A salt production site that is believed to be older than Stonehenge has been discovered in North Yorkshire. The find, made at Street House farm near Loftus, dates from around 3800 BC, during the Neolithic Period.
The discovery includes a trench containing three hearths and hundreds of pottery fragments, as well as stone tools and a storage pit – all evidence of salt production.
At the time, salt was an extremely rare and valuable commodity, essential for allowing the storage of other foodstuffs throughout the winters.
Previous such sites have been discovered in Britain dating back to the Bronze Age. But Street House is significantly older and may be one of the earliest of its kind found in Western Europe.
The find was made by Dr Stephen Sherlock, a professional archaeologist who leads an annual self-funded research project at Street House. His findings have been published in the June issue of the archaeology journal, Antiquity.
Sherlock explained the production process, involving seawater from the nearby shore, which was then evaporated into a brine solution and stored. The brine would then be heated in pots placed over a hearth, which were later broken to retrieve a salt cake. This cake could then be sold on.
Sherlock also drew attention to pottery found at the site, including a carinated bowl believed to have been introduced by migrants from Northern France around 4000 BC. Its presence suggests the salt-working technology was also brought over by migrants rather than developed locally.
Neolithic discoveries at Street House were first made in the 1980s, but it was not until 2014 that a geophysical survey revealed the full extent of the site, prompting further research.
Street House may have survived because it is located on a high clifftop, whereas other salt production centres have long since been eroded by rising sea levels.