The remains of a 6,000-year-old dwelling have been uncovered in a field near Kilmarnock, Scotland, during pipeline upgrade works carried out by Scottish Water.
Archaeologists from GUARD, who were observing the pipeline excavations, found a number of post-holes dating back to the early Neolithic period (4,000 - 3,500 BC) that once formed part of a rectangular building belonging. It is thought to have belonged to one of the earliest farming communities in Scotland.
"Heavily truncated by millennia of ploughing, only the deepest parts of some of the post-holes survived, arranged in a rectangular plan and containing sherds of early Neolithic pottery, hazelnut shell and charcoal," said Kenneth Green, GUARD excavation director.
The main hall of the house measures 14 metres in length and 8 metres across.
"The width and depth of these post-holes indicated that they once held very large upright timber posts, suggesting that this building was once a large house, probably home to an extended family or group of families."
The archaeologists also noted eight other sites of interest, including some prehistoric burnt pits and mounds.
Before the Neolithic period, Scotland was inhabited by small groups of hunter-gatherers who lived nomadic lives, living off the land. But during the early Neolithic, the first communities to adopt sedentary lifestyles began to emerge. They cleared areas of forest, establishing farms and growing crops such as wheat and barley, as well as raising livestock like pigs, sheep, cattle and goats.
"The pottery recovered from the Neolithic house are shards of carinated bowl, one of the earliest types of pottery vessels ever to be used in Britain," Green said. "Traces of milk fat have been found in other carinated bowls found elsewhere in Scotland."
With further analysis of pottery and environmental samples taken from the site, the archaeologists may be able tell the precise date the house was occupied, providing more insights into the history of early farming settlements in Neolithic Scotland.
Andrew Grant, an environmental adviser for Scottish Water, said: "As part of the project planning, Scottish Water identified the possibility of archaeology and so factored in time for the area to be excavated."
"However, the discoveries are even more significant than we had expected and we are delighted that, with the archaeologists' help and expertise, we have been able to uncover something of such importance."