2. Mesolithic

8000 BC to around 4000 BC

Microliths were attached to wooden shafts to make arrows and spears. Image: SCAU

Microliths were attached to wooden shafts to make arrows and spears.
Image: SCAU

During this period, the climate warmed up, sea levels rose and Britain became an island. Woods grew over much of the land, with a rich variety of insects, plants and animals. People had to adapt to their changing environment, developing new tools for hunting among the trees.

At this time hunter-gatherers moved around the countryside following herds of animals and looking for the best flint for their tools. They stalked red deer, pig, aurochs (very large wild cattle) and elk. They used arrows and spears to kill them. The weapons were made using microliths, which were small worked pieces of flint fixed to wooden shafts. People gathered plants and fruits to eat, such as hazelnuts, raspberries, wild pears and apples. They also caught fish if they lived by the sea or rivers, and ate shellfish. They made huge rubbish dumps called middens, which show us exactly what people were eating!

An artist's impression of a hunter-gatherer camp around 5000BC (copyright Victor Ambrus)

An artist’s impression of a hunter-gatherer camp around 5000BC (copyright Victor Ambrus)

During this period people set up camps on open ground, and sometimes by lakes or the sea. They constructed tent-like shelters, made up of animal skins stretched over a series of poles. Some had a hearth for a fire. Some places were just for overnight stops, but others were used for longer periods. These sites had a specific purpose, and were used at different times of the year. A small hunting camp on high ground was used in the summer, and larger open ground camps were used in the winter. These were good places for fishing, flint-working and scraping animal skins.  They liked the dry ground on the edge of the Greensand Hills (the line of the Hills runs roughly West to East through Haslemere, Godalming, Reigate, Redhill and Oxted). Many flints have been found along the Tillingbourne Valley, click here for information on finds from around the Albury area.

Towards the end of this period groups of people started to settle down in one place. They cleared areas of woodland to make camps by burning the plants, as possibly happened at Thursley. This encouraged new plants and grasses to grow, which attracted animals and game that they could eat. They had to learn how to look after their resources so that they did not have to keep moving around.

Mesolithic Surrey

  • A core adze of around 5000 BC was found in Leatherhead
  • Evidence for a large hunter-gatherer camp was found during excavations at North Park Farm quarry, near Bletchingley
  • The heathland near Thursley may have been first created by hunter gatherers clearing the trees, and it was maintained through grazing until recently. When the land was cleared, rainfall water leached the goodness out of the soil, making it too poor to grow crops; so the heathland wildlife was preserved.
    Modern view of Thursley Common

    Modern view of Thursley Common

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