Acheulean: A stone tool industry typified by handaxe technology. It mainly occurs in Britain between MIS 15 and MIS 9.
Anglian: A glacial stage (MIS 12; about 450 kya) associated with a major Middle Pleistocene glaciation, during which ice sheets extended as far south as Oxfordshire and north London.
Aveley Interglacial: The interglacial period associated with MIS 7 (about 243–191 kya).
Blade technology: Characteristic of the Upper Palaeolithic in Britain, this stone technology is defined by the careful preparation of cores (blade cores) that enables the production of large numbers of similar blades.
Blade: Elongated, parallel-sided flake.
Bout coupé: A distinctive type of handaxe, sub-rectangular in shape with a flat base. They are associated with Neanderthals and the later Middle Palaeolithic.
Boulder clay (see Glacial till)
Braided river: Typified by a network of river channels, usually relatively shallow, separated by small, often temporary, islands. Sediments tend to be coarse-grained (e.g. gravels).
Breckland: A landscape of sandy heathland in south Norfolk and north Suffolk. It contains significant Pleistocene deposits, relating to both glaciations and river activity (including the Bytham River).
Brickearth: A 19th century term used to describe fine-grained, largely stoneless geological deposits (which were used for brickmaking), that were often found capping river terrace deposits. The term has been used widely but it is likely that not all ‘brickearths’ formed in the same way (e.g. not all may have a windblown content).
Bytham River: One of Britain’s lost rivers, the Bytham drained the Midlands and East Anglia, and flowed into the southern North Sea. It was destroyed by the Anglian glaciation.
Clactonian: A stone tool industry typified by core and flake technology. Its main sites (e.g. Clacton) date to early MIS 11 and early MIS 9.
Clay-with-flints: A mixed deposit of clay and whole/broken flints that overlies the Chalk deposits in southern England (e.g. on the South Downs and the Chilterns).
Core and flake technology: Characteristic of the Lower Palaeolithic (although it occurs in all periods of prehistory), this stone technology is defined by an absence of core preparation and the production of irregular flakes.
Coversand: Windblown sands deposited during the last period of cold conditions in the Devensian Lateglacial.
Creffield Road: An important Middle Palaeolithic site in West London that contained a buried landsurface with refitting Levallois artefacts.
Devensian: The last glacial period, spanning MIS 5d–2 (about 115–11.7 kya). Climate was generally cold, with conditions at their harshest during the Last Glacial Maximum (26–19 kya).
Devensian Lateglacial: The period at the end of the Devensian from the peak of the Last Glacial Maximum (MIS 2) to the end of the Pleistocene. A period of fluctuating climatic conditions, both extremely cold (e.g. Younger Dryas) and relatively warm (e.g. the Windermere Interstadial).
Down-cutting: The process by which rivers have cut down into the landscape to form the present river valleys, in response to tectonic uplift during the Pleistocene and cyclical sea-level changes.
Early Middle Palaeolithic (eMP): Spanned late MIS 8–7 (about 250–180 kya) and was associated with Neanderthals and Levallois technology.
Flake: Stone piece removed from a block of stone (core) by percussion (with a hard or soft hammer) or pressure flaking.
<pid="Glacialtill">Glacial till: A highly variable geological deposit of fine-grained and stony material, accumulated by glacial ice and then deposited when the ice melts.
Glaciofluvial deposits: Sediments consisting of boulders, gravel, sand, silt and clay, derived from glaciers and transported, sorted and deposited by streams of glacial meltwater.
Hackney Gravel: River terrace deposit in the Lower Thames.
Handaxe: A bifacially shaped stone tool, characteristic of the Lower Palaeolithic. They occur in a variety of shapes, including oval, pear or tear-drop, and pointed. They are commonly interpreted as large cutting tools, used in butchery. They first appeared in the British record about 600–500 kya.
Head (see slope deposits)
Hominins: All the fossil ‘human’ taxa that are more closely related to modern humans than they are to any other living taxon (e.g. chimpanzees).
Homo antecessor: An early European hominin species, whose fossils have only been identified at Atapuerca in Spain, where they date to about 900–800 kya (i.e. the earlier Lower Palaeolithic).
