It is the earliest known complete house on the Isle of Man and one of Britain's oldest and best-preserved houses, according to the report. The find also offers a glimpse of domestic life 4,000 before Stonehenge.

Based on the many ancient shells found surrounding its exterior, the home's first inhabitants must have eaten a lot of hazelnuts.

"There were presumably so many hazelnuts near the house as a result of processing and consumption of these within the building," project manager Fraser Brown of Oxford Archaeology North told Discovery News.

"They may have been burnt because the shells were discarded into a fire after consumption of the fruit," he added. "When the hearth sweepings were cleaned from the building, the burnt nutshells and all else were cleaned to the periphery. Hazelnuts would have been an abundant and highly nutritious source of food that could easily be gathered in the autumn and stored for consumption through lean winter months."

A pit containing the structure's remains is about 23 feet wide and 12 inches deep. A ring of postholes around the edge, along with carbonized timbers, suggests the building's supports were about 6 inches thick.

In addition to the hazelnut shell mounds, the archaeologists also found a few hammer and anvil stones as well as approximately 14,000 flint artifacts that the researchers say once made up stone tools, such as fishing spears.

The hunter-gatherer residents "probably had a permanent base near the sea so that they could have easy access to marine resources, but given the small size of the Isle of Man, it would have been a simple matter to foray inland to exploit the different resources available there."

Once the residents arrived at the island by boat, they probably would have not strayed far from home since "they could obtain all that they needed locally," which could be the reason they set up a permanent home.

Remains of another hunter-gatherer home, found over two decades ago just 492 feet from this latest discovery, also contained a hearth, small stone tools and numerous hazelnut shells.

Mike Pitts, an archaeologist who is also the editor of British Archaeology, still wonders why burnt hazelnut shells would have been buried so prominently around the houses.

"Perhaps the smell of the burnt shells had some significance?" Pitts speculates. "Was it comforting, redolent of good meals, or could it have had a more complex, ritual meaning?"

Andrew Johnson, curator of Field Archaeology at Manx National Heritage in the Isle of Man, helped to monitor the recent excavation work.

Johnson told Discovery News, "I would regard the finds as being of national importance for the Isle of Man, and certainly of international significance in that they add to what at present is only a very small number of Mesolithic buildings found in Northwest Europe."