Refine knowledge of the earliest hominin activity in the region (pre-Anglian: Cromerian complex of Period 1)
The East Midlands is located astride the former Bytham River, which prior to obliteration of established drainage networks by the Anglian glaciation around 425,000 years ago would have flowed eastwards towards East Anglia, and hence is critically situated to provide information relating to the earliest (pre-Anglian) hominin activity in Britain. It is recommended that wherever possible resources be focused during developer-funded work upon the identification and characterisation of cultural remains contained within deposits associated with the Bytham River and with more northerly pre-Anglian rivers (including precursors of the Trent, Witham and Humber). This should enhance studies of the distribution and character of early hominin activity, including migration routes, and might identify distinctions within artefact assemblages that could elucidate spatial and chronological variability. Fieldwork should also focus upon the retrieval of associated organic remains with the aim of elucidating the variety of ecological zones exploited by early hunter-gatherers (see Objective 1G). Valuable guidelines for Palaeolithic prospection have been provided by Collcutt, the 2008 Research and Conservation Framework for the British Palaeolithic and Buteux et al, and together these provide a sound basis for research projects aimed at synthesising current evidence and prospecting for additional data.
Strategic Objective 1B
Test the hypothesis that hominines may have been absent from the East Midlands during Period 2 (Pre-Levallois Lower Palaeolithic)
Despite abundant data from southern England, convincing evidence for hunter-gatherer activity in the East Midlands following retreat of the Anglian ice remains elusive. Hominines are known to have exploited more southerly river valleys and other ecological zones during temperate stages of Period 2, including the Thames and East Anglia, and unless movements were impeded by obstacles such as the deep fjord-like feature into which the Nene flowed near Peterborough there seems no reason why the East Midlands should not also have attracted the attention of hunter-gatherers. Assessment of the extent of Period 2 hominin activity in the region is frustrated by an absence of evidence for deposits that may be dated securely to between late MIS12 and early MIS8. It is recommended, therefore, that priority be accorded to the identification of deposits attributable to temperate stages of this period, followed by prospection for associated cultural material. This could be achieved by ensuring that the potential for the preservation of Period 2 deposits is established at an early stage of quarry developments across the region. The strategy should aim to confirm the presence or absence of Period 2 deposits, and, if these are found to be present, evaluate the potential for evidence of hominin activity.
Strategic Objective 1C
Confirm the extent and nature of early hominin activity during Period 4 (Mousterian)
The East Midlands is one of few areas of Britain to have yielded a dataset for this period, albeit acquired principally by antiquarian explorations of limestone caves to the north and west of the region, and has significant potential for elucidating this poorly known period of prehistory. Classic Mousterian bout coupé axes have been recovered from a variety of contexts, including examples from the ploughzone at Harlaxton and below blown sand at Risby Warren and a recently identified surface find from Marston Trussell. The most extensive collection of Mousterian artefacts, however, remains that found during investigations of caves flanking the limestone gorge at Creswell Crags. Further studies of extant artefact and faunal collections are recommended, particularly those recovered from Creswell Crags, plus targeted excavations of sites likely to preserve significant stratified deposits with associated artefacts and environmental remains. Faunal or botanical data would sharpen our picture of the regional environment, which in Britain was characterised during this period by short, alternating, periods of cold and warm temperatures with rapid transitions and by dry open grasslands (the ‘Mammoth Steppe’). Caves and areas buried beneath scree deposits are particularly important for the preservation of in situ remains, and should be targeted for excavation. The potential of lowland environments is exemplified outside the region by the remarkable collection of Mousterian artefacts and fauna recovered from a palaeochannel at Lynford in Norfolk and the woolly rhinoceros remains recovered from Late Pleistocene sands and gravels at Whitemoor Haye in Staffordshire, and appropriate deposits should be identified and investigated prior to quarrying and other developments that might impact upon remains of Mousterian activity.
