A piece of carved wood discovered by chance is more than 6,000 years old – making it the oldest of its kind in the UK, experts say.
The decorative markings were made by Late Mesolithic people 2,000 years before Stonehenge was built and 4,500 years before the Romans came to Britain.
The metre-long piece of oak was discovered lying in peat during the construction of an outbuilding at a property in the village of Boxford in Berkshire.
It was found approximately 1.5 metres below the surface and not far from the present course of the River Lambourn.
Historic England has dated the specimen to the Late Mesolithic period (4640-4605 BC).
Experts suggest it pre-dates by 500 years the only other known Mesolithic carved timber in Britain, discovered near Maerdy in Wales.
The purpose of the markings on the wood is not known but they look similar to the decoration seen on early Neolithic pottery.
Peat is able to preserve organic materials like wood over thousands of years because the normal processes of decay are slowed right down due to a lack of oxygen within the peat.
The timber was removed and later that day it was cleaned and found to have some markings that did not appear to be natural.
The markings on the wood are believed to be similar to the body decoration on the Shigir Idol – a wooden sculpture found in the Ural mountains of Russia which, at 12,500 years old, is believed to be the oldest example of carved wood in the world.
Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said the discovery was “remarkable”.
“This exciting find has helped to shine new light on our distant past and we’re grateful to the landowner for recognising its significance,” he said.
“Amazing discoveries like these remind us of the power of archaeology to uncover the hidden narratives that connect us to our roots.”
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After being notified of the find in 2019, West Berkshire Council’s archaeologist Sarah Orr contacted Historic England for expert advice.
Landowner Derek Fawcett, a retired urological surgeon, has now donated the timber to the West Berkshire Museum in Newbury where it will eventually go on display.
The museum is also working with the Boxford History Project to arrange for the timber to go on loan to the Boxford village heritage centre.