14 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Britain’s oldest decoratively piece of carved wood discovered in a layer of peat

A heavily notched oak timber found in a peat layer during construction work turned out to be the oldest piece of carved wood in Britain.

Radiocarbon dated to between 4640 and 4605 B.C., making it the oldest decoratively carved wood in Britain. It dated to more than 6,000 years ago, making it 2,000 years older than Stonehenge.

It is 400 years older than the previous record-holder, an oak post carved with wave and eye shapes discovered in Maerdy, Wales.

The meter-long (3.2ft) blackened piece of timber, with enigmatic carvings which have been compared to designs on ancient pottery, was found embedded in peat during the construction of an outbuilding at a property in the village of Boxford in Berkshire.

The markings also resemble those found on the oldest piece of carved wood – a figurine known as the Shigir Idol – a wooden sculpture found in the Ural mountains of Russia.

The Boxford Timber was discovered in Berkshire. At more than 6,000 years old, it is Britain's oldest carved wood. Photo: Derek Fawcett.
The Boxford Timber was discovered in Berkshire. At more than 6,000 years old, it is Britain’s oldest carved wood. Photo: Derek Fawcett.

At 12,500 years old, Shigir Idol is thought to be the oldest example of carved wood in the world.

It has been dated by experts from Historic England, with scientists from the Nottingham tree-ring dating laboratory, and the Centre for Isotope Research at the University of Groningen, to between 4,640 BC and 4,605 BC.

The scientists used a combination of radiocarbon dating, and tree ring dating of a slice of the wood, which together give a 95% probability of the date.

The timber was found in a waterlogged layer, 1.5 meters below the present ground level.  The site owner Derek Fawcettt, who immediately contacted the county archaeologist, Sarah Orr, said: “It was clearly very old and appeared well preserved in peat. After hosing it down we saw that it had markings that appeared unnatural and possibly man-made.”

Archaeological illustration showing intentional cut marks. Photo: Historic England / Judith Dobie.
Archaeological illustration showing intentional cut marks. Photo: Historic England / Judith Dobie.

The carved wood oak is one metre long, 0.42 metres wide and 0.2 metres thick (3.2ft by 1.3ft by 0.6ft).

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England said: ‘It’s remarkable that by doing routine building work a piece of modest-looking decorative wood turns out to be the oldest ever found in Britain.

‘This exciting find has helped to shine new light on our distant past and we’re grateful to the landowner for recognising its significance.

The donation is announced to mark Museums Week, from June 5-11. Janine Fox, the curator of the West Berkshire Museum, described it as “a brilliant find”, which they will be excited to display. “Further study may reveal more about the markings on the oak and its context, but its unearthing gives us perspective on the long rich heritage of West Berkshire and a tangible link to humans who lived in this area long before any towns and villages had been created.”

Historic England

Cover Photo: Derek Fawcett

Related Articles

A Batavian Cavalry Mask was found on the Battlefield of Roman Comrades

22 July 2022

22 July 2022

Archaeologists have discovered that a rusty corroded plate they found 4 years ago at an old battlefield in the city...

Poland’s largest megalithic cemetery discovered

3 March 2021

3 March 2021

Archaeologists excavated in Poland discovered a large megalithic complex, including dozens of tombs dating back 5,500 years. The site was...

1.8-million-year-old ‘human tooth’ discovered in Georgia

9 September 2022

9 September 2022

An ancient human tooth discovered by archaeologists in Georgia dates back 1.8 million years, firmly establishing the area as the...

Archaeologists have discovered 85 ancient tombs, a watchtower, and a temple site in Egypt’s Gabal al-Haridi region

5 May 2022

5 May 2022

The Egyptian archaeological mission discovered 85 tombs, a watchtower, and a temple site in the Gabal al-Haridi area of Sohag,...

Storms uncover precious marble cargo from a 1,800-year-old Mediterranean shipwreck in Israel

15 May 2023

15 May 2023

Numerous rare marble artifacts have been found at the site of a 1,800-year-old shipwreck in shallow waters just 200 meters...

Remains of 2 houses belonging to the founding period of the city were unearthed in the ancient city of Hierapolis

5 November 2021

5 November 2021

During this year’s excavations in the ancient city of Hierapolis-Pamukkale in Turkey’s Aegean province Denizli, the remains of two houses...

An unknown human group is revealed in a 7,200-year-old skeleton discovered in Indonesia

27 August 2021

27 August 2021

According to a study released this week, archaeologists uncovered the bones of a 7,200-year-old skeleton from a female hunter-gatherer in...

Ancient Ruins Hidden Under Thessaloniki Metro Revealed

15 January 2023

15 January 2023

The finds unearthed during the construction of local metro facilities in Thessaloniki, a Greek port city on the Thermaic Gulf...

Oldest prayer beads made from salmon vertebrae found on England’s Holy island

28 June 2022

28 June 2022

On the island of Lindisfarne, just off the coast of Northumberland, known in England as the “Holy Island“, archaeologists have...

The world’s largest Byzantine winepresses have been discovered in Israel

11 October 2021

11 October 2021

Archaeologists say they’ve discovered the world’s largest known Byzantine-era winery in the city of Yavne, south of Tel Aviv. The...

A new study in Portugal suggests that mummification in Europe may be older than previously thought

3 March 2022

3 March 2022

New research on the hunter-gatherer burial sites in the Sado Valley in Portugal, dating to 8,000 years ago, suggests that...

Imperial cult temple discovered in Spello: It opens a new chapter in the Roman Empire’s transition from paganism to Christianity

6 January 2024

6 January 2024

American researchers have announced the discovery of an Imperial cult temple in Spello, Italy. The discovery was announced by Douglas...

Trier University’s Digital Coin Cabinet is Now Accessible

19 February 2024

19 February 2024

Historical coins are much more than just pieces of jewelry for collections and exhibitions and are of particular interest for...

After 150 years, Schliemann’s destruction in Troy was repaired

8 August 2021

8 August 2021

Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman, excavated the ancient city of Troy in northwest Canakkale province 150 years ago. Archaeologists are...

Largest Headhunting Massacre of Women and Children in Neolithic China

12 November 2023

12 November 2023

A new study discovers that ancient headless skeletons discovered in mass graves in China are the remains of victims who...