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Mapping Palaeolithic Potential

Most Palaeolithic sites are encountered by chance during quarrying, large-scale development or coastal erosion. Improving their protection primarily involves developing better understanding of the location and character of potentially artefact-bearing deposits. This allows resources for evaluation and monitoring to be focused on areas of high potential and threat.

View of quarry face with two people and a machine
Work by Southampton University at Chard Junction Quarry in the Axe valley, Dorset, recorded the sedimentary context of Lower-Middle Palaeolithic handaxe finds from the site. This photo shows the quarry face in the Hodge Ditch sector on 10th June 2008 © L. S. Basell

Coastal Exposures Project

The cliffs of the East Anglian coast, especially around Happisburgh in Norfolk, preserve a unique record of sediments. Some of these, known as the Cromer Forest-Bed, have produced flint artefacts that document the earliest known occupation of northern Europe.

This internationally important resource is both complex and fragile, located on one of the fastest eroding coastlines in Britain and spanning terrestrial, intertidal and marine contexts. In order to manage it effectively we need better understanding of the potential of the deposits and of the threats posed by the coastal environment.

A consortium led by the British Museum is using coring, geophysical survey and diving to map and model deposits across the present intertidal zone, as well developing a finds reporting network to ensure that discoveries made on beaches are recorded appropriately.

The project will be completed at the end of 2015. Find out more about the work at Happisburgh from the Cromer Forest-Bed Fossil Project website.

Photo of person looking at footprints exposed on a beach
Unique and fragile early human footprints were exposed on the beach at Happisburgh at low tide in May 2013 © Martin Bates

The Lower Palaeolithic in the East Midlands

Deposits associated with the lost river Bytham were encountered during quarrying at Brooksby, Leicestershire. Archaeologists recognised they might contain remains associated with the earliest humans in Britain.

A team led by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) investigated the channel using the geophysical survey technique of Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT), followed up by borehole sampling. The work, which will be completed in 2015, aims to provide information on the character of the channel and the nature of any associated human occupation.

Photo of people in high-vis jackets laying out a survey grid in a quarry
British Geological Society staff preparing to undertake ERT survey over the incised channel at Brooksby, April 2013 © ULAS

Stour Basin Palaeolithic Project

The Stour Basin in north-east Kent is an area under high development pressure. It contains a rich Palaeolithic resource which has not been investigated in detail but may include exceptionally early evidence as well as nationally rare remains associated with Neanderthal occupation during the last Ice Age.

The project, which has been carried out by Kent County Council and will be completed in 2015, aims to help local curators respond to development proposals by:

  • Enhancing the Historic Environment Record with a GIS layer which identifies areas of different character
  • Producing a predictive model which will identify areas of high potential, and an improved dating framework for key geological deposits
  • Investigating sub-surface deposits using a combination of techniques, including test pits and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Photo of two people working at a sieve next to a JCB in a field
Sieving for artefacts at Chislet Court Farm, Kent, during fieldwork for the Stour Basin project © Francis Wenban-Smith
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