ARCHAEOLGOISTS working on the National Trust’s Golden Cap Estate have uncovered a rare find – a Neolithic settlement exposed by cliff erosion.

The test trenches are being dug this week by National Trust archaeologists Martin Papworth and Nancy Grace, and a team of experienced archaeological volunteers, on Dog House Hill, near Thorncombe Beacon.

Mr Papworth said everyone at the site was excited by finding such rare Bronze Age settlement in the area.

He said: “It is unusual for West Dorset. Further east to Dorchester there is quite a lot of evidence, but west of Bridport this kind of site is rare. I don’t know of a settlement that is this early that has been found in West Dorset.”

The discovery has only been made possible because of the erosion of the cliffs.

Under normal circumstances the evidence would be buried at least a metre deep, Mr Papworth said. He added: “Although 5,000 years ago the coast wasn’t here at all. It would have been several kilometres further out. So what is now at the cliff edge would have been some way in land at the time.

“We have found bits of pottery and we think we have found a hearth, which would be from 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. We’ve found work tools and lots and lots of charcoal.

“It is especially exciting to see because the coastal erosion has exposed so many layers of the settlement and in effect saved us an immense amount of digging. Effectively the erosion means we can see all the occupation levels of the time.”

Finding so much charcoal means they can use carbon dating to pinpoint exactly when our ancestors would have worked the land here – and environmental archaeologists will be able to identify what kind of wood was being burned, he said.

There will be others clues in the soil too, he added. “Because the soil is so acid the pollen will have survived so when we analyse the soil we can find all the different sorts of plants that were growing here.”

The team will be digging until the end of the week and then all the finds will be taken away and shown to specialists who deal with pottery and flint, as well as the environmental archaeologists.

“Each specialist will put together their own story and then we will piece it all together with what we have found in the ground and then we will write the report on it.

“That won’t be for several months though. There are no instant answers.”