An Early Upper Palaeolithic open-air site and mid-Devensian hyaena den, Glaston, Rutland (MIS3)

Lynden Cooper
University of Leicester Archaeological Services

Executive summary

Glaston: chance discovery of shallow, early Upper Palaeolithic deposits containing lithic artefacts and animal remains

Archaeological fieldwork contingent on planning permission for housing development led to the chance discovery of an Early Upper Palaeolithic leaf-point and a collection of wild horse and woolly rhinoceros bones from apparently ‘natural sands’. The finds received immediate assessment at the University of Leicester, and the remains were confirmed by period specialists from the British Museum and Natural History Museum, while the depositional and geomorphological context was assessed by Oxford Archaeological Associates.

The Planning Archaeologist supported application for a research grant from English Heritage that provided logistical and scientific support and a research grant allowing further evaluation, subsequent excavation of the site, and the appropriate analysis and publication.

The site was interpreted as an Early Upper Palaeolithic open-air procurement site associated with a contemporary open hyaena den. The remains are preserved in a depression, formed where a mass of the bedrock Jurassic limestone has sunk down between superficial faults (a graben feature). This created a depositional repository and trap for the archaeological and faunal remains.

The research was augmented by support from the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, allowing the application of the new method protocol for radiocarbon assay of spiral-fractured horse bones, dating the mid-Devensian activities of humans and hyaenas at 44,290–42,440 cal BP.


Where: Rutland, East Midlands
Region: East Midlands & East Anglia
Palaeolithic period(s): early Upper Palaeolithic (MIS 3)
Type of investigation: Chance finds; Excavation, Post-excavation analysis & publication
Methods: Sondage excavation; Grid-square excavation
Type(s) of deposit: Sands within geological fault (graben feature)
Features of interest: Co-association of lithic artefacts and hyena den remains

Project stages

  • Literature/mapping review (DBA)
  • Evaluation
  • Excavation
  • Post-excavation assessment (and reporting)
  • Post-excavation analysis (and reporting)
  • Final Report
  • Publication (academic and/or public)
  • Archaeological desk-based assessment following planning application
  • Archaeological evaluation and excavation, directed by John Thomas and managed by Richard Buckley (ULAS)
  • Discovery of retouched flint blade and fauna with indications of mechanical breakage and gnawing; assessment by Lynden Cooper (lithics) and Tony Gouldwell (fauna)
  • Red flag to Anne Graf, Planning Archaeologist and Jon Humble, English Heritage, East Midlands Inspector
  • Written Scheme of Investigation for Evaluation of Palaeolithic/Pleistocene issue
  • Project Design by Lynden Cooper with input from Tony Gouldwell, Simon Collcutt, Jill Cook, Roger Jacobi, Andy Currant and Jim Williams
  • Revision of PD following comments from English Heritage and invited consultees
  • Excavation of Upper Palaeolithic archaeological and mid-Devensian deposits
  • Updated Project Design for post-excavation analysis and publication by project team (Cooper et al. 2003)
  • Dating programme under auspices of AHOB project: Roger Jacobi and Tom Higham
  • Dissemination of results: publications (Thomas and Jacobi 2001; Collcutt 2001; Cooper et al. 2012) and presentations (Trent Valley Geoarchaeology, British Geological Society, British Museum Palaeolithic/Mesolithic meeting).

Development Context

The project scope was a programme of rescue archaeology that allowed the short-term mitigation of an unforeseen archaeological issue of national significance, allowing continued planning permission for a housing development on the periphery of the village of Glaston, Rutland (Figure 1).

The background to the project was a planning application in 1999 made by Fisher Hoggarth Chartered Surveyors on behalf of landowner R.E.J. Boyle to allow the re-development of a land parcel, formerly part of the farmyard of Glaston Grange Farm.

