Bemerton's Wild Beginnings
Prehistoric wildlife ©Flickr/Tyler Ingram
How do we know prehistoric animals were in this area?
The area either side of the Wilton Road, between Skew Bridge in Bemerton and St Paul's roundabout in Fisherton, contains a rich seam of brickearth, a type of soil and gravel ideal for making bricks. A number of brickyards and claypits therefore sprung up in the 19th century to meet the growing demand for bricks to build houses for an increasing population. When the claypits were excavated, unexplained bones were discovered. These were examined and collected by archaeologists, scientists and others interested in the study of bones. Their research identified the bones as belonging to a range of prehistoric wildlife that populated the area over 50,000 years ago.
Where were the claypits located?
Bones were found in Church Lane, St Andrews Road, Skew Bridge Road and in Cherry Orchard Lane. There were also several claypits on the west-side of Gramshaw Road and many pits in Fisherton, too.
Who identified the various bones found?
The area was popular among collectors in the 19th century but two Salisbury doctors played a pivotal role in identifying and cataloguing the bones and other artefacts which were found. Dr Richard Fowler was appointed as Physician to Salisbury Infirmary and held the office for over 50 years. He always maintained an interest in science and studiously collected many of the fossils discovered by the brickmakers of Bemerton and Fisherton. Dr Fowler went on to become the founder of Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, then located in St Ann Street before it subsequently moved to The Close. Dr Humphrey Blackmore also worked at the Salisbury Infirmary for many years until 1927. Throughout his life he was interested in archaeology. He took part in excavations and gained a national reputation as an archaeologist. He deposited his valuable fossils in the Blackmore Collection (which was founded by his brother William Blackmore) and became joint curator. The Blackmore Collection was hosted by Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and Humphrey was also appointed Honorary Director of the museum.
What prehistoric animal fossils were discovered?
Apart from woolly mammoths, evidence was unearthed of goats, horses, wild ox, rabbits and rodents. The bones also confirmed the presence of bison, woolly rhinoceros, giant red deer, spotted hyena, lions and wolves.
What evidence is there that neanderthals also populated the area?
Modern humans were preceded by neanderthals who became extinct about 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals were shorter and stockier than humans and had angled cheekbones, prominent brow ridges and wide noses. They used tools, buried their dead and controlled fire among other intelligent behaviours. Neanderthals lived during the Ice Age. They often took shelter from the ice, snow and other unpleasant weather conditions in caves, hence the popular idea of them as 'cave men'.
Neanderthals used stone tools, including blades and scrapers made from flakes of stone. As time went on, they used a type of glue to attach stone shapes to wooden shafts, creating formidable axes and spears for use in hunting.
Evidence of their presence in the local area comes from an axe found next to a mammoth fossil in Fisherton. The tool, known as a bout-coupe handaxe, had a distinctive rounded-triangular shape and composition which is a clear indication of its design and use by neanderthals.