An artist's impression of a hunter gatherer camp near Bletchingley, around 5000BC (courtesy of V Ambrus)

An artist’s impression of a hunter gatherer camp near Bletchingley, around 5000BC (courtesy of V Ambrus)

Surrey’s Mesolithic sites are included in the county Historic Environment Record (HER). Click here to learn more about the HER in general. Click the HER links below for more information on the sites mentioned.

Like the people of the Palaeolithic, the humans who lived during the Mesolithic got their food through hunting animals and gathering edible plants. However, the climate in Britain had changed from the cold climates of the Palaeolithic and, as the country grew warmer, trees and other vegetation began to cover the land. Most of Britain became covered with dense woodland and methods of hunting and the tools used had to change to suit the new environment.

In the Mesolithic, microliths were attached to wooden shafts to make arrows and spears. Image: SCAU

In the Mesolithic, microliths were attached to wooden shafts to make arrows and spears.
Image: SCAU

At the beginning of the Mesolithic, people were still moving around a lot to get the best resources for the season. Both temporary overnight camps for hunting parties and larger, seasonal camps were used. They probably set up tent-like structures using wooden poles and animal skins, but sadly neither wood nor animal skin survives in the ground, so such structures are not found today. The tools used to hunt animals do survive, however, as do bones of animals and fish and shells from shellfish, which these people ate. When large numbers of these are concentrated in one area, it is likely that this area was used as a Mesolithic camp. The types of animals or fish found at a site can indicate what time of year it was used

In Surrey, an example of a large Mesolithic hunting camp comes from North Park Farm, Bletchingley (HER 13723). Here archaeologists have found several flint tools with evidence that they were made at the site. They also found burnt flints and remains of fires, which suggest cooking. The site would have been used seasonally, and the evidence indicates that people returned to it year after year from around 8000 BC to 4500 BC. Another probable camp was found at Woodbridge Road near Guildford (HER 5876). Evidence includes up to 150,000 flint tools from the later Mesolithic and the site is amongst the largest found in south-east England. An early Mesolithic site was found at Abinger Manor (HER 52). This consisted of a large pit with flint tools and two post holes where wooden poles would have been put in to hold up skins. A building now protects it and a small museum has been built on the site.

Thursley Common, heathland

Thursley Common, heathland

Towards the end of the Mesolithic, people began to adopt a more settled lifestyle. Instead of moving constantly from place to place in search of food, they began to clear areas of woodland and set up larger settlements. Woodland clearance led to sandy soils having the fertility washed out of them, forming poor heathland e.g. at Thursley where various Mesolithic tools have been found in the area (HER 3492, 2128, 2060, 1791). By the end of the Mesolithic around 6000 years ago, people had begun to cultivate crops and care for livestock. This was the beginnings of farming and the start of the Neolithic period.

 

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