Archaeological Context

An archaeological desk-based assessment highlighted potential for the continuation of a known Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon cemetery and medieval village archaeology (Leics. HER). Field evaluation demonstrated the presence of medieval remains, but no prehistoric features, and a programme of excavation was undertaken to excavate the medieval deposits.

Towards the completion of archaeological mitigation works John Thomas discovered a poorly defined pit ‘feature’, apparently filled with re-deposited natural sands where large bone fragments protruded from its surface. An exploratory hand-excavated sondage produced a collection of bones and a retouched flint blade.

Subsequent assessment in the University laboratory gave the first indications of a significant prehistoric find with provisional identification of an Upper Palaeolithic leaf-point (Figure 2) and Devensian fauna.


The project design for excavation was undertaken by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) with input from the project team and English Heritage (see Cooper et al. 2003, 2012 and acknowledgements within for other consulted specialists).

Actual and potential areas of Pleistocene deposits (Figure 3) were excavated in a chequerboard of square metre units, hand-excavated by 50mm spits down to the undisturbed Jurassic sands or limestone rafts. The resulting spoil was wet-sieved and residues were sorted on site. Lithics (Figure 4) and bones (Figure 5) were assigned an individual code, photographed in situ and lifted following total station survey and/or drawn in plan.

Each square unit was drawn and photographed in plan at each spit level and in section following final spit excavation. Photography was by standard SLR monochrome and colour slide, augmented by the then novel use of a digital camera.

Figures 3, 4 and 5

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge and see the captions.

Results and Significance

The Glaston site has provided a new context for the study of mid-Devensian humans in the form of an open-air station at the site of a hyaena den. We have suggested that the association of hyaena and human is direct and that we have an archaeological signature of a hyaena maternity den targeted by humans for scavenging hyaena food caches (Pettitt and White 2012: 324).

The archaeological excavations have demonstrated the great potential for ridge-top grabens being repositories for fragile archaeological remains. Jones (2002) has suggested that graben structures, of similar magnitude to the Glaston example, extend across the ridges of the Jurassic Stone belt in the region. Collcutt (2001) stated that the Glaston archaeological survival was not capricious and has speculated that similar repositories may be found across the UK. Indeed, similar deposit traps include gulls and fissures such as those preserving Earlier Upper Palaeolithic deposits at Beedings, Pulborough, West Sussex (Jacobi 1986; 2007). Glaston also highlights the potential taphonomic complexity of such deposits, in the form of burrowing activities of hyaenas (Figure 6).

In considering the mid-Devensian archaeology in what is now the UK, White and Pettitt (2011: 88; Pettitt and White 2012: 399) have been dismissive of the results of early excavations, stating that new sites and an increased focus on fieldwork is ‘sorely needed’. This is beginning to happen with recent research excavations in the UK at Creswell Crags (Pettitt et al. 2009), Kent’s Cavern (White and Pettitt 2011) and Beedings (Pope 2008).

The Glaston site is testament to the fact that development-led archaeology can also contribute to such research, and begins to answer the call for ‘new examples of leaf points, excavated and recorded with modern methods, and ultra-filtrated radiocarbon dates on associated fauna’ (White and Pettitt 2011: 86).


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Collcutt, S.N. 2006. 'Land at Manor Farm, Glaston, Rutland: Geological Setting'. Unpublished Oxford Archaeological Associates Report.

Cooper, L. and Thomas, J. 2001. 'Glaston, Grange Farm'. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 75, 158–159.

Cooper, L., Thomas, J. and Collcutt, S.N. 2003. 'Grange Farm, Glaston: An Early Upper Palaeolithic site. Assessment report and updated project design (version 2)'. ULAS Report 2001-77.2

Cooper, L.P., Thomas, J.S., Beamish, M.G., Gouldwell, A., Collcutt, S.N., Williams, J., Jacobi, R.M., Currant, A. and Higham, T.F.G., 2012. 'An Early Upper Palaeolithic open-air station and Mid-Devensian hyaena den at Grange Farm, Glaston, Rutland, UK'. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 78: 73–93.

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