A piece of oak found in a peat layer during construction work has been radiocarbon dated to between 4640 and 4605 BC. the oldest ornamentally carved tree in Britain. It precedes the previous record holder, an oak pole carved in the shape of a wave and an eye. found in Murdie, Walesto 400 years.
The timber was discovered in 2019 by landowner and retired urological surgeon Derek Fawcett in a trench he dug for the foundation of a new workshop on his property in Boxford, West Berkshire. It was recovered about five feet below the earth’s surface from a paleochannel within a layer of peat. The anaerobic environment of peat preserved wood for thousands of years.
After being hosed down, cut marks appeared on several faces, including 10 notches on one long side and finer notches further apart on the other long side. Fawcett reported the discovery to West Berkshire Council archaeologists, who in turn consulted Historic England experts to analyze the artifact.
The purpose of the drawings on this piece of wood is unknown, but they resemble an ornament found on early Neolithic pottery, and it is also believed that they are similar to the ornament on the body of the Shigir idol, a wooden sculpture found in the Ural Mountains. Russia, which is over 12,000 years old, is considered the oldest example of carved wood in the world.
Janine Lewis, Executive Director of Culture and Leisure, West Berkshire:
“We are very grateful to the landowner for alerting us to this unexpected discovery, and to Historic England for providing a special analysis that revealed a surprisingly early date for this mysterious artifact. Although West Berkshire has long been known in archaeological circles as of national importance for its Middle Stone Age sites, they are predominantly in the Kennet Valley and are early Mesolithic. In contrast, Boxford wood has been found in peat near the Lambourne River and has been dated to the end of this prehistoric hunter-gatherer lifestyle, adding to the significance of this component of our area’s historic environment.”
Derek Fawcett donated the timber to the West Berkshire Museum in Newbury. When the study and conservation are completed, the tree will be put on display.