A 6,000-Year-Old Carving Sheds New Light On Neolithic Mysteries

A retired surgeon has stumbled across the oldest piece of carved wood ever found in the United Kingdom. It was almost perfectly preserved in peat and provides clues about the Neolithic era in Britain.

Derek Fawcett was digging foundations for a workshop when he discovered the three-foot piece of timber. It seems to be a fragment from a large decorated monument and archeologists believe it is approximately 6,600 years old. Historic England has stated it is from between 4,640 and 4,605 BC. This makes it 500 years older than any other Mesolithic timber in the UK and 2,000 years older than Stonehenge.

The oldest wood carving found in the UK.

The wood carving dates back 6,000 years. Photo: Historic England


After archaeologists removed and cleaned the timber, the markings on it became clear. They are similar to the decoration seen on pottery from the era and from carvings on the Shigir Idol. The Shigir Idol is a 12,500-year-old wooden sculpture from Russia, the oldest piece of carved wood in the world.

“It is remarkable. This exciting find has helped shine new light on our distant past and we’re grateful to the landowner for recognizing its significance,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England.

Tracing the patterns on the timber.

Tracing the patterns on the timber. Photo: Historic England


Linked to Stonehenge?

Fawcett discovered the carving in Boxford, 45km from the famous Neolithic standing stones of Stonehenge. Some believe the proximity is significant. Stonehenge researchers in the 1960s revealed that large timber obelisks, similar to totem poles, had been in place at the site 5,000 years before people erected the stones. However, they found no wood at the site, only the holes where the obelisks once stood. Fawcett’s carving could resemble these Stonehenge obelisks; they date to the same period and were created in the same region.


Stonehenge. Photo: Shutterstock


Others have suggested that the carving could demonstrate human migration in the Neolithic period. The Shigir Idol has very similar markings to those of the 11,000-year-old Göbekli Tepe Temple in Turkey. Marcel Niekus told The Times that similar geometric markings from across Europe are “evidence of long-distance contact and a shared sign language over vast areas.” The carved wood unearthed in Boxford could be an interesting new piece to this puzzle.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.