At Goldcliff 9km south-east of Newport, Monmouthshire, a promontory projects into the estuary. This marks the site of a former island, the greater part of which has now been eroded away by the sea. Round the edge of this island in the intertidal zone hunter-gatherer Mesolithic sites were excavated in 1992-4 and 2001-3. The sites were occupied at a time of lower sea level and were buried and preserved by silts and peats as sea level rose. At the base of the sequence is a substantial oak forest which existed c. 6000 cal BC. Occupation on the site took place between then and 4700 cal BC. Activity is represented by scatters of flint, chert and tuff artefacts as well as wood, bone and antler tools. Bones of deer, extinct wild cattle, pig, otter and fish (especially eels) represent the animal resources exploited. Animal and plant remains show that activity on these sites took place particularly in the autumn but there is also some activity in spring, at the height of summer and on one site in winter. Stratified within estuarine silts around the edge of the former island are human footprints, many of them children, some as young as 4 or 5. Clearly, children were fully involved in the life of this Mesolithic community. The site has also produced the earliest evidence for human intestinal parasites, showing that the fringes of the settlement area were used for defaecation. The latest Mesolithic occupation is covered by a thick peat and another submerged forest which grew between 4400-4200 cal BC.
The site can be observed from the walk along the top of the seawall between the steps at Goldcliff and Goldcliff Fishery. Visitors are not encouraged to go onto the sites which are on the low foreshore except as part of guided parties. This is because the low foreshore is a dangerous place and the footprint sites in particular are very vulnerable to erosion by visitors (see Visiting and Intertidal Safety).
Rectangular building 273 BC (photo L. Boulton, drawing S. Allen).
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