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Raising Awareness of Early Prehistory

In order to flag up the results of early prehistoric research to developers, heritage managers and others involved in the planning process, the right information needs to reach the sources of data they would normally consult, especially the relevant Historic Environment Records (HERs).

This applies both to new projects and existing collections, and includes archaeology (stone tools), deposits and palaeoenvironmental sites. We therefore commissioned several projects that will improve the accessibility of early prehistoric research and enhance its representation on HERs and other databases.

Reconstruction drawing of early humans butchering a dead mammoth in a river channel
Reconstruction of Neanderthals butchering a mammoth at Lynford, Norfolk, a key site funded by the ALSF © Historic England: Illustration by Judith Dobie

Lost Landscapes of the Palaeolithic

Our knowledge of the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic periods in Britain has been transformed by recent research and reporting initiatives, particularly ten years of work funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF), which closed in 2011.

We have funded a new synthetic volume, Lost Landscapes of the Palaeolithic, by Oxford Archaeology, which critically assesses the value of this work and makes the results more accessible, especially to heritage professionals who are not Palaeolithic specialists. It is available through Oxford Archaeology as a hardback book or as a free digital download.

The project has also updated the artefact database produced in the 1990s for The English Rivers Palaeolithic Survey (TERPS), which is available via the Archaeology Data Service (ADS).

HER enhancement projects

Records relating to known and potential Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites and find-spots were checked and enhanced in a number of areas:

  • In Worcestershire Palaeolithic archaeology was poorly represented on the HER and therefore poorly protected through the planning process. The project aimed to take existing specialist information, update it based on recent evidence and new interpretations, and place it within the HER in such a way that it can be interpreted and used by non-specialists. A report on the project is available on the Worcestershire County Council website.
  • In South Yorkshire there is high potential for the survival of Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic remains in the low-lying, seasonally waterlogged areas on the eastern side of the county and the upland areas on the county’s western side. Threats to their condition and survival from commercial development and extensive peat erosion are very real. The project collated information from various data sets and produced GIS-based maps highlighting areas of potential. Read the end of project report on our website.

Distribution map of findspots in South Yorkshire displayed as red diamonds on a height coded background
Map of South Yorkshire showing Palaeolithic and Mesolithic SMR records following enhancement © Archaeological Services WYAS

  • The West Yorkshire project aimed to enhance existing records, examine local museum holdings of Mesolithic and possible Palaeolithic material, and identify areas with high potential for providing significant palaeoenvironmental data. This will provide a more reliable guide to assessing the significance of West Yorkshire’s early prehistoric resources when responding to future planning and management consultations.  You can access the project report from our website.
  • In Essex a predictive model was created by which the potential for survival of Palaeolithic archaeology within any given area of the county can be quickly assessed, and its nature and significance understood. The result is a map-based dataset that can inform local authorities of the potential impact of development, and demonstrates how a GIS resource can be used by non-specialists to inform understanding of the Palaeolithic resource. Read more in the project report.
  • In Norfolk over 2,250 existing records relating to early prehistoric sites and finds were enhanced, while new information from museum collections, the John Wymer archive and the excavations at Happisburgh was integrated. Planning guidance was developed to ensure early prehistoric remains are adequately protected from the threats posed by development, mineral extraction and coastal erosion. Outreach from the project aims to raise public awareness of Norfolk’s internationally significant early prehistoric past. You can find out more from the project report.

Photograph with scale of all faces of flint axe
Mesolithic tranchet axe recorded as part of the Norfolk HER enhancement project © Norfolk County Council

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic lithic artefact database (PaMELA)

This project, carried out by Wessex Archaeology, involved the development of an online database (nicknamed Pamela) of finds from the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods, based on the archive of the late Roger Jacobi. The results are available via the Archaeology Data Service.

Line drawing of retouched flint artefact
Original drawing of an Early Upper Palaeolithic burin by Roger Jacobi, scanned from his card index © Wessex Archaeology and Dr Roger M. Jacobi
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