ISLANDS perhaps better known for their Bronze Age relics are revealing traces of an earlier civilisation.
A settlement being unearthed on St Martin's represents "the most promising neolithic site in Scilly", according to Dr Duncan Garrow of Liverpool University, a specialist in the prehistory of North- West Europe.
Along with maritime archaeologist Dr Fraser Sturt of Southampton University and a ten-strong team, supplemented by locals, he is exploring how Neolithic man arrived on the islands some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.
After identifying a possible Mesolithic or Neolithic occupation site at St Martin's Old Quay last year, based on finds of pottery and flint tools, Dr Garrow is now conducting a dig in the area, and called it the most promising site in Scilly.
It is part of a Stepping Stones project investigating a northward migration from Europe via seaways and islands in which nomadic hunter-gatherers became settled farmers.
Dr Garrow and Mr Sturt gave a talk to a large audience at the islands' museum and on Saturday are due to host an open day at the dig.
"We ended up at Old Quay because material had been found there, as well as finds gathered there by local people," said Dr Garrow, adding that they were very pleased with what had been found so far, halfway through a four-week dig, "and have really enhanced the material record by finding so much, in particular flint".
They had also found pottery, a field boundary ditch of probable Bronze Age or Iron Age date and a Neolithic pit with a ritual deposit, all from only 2m by 2m test pits. "By opening larger areas we shall see more," said Dr Garrow, adding that they would like to find more features such as pits, post-holes, stone walls or buildings, which would be rare: "That might emerge in the new few days if we're lucky!"
Island archaeologist Katherine Sawyers said after a flurry of archaeological interest in the mid-20th century Scilly had "gone off the radar" in recent years. "It's good to see cutting-edge research happening in the islands as there's such a wealth of sites of antiquity," she said.