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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
New road reveals Stone Age site
Stone Age axe - (C) Ken Whittaker.
A total of 44 flint axes were found
Archaeologists believe they may have stumbled upon a major Stone Age site in the UK - on the route of a new bypass.

The site dates back between 250,000 and 300,000 years ago, and may even provide evidence of one of the earliest uses of fire.

Archaeologists discovered a range of items at the location in Harnham, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, including 44 "very rare" flint hand axes - the earliest form of tool used by man.

Yet the dig was only organised after the county council unveiled plans to build a relief road for the village.

One of the most exciting discoveries on the site has been evidence of charcoal, which could point to an early use of fire.

Roy Canham, county archaeologist, told BBC News Online: "It is always a bit tentative.

It could be the earliest evidence of such fires in Britain and probably in Europe
Helena Cave Penny
County archaeologist
"We are dealing with a very early period of time and it may have to remain speculative. But the evidence is what it is and it looks OK.

"This discovery has come out of the blue. There is no evidence of the site from air photography and no history of fieldwork."

Helena Cave Penny, an archaeologist at the county council, added: "The presence of charcoal at the site suggests the people there made fires.

"This would seem natural when it is known that the climate was cold and damp at the time.

"It could be the earliest evidence of such fires in Britain - and probably in Europe."

Evidence suggests the site was next to a tributary of the River Avon, and may have been a seasonal camp used by hunters.

Wiltshire County Council is now consulting with English Heritage to decide what steps should be taken to safeguard the finds.

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