Bunnies in Wales Dig Up Treasure of 9,000-Year-old Artifacts

Reprinted with permission from World At Large, a news website of nature, politics, science, health, and travel.

Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, WTSWW

Alone on the windswept island Skokholm, wardens have found Stone Age tools and a pottery shard from an unlikely survey plot—down a rabbit burrow.

The finds date to 3,750—9,000 years ago, and include tools for making seal hide clothes and boats and the shard of a funerary urn, suggesting the small island could have been used for ritual burial.

Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, the only humans on the island since COVID-19 arrived, discovered the first of two “bevelled pebbles” outside of a burrow where, rather than tomb-robbers or artifact hunters, it had been dug up from the ground by the island’s rabbits as they strove to make their underground home.

Snapping a photograph, they sent it to Dr. Toby Driver of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, who replied back that “the photos are clearly of a late Mesolithic ‘bevelled pebble.”

Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, WTSWW

“These are common and distinctive finds amongst flint scatters of this age found on coastal sites all the way from [northern] France up to western Scotland, and also on some northern English coasts,” he added, according to the Skokholm Blog, managed by Brown and Eagle.

“We had our eye in, and it wasn’t long before we found another very likely candidate for a bevelled pebble along Little Bay Wall (again exposed by the digging of Rabbits),” wrote the pair two days later when they happened upon another find.

“Although we couldn’t find any more stones at the original site in the lee of the knoll, we did find a piece of pottery which to our (very) untrained eyes looked old.”

Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, WTSWW

Once again they alerted an expert and received an analysis that the thick-walled pottery shard was part, not of ancient food storage, but rather of a funerary urn. Jody Deacon at the National Museum of Wales told them that they are “common in Ireland and seem to turn up more frequently in the western areas of Wales”.

“[This is the] First Bronze Age burial urn fragment from the west Pembrokeshire islands,” remarked Dr. Driver upon hearing the news. “The prehistory of Skokholm has changed completely in only a few days.”

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Similar examples from west Wales dated to about 2,100 and 1,750 BCE, or around 3,750 years ago.

From nature reserve to national reserve

Skokholm Island/Bob Embleton, CC license

Situated two miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, in Wales, the island of Skokholm, meaning “wooded island” in the language of the Norse peoples who settled it in the Viking Age, is just one-mile long and a half mile across at the widest point.

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Nicknamed, “Dream Island,” rabbits and seabirds, along with other sea life are the only inhabitants outside of primitive campers seeking an overnight experience in nature. The island was bought and turned into a nature reserve by the The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.

Colonized every summer by tens of thousands of shearwaters, petrels, gulls, guillemots, puffins, and razorbills, there is also a plentiful population of rabbits. Rabbits, according to Danièle Cybulskie writing at Medievalists, were brought over to Britain by the Normans, and warrens were created for them on islands like Bannow, and probably Skokholm, to protect them from predators so as to supply a stable food and fur resource.

Nearby Skomer Island is better known for its well-preserved prehistoric archaeology, and archaeologists Driver and Louise Barker from the Royal Commission, who have carried out archaeological surveys there, intend to pay a little visit to Skokholm after quarantine restrictions ease to investigate the site further.

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“Now Skokholm is producing some amazing prehistoric finds,” write the Commission in a release. “It seems we may have an Early Bronze burial mound built over a Middle Stone Age hunter gatherer site, disturbed by rabbits. It’s a sheltered spot, where the island’s cottage now stands, and has clearly been settled for millennia.”

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