Valdoe Quarry

Matt Pope
Institute of Archaeology, University College London


Investigation of a proposed quarry extension in a West Sussex raised beach to establish the extent of artefact-bearing deposits.

The Valdoe Quarry lies midway along the line of the 40m OD Westbourne–Arundel Raised Beach, mapped by the Boxgrove Project team across a 26km stretch of the upper coastal plain (Roberts 2003; Pope 2004; Roberts and Pope 2018). The Valdoe Quarry is situated on the northern margins of the Sussex Coastal Plain at the foot of the South Downs (SU 487108, Figure 1), 3km north-east of Chichester and 4km to the west of the Boxgrove early Middle Pleistocene locality.

The main artefact-bearing horizon at Boxgrove, a palaeosol known as Unit 4c (Macphail 1999; Roberts 1999a), was discovered within the Valdoe Quarry when the site was visited by members of the Boxgrove Project Team during October 1996 (Figure 2). At the time, gravel extraction in the northern part of the quarry had largely ceased, leaving a series of silt ponds. All major sedimentary units previously described: the Slindon Sand, the Slindon Silt, the Fe/Mn horizon and Lower Brickearth (Roberts 1986; Roberts and Parfitt 1999) were seen in conformable order within the section and the section was closely sampled for small mammal and micro-palaeontological remains.


Where: West Sussex
Region: South-East
Palaeolithic period(s): Lower Palaeolithic (MIS 13)
Type of investigation: Fieldwork
Methods: Topographic survey; boreholes; trenches
Type(s) of deposit: Raised Beach; Head
Features of interest: Public involvement; high potential locality

Project stages

  • Desk based assessment
  • Literature/mapping review (DBA)
  • Test pitting/boreholes
  • Evaluation
  • Excavation
  • Watching brief
  • Post-excavation assessment (and reporting)
  • Post-excavation analysis (and reporting)
  • Final Report
  • Deposit with HER and museum (and Oasis)
  • Publication (academic and/or public)

Development context

In 2005 it was established that extraction of gravel and marine sand was to be renewed within the northern portion of the Valdoe Quarry. The extraction area was approximately 250m x 100m in extent and located towards the northern end of the site. Quarrying, once initiated, was to proceed through mechanical extraction, at a rapid pace, and involved the complete removal of deposits likely to contain both in situ archaeology and palaeoenvironmental material.

It was in response to this immediate threat that the Valdoe Assessment Survey was conceived as a measured geoarchaeological investigation, aimed at determining the presence of palaeoenvironmental and artefactual evidence from areas of the Slindon Silts scheduled to be destroyed during the extraction process.

The work was funded through a grant from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund administered by English Heritage. This scheme was ideally suited to the project as a clear case where gravel extraction not only presented a threat to the Pleistocene archaeology but also as an opportunity to enhance our knowledge of the Palaeolithic record.

Funding from this source was especially pertinent, as extraction permissions for the Valdoe Quarry were granted in 1986, before the implementation of PPG16. It was therefore the case that no resources from the developer could be sought through the planning process.

The known Palaeolithic findspots from the vicinity of the Quarry, and the main Boxgrove site to the east, would have almost certainly triggered a major archaeological response under PPG16 (Figure 3).

Archaeological context

During the course of the Boxgrove Raised Beach Mapping Project (Pope 2004b; Roberts and Pope 2018), a series of borehole investigations was carried out close to the Valdoe Quarry in the field immediately to the west of the quarry. This field is referred to in the investigations as the Valdoe Field (Figure 4).

Analysis of cores recovered during this survey confirmed that, in all probability, a major portion of the quarry lay within an area formerly underlain by terrestrial and marine deposits of the Slindon Formation. Micropalaeontology and sediment composition analysis confirmed that the deposits at the Valdoe demonstrated similar environments of deposition to the sediments of the Boxgrove site (Roberts 1999b). The sequence was shown clearly to include the key horizons, which preserved in situ knapping debris, butchered fauna and hominin remains at the original Boxgrove site (Roberts and Parfitt 1999; Trinkaus et al. 1999; Streeter et al. 2001).


Fieldwork was initiated in January 2006; the first phase aimed at undertaking a full topographic survey, boreholes survey and targeted test pits across the threatened area and its immediate environs (Figure 5). The aims of this initial work were:

  1. To develop a detailed sedimentological model of the site incorporating results from the Raised Beach Mapping Project to determine the exact extent of archaeologically sensitive horizons.
  2. To recover samples for assessment of palaeoenvironmental potential.
  3. On the basis of the above to target test pits to recover evidence of human activity under rescue conditions directly alongside the quarrying operation and within time-periods tightly constrained by weather and the extraction schedule.


The Environmental and Sedimentary Context

The geoarchaeological investigations of the Valdoe Quarry recorded a widespread sedimentary sequence almost entirely comparable with that of the wider Boxgrove palaeolandscape, established both through research at the main Boxgrove site (Roberts 1986; Roberts and Parfitt 1999) and through the Raised Beach Mapping Project (Roberts and Pope 2018).

The geological sections from key Valdoe archaeological test pits show a conformable sedimentary sequence encompassing members of both the Slindon and Eartham Formations extending up to 400m to the south of the relict cliff line (Figures 6–8). Six key sedimentary units of potential archaeological significance were encountered at the Valdoe: Unit 4b (intertidal silts); Unit 4c (palaeosol); Unit 5a (mineralised organic horizon); Unit 5b (calcareous muds); Unit 6 (lower terrestrial silts); and Unit 10 (calcareous diamicton/Head Gravel).

Each unit is described below in terms of basic sedimentary composition, environmental profile and archaeological potential.

