A rare late Upper Palaeolithic site has been discovered by archaeologists during an excavation in Guildford. The site contained thousands of struck flint tools which date back to the end of the last ice age.

The excavation by Oxford Archaeology took place between June and October 2013 on land adjacent to Guildford fire station ahead of the construction of a replacement facility. Oxford Archaeology was appointed to undertake the investigation by Jacobs UK Ltd on behalf of Surrey County Council. Surrey County Council was in the early stages of preparing for the construction of the replacement fire station when the discovery was made. The specification for the archaeological work was set by Nick Truckle of the Surrey County Council Heritage Conservation Team.

The most exciting discovery uncovered during the excavation was a very rare scatter of flint artefacts from the late Upper Palaeolithic (from around 10-15,000 years ago). These date from the time around the end of the last ice age. The flints, which were very well preserved, included 'long blades', some of which were up to 16cm in length, scrapers that would have been used to remove animals' hides, and burins for boring holes.

Sue Hanford, Surrey County Council’s Project Manager for the construction programme said, “The discovery of such an important prehistoric site at Guildford fire station was an unexpected and exciting find.”

Oxford Archaeology Project Manager Gerry Thacker added, “It is very rare that we find sites like this which have remained undisturbed throughout the millennia. The Iron Age and Roman ditches that we also found were dug through the top of the soil where we found the flints. We need to be more aware that sites of this nature exist and are out there to be uncovered.”

The flints were meticulously excavated by the site team who divided the site into a series of one metre squares, with each square carefully hand dug in layers, and each flint longer than 1cm recorded in its precise position.

So far over 2,400 flints have been recovered, with others still contained within the soil samples that were retrieved from the site, and which are being sieved through a fine mesh. Samples were also taken for optically stimulated luminescence, which can provide the date that the flint bearing soils were last exposed to sunlight. Soil samples were retrieved to look for charcoal or pollen that may have survived from any plants and trees present in the vicinity.

The finds and other data are now being studied by specialists from Oxford Archaeology and the University of Oxford, and will help to shed light on how our hunter-gathering ancestors lived.