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Conningbrook Lakes Country Park, Ashford, could be internationally important archaeological and palaeontological site

A former Ashford quarry that is being turned into a country park could be one of the most important archaeological and palaeontological sites in the world.

More than 20,000 prehistoric artefacts have been discovered at the site off Willesborough Road that has been earmarked for the new Conningbrook Lakes Country Park, due to open this month.

Thousands, if not millions, of years ago, mammoths and other prehistoric creatures roamed the land that is now the Ashford borough and their bones, teeth and even tusks have been found since, alongside tools used by humans from the same period.

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Marion Boxall believes the bone she found belonged to a mammoth. Picture: Gary Browne
Marion Boxall believes the bone she found belonged to a mammoth. Picture: Gary Browne

The construction of the country park has reminded one great-grandmother of her own prehistoric discovery.

Marion Boxall, of South Ashford, has a piece of bone she found 25 years ago when workmen were building her house.

She spotted it on top of a pile of rubble brought from Conningbrook Quarry and has kept it in her kitchen cupboard for the past quarter of a century.

The 88-year-old saw a story in the Ashford Extra about a mammoth tooth being found at the same quarry, so believed the bone she discovered belonged to the elephant’s now extinct relative too.

Mrs Boxall said: “There was some stonework left so they tossed it out into the garden. I went looking and came across this heavy piece of bone. I thought, ooh, that’s prehistoric.

“What joint it would have been and how long it was originally is anyone’s guess but it’s about a foot long now and weighs 1.5lb.”

The fragment of bone found by Marion Boxall. Picture: Gary Browne
The fragment of bone found by Marion Boxall. Picture: Gary Browne

When she showed the builder her find he had an even more impressive story for her: “The builder told me the lorry driver found a tusk on top of some stonework,” she said. “So of course the lorry driver, having found it, kept it, lucky man. I never saw it.”

She was also told a dentist had a mammoth tooth found at the quarry.

Thinking back to the country park, Mrs Boxall added: “We’ve no idea what’s under the ground, there are probably a lot more bones in the lake.

Marion Boxall. Picture: Gary Browne
Marion Boxall. Picture: Gary Browne

“And how many more have gone out already, because it was a quarry for goodness knows how many years.”

Mrs Boxall isn't the only person in Ashford with her own piece of prehistoric history.

Seven-year-old Phoenix Renton has a mammoth tooth that came from Conningbrook Quarry.

Her grandad, Robert Taylor, was given the tooth in the mid-1980s while working as a tipper truck driver, transporting rock out of the quarry.

Seven-year-old Phoenix Renton says it feels special having her own mammoth tooth. Picture: Gary Browne
Seven-year-old Phoenix Renton says it feels special having her own mammoth tooth. Picture: Gary Browne

Phoenix’s mum, Lindsay Renton, from South Willesborough, explained: “Sometimes Dad used to take me and my brother to work with him on Saturday mornings.

“One day he mentioned to one of the guys at the quarry that his daughter was interested in dinosaurs and the guy handed over the mammoth tooth.

“They were digging up bones and teeth all the time.

“I was probably about Phoenix’s age. I took care of it all this time and now it’s hers.”

Conningbrook Lakes
Conningbrook Lakes

Phoenix, a pupil at Furley Park Primary School, knows how precious the tooth is.

She said: “It will break very easily if you drop it so I keep it on my shelf and I don’t play with it.

“It feels special having a mammoth tooth and it’s something I want to take care of forever. I might give it to my children one day."

Members of the public who don't have one of their own can view a mammoth tooth in Ashford Museum, in The Churchyard.

Animal bones – from mammoths, woolly rhinos, bears and other mammals – and human tools have been found together at Conningbrook, suggesting man and the extinct creatures were living side by side.

Curator of Ashford Museum, Ian Sharp with a mammoth tooth. Picture: Gary Browne
Curator of Ashford Museum, Ian Sharp with a mammoth tooth. Picture: Gary Browne

Archaeologists have not yet determined what the tools were for but believe the area could have been used for hunting.

Wendy Rogers is Kent County Council’s senior archaeological officer and is working as adviser to Ashford Borough Council for the development.

She said: “The things that have been found are definitely of national importance and could be of international importance. They were found about 20 years ago and are from the upper palaeolithic period.

“We have 20,000 artefacts but there could be lots more there.

“What I’m trying to do is ensure that before the site is developed such remains are recorded following an organised strategy.

A painting of mammoths by Mauricio Antón. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
A painting of mammoths by Mauricio Antón. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

“As the human stone tools were with the animal bones we have to ask: do we have a hunting site here?”

The Conningbrook collection is housed at the Harrison Institute in Sevenoaks, which is home to almost 60,000 scientific specimens.

Conningbrook Lakes Country Park is being created by the Brett Group with support from Ashford Borough Council.

After the park is complete, a “lakeside village” of 300 homes will be built next to it.

Ashford council said no surveying has been required so far as workers have only put up signs and fences and created an access road for watersports.

Ms Rogers said developers must let an archaeologist assess the site before work starts on the homes.

Do you have a mammoth bone, tooth or tusk that was found at Conningbrook? Send a photo of you holding it to selvey@thekmgroup.co.uk along with your name, phone number and anything you know about your prehistoric discovery.


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