Significant Mesolithic site excavated in Bedfordshire

Aseries of 25 Mesolithic pits have been discovered in Linmere, near Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire. This is the highest number of pits from this period ever found at a single site in England, making this one of the largest Mesolithic sites in the country and significant for our understanding of the period, for which evidence is often scant.

The site was first excavated in 2019 by Albion Archaeology on behalf of Lands Improvement Holdings Ltd. More of the site was subsequently excavated by MOLA in 2021 (below) in advance of development of the site by Bellway Homes. As the project was limited to the immediate development area, further pits might still be located outside the site limits.

Clustered around former stream channels, the pits appear to be aligned along multiple straight lines, one of which is approximately 500m long. All of the pits measured over 2m wide and 1m deep (with the largest measuring 5m wide and 1.85m deep), with steep sides and some flaring out into wider bases. Found inside the pits were a range of different animal bones, including aurochs, marten, deer, and boar. Evidence on some of the aurochs bones suggests that they may have been butchered, and hence may be the remains of a meal. Radiocarbon dating of the bones has placed the pits sometime between 8,500 to 7,700 years ago, in the late Mesolithic period. While it is unknown why the pits were made, their almost-sheer sides mean that they were probably not used for storage and may have had a more significant meaning to the community who dug them.

Commenting on the significance of the discovery, Professor Joshua Pollard, from Southampton University, said, ‘The Linmere Mesolithic pits are a very exciting discovery. While we know of other large and enigmatic pits dug by hunter-gatherers from elsewhere in Britain, including at Stonehenge, the Linmere pits are striking because of their number and the wide area that they cover.’

Post-excavation analysis of the pits is ongoing, with archaeologists using botanical samples found in the pits – such as oak, hazel, pine, and pollen – to reconstruct the Mesolithic environment and elucidate whether the pits were likely all dug and in use at the same time, or over a longer period.

Text: Kathryn Krakowka / Image: MOLA