THE remains of eight Neolithic houses, between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, have been found between Basildon and Wickford.

Archaeologists have heralded the Stone Age findings – uncovered by a dig in near the Old Nevendon Road – as “extraordinarily rare”. Only 31 other such houses have ever been found in the UK.

Workers at the dig also found the remains of timber posts set in circles and a rare cursus monument, said to show the area was once used for pre-Christian religious rites.

A cursus monument is two parallel banks of earth about 160 feet apart, at right angles to a river.

The exciting discoveries are the latest finds to arise from the four-month excavation of the site, which is due to be turned into flood plains and wildlife habitat as part of Essex County Council’s plan to build a waste plant in Courtauld Road. The council hopes Trak, the company creating the new flood plain, will be able to start work on the site next month.

Maria Medlycott, the council’s historic environment officer, said: “The findings are extraordinarily rare and if they are indeed Neolithic houses, the find is of national importance.”

She said the council planned to display smaller finds, such as flint tools, an axe and pottery, some dating back 9,000 years, at Southend Museum.

But some of the finds, including a reconstruction of one of the houses, or a timber circle, could be housed in an education centre to be built alongside the Courthauld Road waste site.

Archaeologists discovered the houses when they excavated post holes in the ground, between six and nine feet apart.

Gwilym Williams, senior archaeologist for the firm in charge of the excavation, said the post holes allowed the team to work out what the houses looked like and how Neolithic man lived in them.

He explained: “We can work out where the door was likely to have been, where the people slept, and where their kitchen and eating area was.

“We think the buildings may well indicate an extended family lived there or a large farm, comprising several dwellings.”

Vin Harrop, Basildon Heritage director said: “It’s beyond our wildest expectations, I never imagined there would be eight houses there.

“It’s an exceptional site and it’s so good for Basildon. It just shows we do have an ancient history and Basildon wasn’t just plonked here in the Fifties.”