Click to view the full image and then zoom in for more detail

Click to view the full image and then zoom in for more detail

In Figure 9 the upper section shows the thick development of calcareous and decalcified diamictons that overlie the Slindon Formation through the area of the Valdoe Quarry, reflecting its situation at the foot of a Downland ridge which rises to the north of the site.

The lower section shows the north–south arrangement of sediments within the dry valley to the immediate west of the Valdoe Quarry. Here, more recent (Last Glacial) gelifluction processes associated with the formation of the dry valley have effectively removed a great extent of Middle Pleistocene Head Deposits leaving only 1–2m of gravel cover over the archaeological horizons of the Slindon Formation.

Critically, dry valley processes had not unduly affected the overall degree of preservation of the underlying sediment body, which were found to still be moderately calcareous and geochemically identical to deposits found within the main quarry area (Roberts and Pope 2018).

The Stone Artefact Assemblage

A total of 115 artefacts >20mm in maximum dimension were recovered from six of the 11 test pits investigated during the course of the assessment. Where test pits revealed fine-grained components of the sedimentary sequence, excavation was undertaken by hand in 50mm spits.

All excavated artefacts were three dimensionally recorded within each test pit with further information on position and orientation recorded to assess site formation processes. The assemblage was then subjected to taphonomic, metrical and technological analysis following procedures utilised before in the study of artefacts from the main Boxgrove site (Roberts et al. 1997; Roberts and Parfitt 1999; Pope 2002).

Through these methods an assessment of site formation processes, assemblage integrity, technological affinity and behavioural significance could be undertaken. The analysis programme was also conceived to deliver a dataset directly comparable with previous studies of material from the main Boxgrove site, subsequent investigations at Slindon and future discoveries of artefactual material elsewhere in the Boxgrove palaeolandscape.

Broadly speaking, three stratigraphically defined assemblages were recovered from the Valdoe excavation representing evidence for human activity across at least three phases of deposition. These comprise an assemblage of 19 pieces from the Unit 10 calcareous diamicton/Head Gravel, 12 pieces from the Unit 6 lower terrestrial silt/Lower Brickearth and 83 pieces from the Unit 4c palaeosol.

In overview all recovered debitage is entirely consistent with material relating to the entire chaîne opératoire of biface manufacture at the Boxgrove site (Newcomer 1971; Bergman and Roberts 1988). Differences in assemblage composition between the three units, beyond the taphonomic considerations outlined above, rest on three factors: the overall size of artefacts; the presence of abundant small debitage; and variation in the proportions of debitage relating to primary and secondary stages of biface manufacture.


The Valdoe Assessment Survey offered the opportunity to sample an additional locale now firmly tied into the wider palaeolandscape of the Westbourne–Arundel Raised Beach. As such it offered the chance to examine the behaviour of Boxgrove hominin groups outside the intensively investigated confines of the Boxgrove quarry in a part of the landscape offering different ecological conditions.

We were able to establish that fine-grained sediments and overlying solifluction gravels recorded at the Valdoe Quarry are the lateral extension of the Slindon and Eartham Formations recorded at Boxgrove. We were also able to establish that these sediments also contain both in situ and disturbed signatures of human activity and that they exist within a behavioural chaîne opératoire directly comparable to that established for the main Boxgrove site.

The absence of any dense accumulation of artefacts encountered in the project material can be interpreted either as sampling bias or alongside environmental evidence to suggest that the immediate environs of the Valdoe Quarry were not especially attractive to hominin groups. Densities of biface finds found to the immediate west of the Valdoe Quarry suggest that the estuary of the Palaeo-Lavant may have offered a nearby preferred habitat.

Key Insights

  1. In operational terms the Valdoe assessment survey can be considered successful. It proceeded stepwise using landscape survey, borehole survey and deposits modelling to target test pits that recovered evidence of Middle Pleistocene human behaviour. It provides the first detailed assessment, outside of the Boxgrove quarries, of human activity in the wider palaeolandscape of the Westbourne–Arundel Raised Beach. In terms of resources, the project cost in excess of £90,000 funded by English Heritage under the Aggregates Levy. The project was funded tightly in terms of time and staff (only two full-time members of staff for fieldwork), with the bulk of the balance of funding put into a wide team of multi-disciplinary specialists.
    The budget would have been compromised had we (a) not had the huge support from the skilled members of Worthing Archaeological Society in terms of volunteer hours or (b) had we encountered large, dense accumulations of artefacts. Given this took place during a period of time where ALSF funding could support the project, and possibly any pressing contingencies that emerged from it, it would be much harder to deliver such a project in today’s financial climate. However, the Valdoe assessment survey does exist as a model for working with sites that fall outside the planning process, built directly on a tight relationship between Historic England, an expert team, skilled volunteers and the landowner.
  2. Low-density archaeology takes huge resources to find. Even in a well-known landscape with adequate resources and a staged approach to the placement of test pits. It is highly likely that in a tightly resourced or time-pressured environment the project could have failed to find any in situ signature at all. Key to the success of the project was the staged approach with the emphasis on seeking to find the human presence actively, rather than passively ‘evaluating’ a landscape. A proactive approach requires iterative, multi-disciplinary approaches (e.g. geophysics, boreholes, deposit modelling, test pits, larger intervention) to home in on human activity.
  3. The entire Valdoe landscape is mapped as Head Deposits. It is sobering to consider how patchily such deposits are treated nationally considering they have huge potential for a variety of depositional environments and mask deeply buried landsurfaces, terrace sequences or, in this case, palaeosols associated with the end of regressive intertidal deposits.


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