Homo heidelbergensis: An early European hominin species associated with the later Lower Palaeolithic, whose fossils have been identified from sites across Europe (including Boxgrove). They date from about 600–200 kya, and later fossils (e.g. the skull fragments from Swanscombe) have also been described as early or proto-Neanderthals. Occasional sites, e.g. Boxgrove, suggest an ability to hunt.
Homo neanderthalensis: Associated with the Middle Palaeolithic, Neanderthal fossils are rare in Britain. Their hunter-gatherer lifestyle is marked by complex hunting, cave/rockshelter sites, frequent fire use and burials, and there is increasing evidence for their use of personal decorative items (e.g. bird feathers).
Homo sapiens: Our own species. Present in Britain from the start of the Upper Palaeolithic onwards. Their hunter-gatherer lifestyle is marked by sophisticated hunting and fishing, complex sites (e.g. artificial shelters, controlled fires and storage pits), burials with grave goods, tailored clothing and personal decoration.
Hoxnian: British name applied to the MIS 11 interglacial (about 424–374 kya).
Ice age: Commonly used to refer to the Pleistocene, but an unhelpful term as the Pleistocene involved a sequence of cold and warm climatic phases.
Interglacial: Warm climate stage within the Pleistocene, although it is clear from the MIS record that such stages were not uniformly warm.
Interstadial: Short period of less cold climate during a glacial period.
Ipswichian Interglacial: The interglacial period associated with MIS 5e (124–119 kya).
Isostatic depression/rebound: Changes in the elevation of the earth’s surface, largely in response to the advance and retreat of glacial ice.
kya: Thousand years ago.
Lacustrine deposits: Lake deposits, typically fine-grained as a result of forming in still water, with potential to document seasonal variations.
Langley Silt: Brickearth deposit that is found in West London, overlying River Terrace deposits and, less commonly, bedrock. It is associated with some important Middle Palaeolithic sites (e.g. Creffield Road).
Last Glacial Maximum (LGM): A period of extreme cold in MIS 2, with Devensian ice sheets at their maximum extent and very low global sea-levels.
Late Glacial (see Devensian Lateglacial)
Later Middle Palaeolithic (lMP): Spanned the early parts of MIS 3 (about 60–40 kya) and was associated with Neanderthals and bout coupé handaxes.
Leaf point: Bifacially shaped points, associated with the late Middle Palaeolithic and early Upper Palaeolithic in Britain, and typically interpreted as spear tips.
Levallois technology: Characteristic of the early Middle Palaeolithic in Britain, this stone technology is defined by the careful preparation of cores that enables the production of flakes with particular sizes and shapes.
Loess: Windblown dust deposit, with the main deposits in south-eastern and southern England, and mostly dating to the Devensian.
Lower Loam: Key river terrace deposit of the Lower Thames, identified in the Swanscombe area and dating to early MIS 11. It is associated with Clactonian technology at Swanscombe.
Lower Middle Gravel: Key river terrace deposit of the Lower Thames, identified in the Swanscombe area and dating to MIS 11. It is associated with Acheulean technology at Swanscombe.
Lower Palaeolithic: Associated with Homo heidelbergensis, and possibly Homo antecessor (although no fossils of the latter species have been found to date in Britain), the Lower Palaeolithic in Britain spans MIS 25/21 (about 950–850 kya) to the end of MIS 9 (about 300 kya).
Lynch Hill Gravel: A River Terrace deposit in the Middle and Lower Thames, underlying the Lynch Hill terrace and dated to MIS 10–8.
Meandering river: Single-channel rivers characterised by regular, sinuous curves.
Middle Palaeolithic: Associated with Neanderthals, the Middle Palaeolithic in Britain spans MIS 8−3 (about 250–40 kya). It is typically divided into an early Middle Palaeolithic (early MIS 8–7) and a later Middle Palaeolithic (MIS 3), separated by a long period of hominin (Neanderthal) absence.
Marine Isotope Stage (MIS): Alternating warm and cool periods in the Earth’s palaeoclimate, indicated by changing oxygen isotope values in deep sea core samples that reflect variations in global temperatures.
Mucking Formation: River terrace deposits in the Lower Thames, mapped by BGS as Taplow Gravel underlying the Taplow Terrace. It can be split into the Mucking Upper Gravel (MIS 6), Aveley interglacial deposits (MIS 7), and the Mucking Lower Gravel (MIS 8).
