Recently I wrote about a controversy over some barbed bone points or harpoons from Holderness in East Yorkshire that took place during the 1920s. Another discovery that sheds some light by association on the Holderness points is that of Poulton-le-Fylde. During the construction of a bungelow animal bones were discovered together with a couple of bone points. The animal had suffered a number of wounds at the hands of prehistoric hunter gatherers. One of the points had even pierced its hoof. Presumably the animal tried to escape the hunters by swimming but, weakened by its wounds, it drowned and the carcass was never recovered. Thousands of years later the animal’s skeleton was discovered during building work. The Poulton-le-Fylde elk can be seen in the Harris Museum in Preston and a truly magnificent exhibit it is too!
The results from the radiocarbon-dating showed the elk died some 13,500 years earlier. This would put it in the late Glacial. Between about 23,000 and 19,000 years ago a large ice sheet covered much of northern Britain. As Ice Age drew to a close the climate got warmer and the ice sheets retreated but this improvement was not sustained and there was a sharp cold ‘snap’ about 13,000 years ago that lasted about 500 years before the climate improved again and warm conditions prevailed similar to those we enjoy today. The elk in the UK dispappeared because of pressure of hunting, or climate change or a combination of both factors.
The Poulton-le-Fylde elk provides an example of an animal hunted using very similar bone points to those found by the Morfitt family. The association of points with a large mammal skeleton can be compared with the point from Skipsea Withow. The date at which this happened is also of interest. The contested Holderness harpoons have never been dated. Having been boiled in glue by the early 20th century antiquaries in order to conserve them means they cannot now be accurately dated. However, a barbed point discovered in a quarry at Gransmoor in Holderness during the 1990s was dated to about 13000 BP, again comparable to the Poulton-le-Fylde example.
What we seem to have is evidence across northern Britain of hunting at an early date, after the melting of the ice sheets. Waterlogged landscapes like Holderness and the Fylde enabled the survival of large mammal skeletons intact and the barbed points of spears associated with them. the Morfitts’ points may be even older than they were said to be during the 1920s.