Storytelling flints and the original Oxen Ford: flood scheme archaeology begins

THIS tiny piece of flint is barely an inch long, but it tells an incredible story. A stone flake reveals that 6,000 years ago, for just a few short minutes, a tribe of Mesolithic hunters stopped in this field in South Hinksey to sharpen their tools. The miniscule fragment is just the first of thousands of discoveries archaeologists are hoping to make in 200 trenches across South Oxford in the next two months. The team from Oxford Archaeology are excavating the area that in due course will become the Environment Agency’s £120m Oxford flood alleviation channel. They are looking for evidence of Saxon huts, Norman roads and even the very Oxen Ford, which our city is named after. Helping to lead the project is supervisor Tom Lawrence, a specialist in the Mesolithic era (6,500BC – 4,000BC). Enthusing about this early discovery of scattered flint chips he explained: "This was a very low-density, almost ad-hoc event where people have come for a few minutes to manufacture their tools then leave again. "The main technology the Mesolithic people had were these things called microliths which were essentially flint plug-in tools: you would plug one into a wooden heft and go hunt a deer, and if it fell out you’d plug a new one in. "To my mind that is the most beautiful thing about archaeology: if you’ve got an eagle eye you can spot the smallest details which reveal the thought processes of the manufacturers. "It’s really amazing what you can find out." The area which Oxford Archaeology are exploring is along the rough proposed route of the flood channel – a rough arc from Seacourt Park and Ride to Kennington. Being in the flood plain, for hundreds of thousands of years this area was mostly marsh, especially before the Normans arrived and drained much of it. Mr Lawrence said one of the most incredible finds he could make would be a Mesolithic log boat used to navigate the swamp. He also said that any evidence of major solid structures such as stone or wooden buildings could be ‘game changing’ in our history of Oxford. But one thing the team definitely know they are looking for is the Oxen Ford. Actually, this is thought to have been be the Medieval North Hinksey Causeway which has been known about for years, but these excavations being paid for by the EA will offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look for more of it underground. If they can find it they will be able to test the theory that it really was the first road built in Oxford. Mr Lawrence added: "It is such a great opportunity, and so far it is going really well."
Utne Altwire: science

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