Digging Up The Fast

The ascent of the paceman (image from issue 4 of the Nightwatchman).

First, a wooden implement, hand-carved using stone tools. It is round-handled and flat-bladed, though the bottom is broken off. Dug up from 10,000 year-old peat deposits in farmland a few miles south-west of Scarborough; the most ancient paddle in the world.

Secondly, the 'frontlets'. Made of bone, they are deer skulls with eye holes scoured into them and the antlers cut down to stumps. More than 20 of them have been found in the same small corner of North Yorkshire.

Thirdly, in a trench excavated into dry ground next to what had once been a lake, a series of round post-holes surround a specially dug hollow, rich in pieces of worked flint. The cryptic remains of a simple wooden hut, it turns out to be Britain's oldest house.

These discoveries all come from a Mesolithic site called Star Carr, and are just a selection of the astonishing artefacts that have turned up there over the last half-century. Every year of excavation brings new finds: a willow digging stick was recently unearthed by a friend of mine.

Star Carr is the most important Middle Stone Age site in Europe, the exquisite preservation of its specimens providing archaeologists with unique insights into prehistoric life. It has revolutionized our understanding of what people were doing in Britain shortly after the Ice Age.

However, I can't help but find myself wondering. A grassy clearing in Yorkshire. Preparation work in early summer. A basic hut for shelter. Willow tools for digging in on a sticky wicket. Special headwear for about 22 people. A bat.

Star Carr's occupants weren't hunters or gatherers. They were the first cricketers.

The most ancient paddle in the world, or the first cricket bat? You decide.

This is a snippet from an essay I wrote for Issue 4 of The Nightwatchman, the Wisden Cricket Quarterly, about the evolution of cricket and pace bowlers. Should you wish, you can buy the issue here.