The site at Howick was discovered when amateur archaeologists found flint tools eroding from a cliff edge 3km south of Craster on the Northumberland coast. The discovery prompted an investigation by ARS Ltd and the University of Newcastle which took place in the summers of 2000 and 2002.
The main feature on the site was one of the best-preserved Mesolithic huts so far discovered in Britain. The radiocarbon dates from the hearths inside the hut have shown that it was constructed around 7800 BC (cal.), making Howick the earliest occupation site in Northumberland, and also a key site for our understanding of Stone Age settlement across Britain. In addition to the Mesolithic hut, a cemetery consisting of five Bronze Age cists was found on the site.
The site was subjected to detailed and meticulous excavation involving geophysical survey, fieldwalking, and environmental analysis to provide a landscape perspective. All archaeological deposits were passed through a sieve and flotation tank. This detailed approach to recording means that Howick now represents one of the most fully understood Mesolithic sites in Europe.
It was decided to undertake an experimental construction of the Howick hut to further understanding and to provide some tangible interpretation for the public interpretation. Two huts, that can be visited free of charge, have been built: the first at the Maelmin Heritage Trail and the second on the site of the excavation at Howick.
In early 2005 it was decided to brave the inclement seasonal weather of the Northumberland coast to reconstruct the Mesolithic hut as part of the BBC's documentary series 'Coast'. The decision was made to recreate the hut as faithfully as possible just a few metres along the cliff top from where it had originally been excavated.
The hut consists of a 'tepee' frame of long birch poles which provide the basic cone shape. These were reinforced with a ring of uprights and cross beams using thick pine logs. The final structural elements were the spars which locked the structure together and also provided the support for roofing the structure. It was decided to construct the roof out of turf as the robust timber frame had clearly supported a heavy roof covering. It is possible that the original roof may have consisted of a combination of turf and reed thatch, with the soil facing out and reed thatch pinned to this, creating an insulated, waterproof and flame-retardant roof.
The reconstruction was undertaken in four days during which the weather fluctuated from blazing sunshine to what one would expect from a cliff top on the same latitude as Moscow. This however did not deter the team of volunteers who helped reconstruct the hut, and the many of thousands of visitors who have been to see the site.
The Howick excavation Archive is now fully available on the Archaeology Data Service website. Please click here to access the archive.
For more information see:
• Boomer, I., Waddington, C., Stevenson, A. and A. Bayliss (in prep) Holocene coastal environmental change and geoarchaeology at Howick, Northumberland, Holocene
• Pedersen, K.L.R. and C. Waddington, Eds. (2007). Mesolithic Studies in the North Sea Basin: New Sites and Recent Research. Oxford, Oxbow.
• Waddington, C. et al (2003) A Mesolithic settlement site at Howick, Northumberland: a preliminary report. Archaeologia Aeliana 5th Series, 32: 1–12.
• Waddington, C., Ed. (2007) Mesolithic Settlement in the North Sea Basin: A Case Study from Howick, North-East England. Oxford, Oxbow and English Heritage.