History In The Headlines

Rabbits Unearth Ancient Treasures at English Landmark

By Christopher Klein
A trove of ancient artifacts dating back 5,000 years has been unearthed at one of England’s top tourist attractions. The find wasn’t discovered by sleuthing archaeologists, however, but a family of burrowing rabbits.
One of the Land's End "archaeobunnies" (Credit: David Chapman Photography for Land's End Landmark)

One of the Land's End "archaeobunnies" (Credit: David Chapman Photography for Land's End Landmark)

Every year, hordes of tourists journey to Land’s End, the westernmost point of Great Britain where the azure waters of the Celtic Sea lash the weathered rocks strewn at the base of Cornwall’s imposing cliffs. Visitors to one of England’s iconic landmarks soak in spectacular views from atop the rugged tip of Land’s End’s fingered peninsula, which points directly across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, more than 3,000 miles away.

Based on newly discovered archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age, the stunning natural scenery that has made Land’s End one of England’s top tourist attractions in recent years has been drawing people for millennia. While the finding may not be that surprising, how the discovery was made certainly is. It wasn’t a team of trained archaeologists who dug up the buried artifacts, but a family of burrowing rabbits.

The wild bunnies first appeared at Land’s End last year and began to burrow an intricate network of tunnels. Land’s End staff member Eddie Williams, who adopted the cuddly creatures, soon noticed that the rabbits not only dug up the English soil, but a collection of flint objects that appeared to be ancient human tools.

Land’s End called in Big Heritage, a British nonprofit that specializes in archaeology, to further investigate the items uncovered by the “archaeobunnies.” Big Heritage found that the artifacts were flint tools, hide scrapers and arrowheads that dated back at least 5,000 years. Land’s End then commissioned a thorough archaeological investigation that revealed a Neolithic passage grave, burial mounds dating to the Bronze Age and a hill fort and a series of field systems dating to the Iron Age.

“It’s amazing how a family of rabbits have set in motion an incredible journey of discovery. Within the immediate vicinity of Land’s End, we were able to see a visible timeline of Britain, stretching deep into prehistory,” says Big Heritage’s Dean Paton. “Whilst the landscape will have changed considerably over time, it’s likely that the stunning natural beauty of the site would have always been significant to humans.”

Seaside archaeological dig at Land's End. (Credit: David Chapman Photography for Land's End Landmark)

Seaside archaeological dig at Land's End. (Credit: David Chapman Photography for Land's End Landmark)

The discovery, which Paton told London’s Daily Mirror newspaper was a “goldmine,” could be one of the most important archaeological finds ever uncovered in Cornwall. “It seems important people have been buried here for thousands of years—probably because of the stunning views,” Paton told the newspaper. “It’s a million-to-one chance rabbits should make such an astounding find.”

“Thousands of people visit Land’s End each year to witness our amazing views and the rare natural habitats we preserve,” says Land’s End marketing manager Alice Reynolds. “We’re so excited to add heritage to this list, and are putting plans in place to ensure we can help to preserve the archaeology of our site, but also share it with both tourists and local communities.”

To do so, Land’s End has announced a partnership with Big Heritage to build on the treasures unearthed by its rabbits. Big Heritage will spend the next two years formally excavating a 150-acre site for additional archaeological artifacts. It will also create a series of attractions, new interpretation boards detailing the over 5,000 years of human activity at the site and an “archaeobunnies” trail to inspire and interest youngsters in archaeology.

“They dug two little burrows right next to each other and all these treasures were thrown out of the earth,” Paton told the Daily Mirror about the bunnies. “A family of rabbits have just rewritten the history books.”

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Categories: Archaeology, British History