Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of the first house ever built in Britain – which dates back to 8,500 BC.
The 3.5 metre wide circular timber dwelling was found as part of a six-year dig next to an ancient Stone Age lake at Star Carr, near Scarborough.
A team from the universities of Manchester and York reckon the home dates to at least 8,500 BC – when Britain was part of continental Europe.
The house pre-dates what was previously Britain’s oldest known dwelling at Howick, Northumberland, by at least 500 years.
Its discovery dispels many myths about early settlers in Britain not becoming attached to a specific area and sheds light on a comparatively unknown period of history.
The site, which is comparable in archaeological importance to Stonehenge, has been studied since 2004 and the house was first unearthed 40cm beneath the surface two years ago.
Yesterday, thanks to a combination of carbon dating and analysis of surrounding matter, it was unveiled as the first house ever built in Britain – and is also the oldest example of carpentry in Europe.
Because it has undergone several repairs over a period of time, it is thought the inhabitants repeatedly returned to the site to maintain the property.
Dr Nicky Milner from the University of York said: ”This is a sensational discovery and tells us so much about the people who lived at this time.
”From this excavation, we gain a vivid picture of how these people lived. For example, it looks like the house may have been rebuilt at various stages.
”It is also likely there was more than one house and lots of people lived here.
”The platform is made of hewn and split timbers; the earliest evidence of this type of carpentry in Europe.
”And the artefacts of antler, particularly the antler head-dresses, are intriguing as they suggest ritual activities.”
Dr Chantal Conneller, from the University of York, added: ”This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last Ice Age.
”We used to think they moved around a lot and left little evidence. Now we know they built large structures and were very attached to particular places in the landscape.”
Archaeologists found the house had post holes around a central hollow which would have been filled with organic matter such as reeds, and possibly a fireplace.
The site was inhabited by hunter gatherers from just after the last Ice Age, for a period of between 200 and 500 years.
According to the team, the inhabitants migrated from an area now under the North Sea, hunting animals including deer, wild boar, elk and enormous wild cattle known as auroch.
It is not known how many may have lived in the hut or on the site.
Though they did not cultivate the land, the inhabitants did burn part of the landscape to encourage animals to eat shoots and they also kept domesticated dogs.
Barry Taylor, from the University of Manchester, said: ”The ancient lake is a hugely important archaeological landscape many miles across.
”To an inexperienced eye, the area looks unremarkable – just a series of little rises in the landscape.
”But using special techniques I have been able to reconstruct the landscape as it was then.
”The peaty nature of the landscape has enabled the preservation of many treasures including the paddle of a boat, the tips of arrows and red deer skull tops which were worn as masks.
”But the peat is drying out, so it’s a race against time to continue the work before the archaeological finds decay.”