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Burrowing rabbits dig up 9,000-year-old artifacts on Welsh island

Maison d'habitation sur l'île de Skokholm, 25 avril 2000, Pays de Galles, Royaume Uni. (Photo by Frédéric REGLAIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network via CNN) — New insights into the history of a remote Welsh island have emerged thanks to some rabbits who kicked up 9,000-year-old artifacts as they were burrowing.

Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, two nature wardens who are in lockdown on Skokholm Island off the coast of Wales in the U.K., spotted the objects in the dirt earlier this month, according to a press release.

The pair first found a smooth rectangular stone from a rabbit hole near the island’s cottage and sent images of the find to experts on the mainland.

Prehistoric stone tool expert Andrew David confirmed that the find was a “bevelled pebble” dating from the Mesolithic period, also known as the Middle Stone Age.

David said in the release that this tool was thought to have been used by hunter-gathers between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago to prepare seal hides for “skin-clad watercraft” or to process food such as shellfish.

“Although these types of tools are well known on coastal sites on mainland Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, as well into Scotland and northern France, this is the first example from Skokholm, and the first firm evidence for Late Mesolithic occupation on the island,” David said.

But the discoveries on Skokholm Island didn’t end there.

The day after finding the “bevelled pebble,” Brown and Eagle also uncovered a second Mesolithic stone tool, as well as large pieces of coarse pottery from the entrance of the same rabbit hole.

Jody Deacon, a curator of prehistoric archeology at the National Museum Wales, identified the pieces of pottery as belonging to a 3,750-year-old burial urn from the Early Bronze Age.

According to the release, one of the large fragments was decorated with incised lines and was likely part of the rim of a thick-walled pot, usually associated with cremation burials.

While ancient burial urns are not unusual finds in Wales, Deacon noted that this is the first of its kind to be found on Skokholm Island, or any of the western Pembrokeshire islands.

Skokholm Island is best known as a home for tens of thousands of nesting seabirds and the neighbouring Skomer Island is better known for its well-preserved prehistoric archaeology.

However, experts say these new findings change that.

Archeologists from the Royal Commission of Wales have carried out surveys on the nearby islands of Skomer, Grassholm and Ramsey, and plan to visit Skokholm later this year once COVID-19 restrictions allow it.

Royal Commission archeologist Toby Driver said in the release that past aerial surveys and airborne laser scanning have shown remains of some prehistoric fields and settlements on Skokholm, but none have ever been excavated.

“Now, Skokholm is producing some amazing prehistoric finds. It seems we may have an Early Bronze burial mound built over a Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherer site, disturbed by rabbits. It’s a sheltered spot, where the island’s cottage now stands, and has clearly been settled for millennia,” Driver said.

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