Neolithic people were manufacturing salt on the British islands almost 6,000 years ago, way before its landmark monument, Stonehenge, was erected, and over two millennia earlier than was first believed, findings of new research suggest.
Excavation work at Street House farm in North Yorkshire has yielded evidence pertaining to the earliest salt production site ever found across the UK and one of the first of this kind in western Europe at large.
While working at the site, archaeologists discovered a number of striking artefacts, including a trench housing three hearths, broken pieces of neolithic pottery with some still containing salt deposits, a storage pit, and more.
According to Steve Sherlock, the lead archaeologist, the finds are “spectacular and of national significance”.
Britain is known to be home to strings of bronze age salt-working sites, the earliest of which dates to around 1400BC. However, the aforementioned site uniquely belongs to the Neolithic era: while the similar-dated salterns are scattered all around continental Europe, notably in Poland and the Balkans, no comparable sites were previously known in the UK.
The people who were using the Street House site at the time were like “pioneers”, said Sherlock, noting that they must have cleared the surrounding landscape of oak and elm forests to set up their settlements.
Pottery unearthed at the site resembled the items introduced by people who migrated from northern France about 4,000BC, and “the salt-working technology probably arrived with these migrating people”, added Sherlock.