Mutual Climatic Range: A method of determining the past climate at an archaeological site by examining the climatic tolerances of a range of species found at the site. The method utilises animal groups with specific requirements and tolerances (e.g. beetles).
mya: Million years ago
Neanderthal (see Homo neanderthalensis)
Palaeochannel: A remnant of a river or stream channel that has been filled or buried by younger sediment.
Palaeolithic: The Old Stone Age, spanning about 950–11.7 kya in Britain.
Palaeolithic record: The archaeological record associated with the Palaeolithic occupation of Britain. It is dominated by lithic artefacts, but also includes modified animal remains, organic artefacts (e.g. in wood, bone and antler), hominin remains, traces of fire, and cave art.
Palaeolithic technology: Palaeolithic technology is dominated by lithic (stone) artefacts, reflecting preservation bias. Specific technologies vary broadly between the sub-divisions of the Palaeolithic: Lower (unprepared core and flake; handaxes); Middle (prepared core and flake [Levallois]; flake tools); Upper (prepared blade core; blade tools).
Periglacial: Landscapes on the margins of fully-glaciated areas.
Piedmont: An area at the base of a mountain or mountain range.
Pleistocene: A geological epoch that lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago, and was characterised by repeated glaciations.
Primary context: Sites where sediments and artefacts have been minimally disturbed by geological agents (e.g. water or ice) and remain associated with their original landscape setting.
Quaternary: The current and most recent of the three geological periods of the Cenozoic Era. It spans the period from roughly 2,588,000 years ago to the present day, and therefore contains both the Pleistocene and the Holocene epochs.
Raised beach deposits: Associated with raised shoreline features, raised beach deposits include shingle, sand and silt.
Reworked: An artefact or other material which has been eroded out of its original location (e.g. where an artefact was discarded by a hominin), transported and then redeposited in a new location by natural agents (e.g. water or ice).
River terraces: The remnants of former valley floors, which are preserved in some places on the valley sides as a by-product of downcutting. They are often underlain by river terrace deposits in which gravel and sand are major components.
Scrapers: A characteristic Palaeolithic stone tool, made on flakes and blades, with a steeply blunted (retouched) working edge. Use-wear increasingly shows a wide range of functional uses, not just as, e.g. hide scraping tools.
Secondary context: Sites where artefacts and sediments have been transported by geological agents (e.g. washed downstream by floodwaters, and then re-deposited in river gravel and sand deposits).
Slope deposits (Head): Variable geological deposits, originating from valley sides and transported downslope through the processes of soil creep, slope wash, solifluction and freeze-thaw activity.
Solifluction: Slow, downslope movement of fine-grained surface material, saturated with water, on typically gentle slopes.
Speleothems: Chemically-precipitated deposits in cave environments, most commonly consisting of calcite (the crystalline form of calcium carbonate).
Superficial deposits: Materials of Pleistocene or Holocene age, that formed independently of the underlying bedrock, and were typically moved into their current positions by natural agencies (e.g. water or ice). Also referred to as Drift Deposits or Drift.
Syncline: A trough or fold of stratified sediments in which the strata slope upwards from the axis.
Taplow Gravel: A river terrace deposit in the Middle and Lower Thames, underlying the Taplow Terrace and dated to MIS 8–6.
Taxon (pl Taxa): A unit of organisms (e.g. a geographic population or a genus) which are related and whose characteristics can be differentiated from other such units.
Tectonic uplift: Vertical elevation of the earth’s surface in response to natural geological causes.
Tufa/Travertine: Sedimentary deposits formed by precipitation of calcium carbonate, where lime-rich water evaporates (e.g. spring heads, seeps, and river and lake margins).
Upper Palaeolithic: Associated with Homo sapiens, the Upper Palaeolithic in Britain spans later MIS 3–2 (about 40–11.7 kya).There is a significant period of human absence around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum.
Varves: Annual sedimentary layers, often associated with lake deposits.
Younger Dryas: A brief period of extremely cold conditions during the Devensian Late Glacial, lasting from about 12,900 to 11,700 years ago, which both started and stopped very rapidly.