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6,000-year-old salt production site is discovered in Yorkshire

Archaeologists have excavated one of the oldest salt processing sites at a North Street House, Loftus, in the UK's north-east England dating back to the early Neolithic ages (3800–3700 BC). The excavation has unearthed remains of a brine-storage pit and a saltern with at least three associated hearths, together with an assemblage of flint and stone tools, ceramic vessel sherds, and briquetage from over 6,000 years ago. 

6,000-year-old salt production site is discovered in Yorkshire
The excavation at Street House [Credit: S.J. Sherlock, 2021]

The findings, published in Antiquity, hold significance as they could provide the archaeologists with more information about salt production sites in contemporaneous Europe and later British from the Bronze and Iron ages. It could also provide insight into the Neolithic era and early technologies and exchange mechanisms existent at the time. 

6,000-year-old salt production site is discovered in Yorkshire
Writing in the journal Antiquity , Dr Stephen Sherlock found a trench containing three hearths
at the salt site alongside hundreds of Neolithic pottery fragments
[Credit: S.J. Sherlock, 2021]

The neolithic salt production sites have earlier been excavated in the Balkans, western France, and Germany. In the UK, the site dates back to 4000 BC and reveals that the neolithic population had a designated area and installations for the production of salt. Excavators found a brine storage tank that dates back to 3800–3700 BC. The structures reveal previously unknown details about the Neolithic diet, methods of food preservation and animal husbandry, and the practices of the British Neolithic population and its values. 

6,000-year-old salt production site is discovered in Yorkshire
A large blackened patch of earth at the saltern, seen here from the north
[Credit: S.J. Sherlock, 2021]

In the 1980s, scientists had discovered at least two sites at the UK’s Street House, namely Neolithic cairn and associated mortuary structure, that paved way for the identification of further Neolithic structures in the area. The excavations were resumed in 2004, as scientists investigated the Iron Age settlements, evidence for salt production, and the existence of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the region. 

6,000-year-old salt production site is discovered in Yorkshire
Detail of northern hearth [Credit: S.J. Sherlock, 2021]

Archaeologist Steve Sherlock, who led the dig, called the excavations “spectacular and of national significance”. He said that the neolithic salterns and bronze age salt processing sites were never previously discovered in Britain, and hence, his self-funded excavation in the street house was a breakthrough. 

6,000-year-old salt production site is discovered in Yorkshire
Examples of sherds from the saltern [Credit: S.J. Sherlock, 2021]

“It took me a while to get the confidence to stand up and say: ‘This could change how we view the neolithic,’” he said. But he sought input from other academic experts in ancient salt production “and they are all of the views that this is evidence for neolithic salt-working, and is tremendously significant”. 

The findings of pottery at the house earlier have suggested that the neolithic population in Yorkshire may have arrived from France during 4,000 BC. “These salt-working technology probably arrived with these migrating people,” Sherlock stressed.

Author: Zaini Majeed | Source: Republic World [March 31, 2021]

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