Power company project becomes one of Europe's largest archeological digs

The site included the skull of an auroch, an extinct species of cattle.

Story highlights

  • The 16,000-square-meter site is one of the largest archaeological digs in Europe
  • Among the findings: an animal skull, pottery, building structures, bones, coins

(CNN)A Neolithic trackway dating to 2300 B.C. was uncovered in a nondescript field in Suffolk, on the east coast of England, thanks to a power company.

Among the findings at the site were the skull of an auroch -- an extinct species of wild cattle dating to about 4000 B.C. -- as well as pottery, building structures, bones, coins and poles to designate the route of the ancient trackway, the centerpiece of this particular excavation. Trackways are ancient roadways that formed when people or animals repeatedly tread the same path.
    "Undoubtedly this is a site of international archaeological significance. It is exceptionally rare to find preserved organic materials from the Neolithic period, and we will learn a great deal from this discovery," said Richard Newman, associate director at Wardell Armstrong, the company overseeing the dig.
    The site -- which is 16,000 square meters -- is one of the largest archaeological digs in Europe. Though the site dates to the Neolithic time period, considered to be the later part of the Stone Age, the project has uncovered artifacts from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods, as well.
    An arrowhead discovered at the site.
    Scottish Power, an energy supplier, is installing underground cables linking the mainland with an offshore wind farm. However, in England, before a company can undertake any large infrastructure project, it has to commission a large archaeological investigation, according to Claire Halley, education and outreach officer for Wardell Armstrong and an archaeologist herself.
    "What is interesting about the site we are currently excavating is that it didn't really point to much being there. It didn't register as a site of great potential," Halley said.
    But in January, after removing a layer of topsoil, archeologists saw a "dark, long feature ... that had wood in it," according to Halley. They initially thought it was a medieval walkway. But after having the wood radiocarbon-dated, they realized the trackway was from the Neolithic era.
    Archeologists working at the site in Suffolk.
    "The further down archeologists dig, the more important and older things they find," said Simon McMillan, head of media relations of Scottish Power.
    The excavation has enlisted nearly 400 archaeologists, with peak on-site work force of around 250 people, according to Scottish Power.
    The trackway is just one of more than 50 sites that have been revealed along the 37-kilometer (23-mile) route where Scottish Power intends to place power cables.
      Most people focus on the "glitz and glamour" of jewelry found in many digs, but what's so important and interesting about this particular site, according to Halley, is what it uncovers about the daily life of the people who lived in the area.
      "This site is, for a lot of archeologists working on it, a once in a lifetime event. They feel like they won't come across anything like this again in their careers. This is a really special place, and we are really excited to be working on it," she said.