Strategic Objective 1D
Further investigate Upper Palaeolithic open-air sites
Recent archaeological investigations in the region have located several nationally important open-air sites dating from the Early and Late Upper Palaeolithic. Further prospection and analysis is recommended to elucidate their character, spatial distribution and topographic settings, including assessment of the most appropriate fieldwalking and test-pitting methods. Key sites include an Early Upper Palaeolithic open-air site and hyaena den at Glaston and in situ concentrations of Creswellian (Late Magdalenian) flintwork and debitage on a river terrace at Farndon Fields near Newark, an in situ Creswellian lithic scatter found eroding out of a path in Bradgate Park near Leicester and an extensive in situlong-blade assemblage at Launde, Leicestershire. These sites represent the open-air equivalents of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire cave sites (Objective 1E), and analyses of lithic artefacts from the ploughzone and buried contexts may shed important light upon hunter-gatherer movements (Objective 1F) and in particular the relationship between open-air and cave locations. Trace element analysis of flints from Farndon Fields, for example, indicates that at least some of the material may have derived from a source over 200km to the south, which has profound implications for the reconstruction of mobility patterns. Along with other Creswellian open-air and cave sites, this campsite may have formed part of an annual subsistence round extending southwards to the Severn basin and northwards to Creswell Crags and other sites on the Magnesian Limestone escarpment.
Strategic Objective 1E
Investigate Upper Palaeolithic use of the limestone caves of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire
The caves and rock shelters of the Magnesian and Carboniferous limestones of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire preserve a nationally important Palaeolithic resource – most spectacularly at Creswell Crags, which in addition to the first parietal artwork in Britain (including engravings of bison, deer, horses and birds in Church Hole Cave) has yielded the most northerly Early Upper Palaeolithic lithic artefacts in Britain. Investigations in talus accumulations below Church Hole have revealed a hitherto unknown cave/rock shelter with stratified Creswellian lithic artefacts and an abundant fauna, including horse, reindeer, arctic hare and collared lemming, and emphasise the potential for preservation of other unexplored caves beneath slope deposits in limestone gorges within the region. Such caves may preserve crucial artefact evidence for Upper Palaeolithic activity and may shed important light upon the Early to Late Upper Palaeolithic cultural succession. Continued prospection for Upper Palaeolithic cave sites is recommended along the Magnesian Limestone escarpment of the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border and in the Carboniferous Limestone of the White Peak, combined with targeted investigations of selected sites. Environmental records for this period remain sparse, and caves with stratified deposits provide important opportunities for the preservation of fauna, pollen and other remains that may elucidate variations in environmental conditions across the region and over time.
Strategic Objective 1F
Investigate the annual patterns of movement of Late Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers
The wide variety of evidence from the East Midlands for Late Upper Palaeolithic activity, including open-air sites, caves and rock shelters, raises the possibility of exploring settlement patterns, mobility and hunting strategies in ways that are possible in few other regions of the country. Systematic studies of Late Upper Palaeolithic lithic artefact morphology and technology could usefully be combined with scientific analyses aimed at establishing the potential sources of raw materials. Current collaborative work by the University of Sheffield and the British Geological Survey on artefact sourcing by trace element analyses of worked stone and potential source materials is of particular interest in this respect, and analyses at Farndon and elsewhere have identified possible linkages between sites distributed widely over the Trent and Severn catchments and beyond. Trace element analysis may well be useful as a technique for unravelling the annual patterns of movement of hunter-gatherers within and beyond the East Midlands, and could potentially be extended to sites of the Early Upper Palaeolithic and other periods where we can be confident that the observed pattern of finds reflects the original distribution of activity foci. This technique might be augmented by isotopic studies of human bone to elucidate the movement of people and their diets, and of animal bone to shed light upon their migration routes.
Strategic Objective 1G
Elucidate from terrestrial sources the changing Pleistocene environment of the East Midlands
Image 6-1B The Pre-Anglian Bytham and Ancaster river systems
Further mapping and visualisation of the Pleistocene landscape is recommended in order to elucidate further the relationship between human populations and changes in climate, vegetation and landscape. This should be accompanied by the inclusion of further detail in Historic Environment Records, which at present often lack necessary information on the Pleistocene environment. There is significant scope in the East Midlands for further investigation of the changing environment, especially from the evidence of palaeochannels and deposits in limestone caves. Unpublished archive information from Creswell Crags has particular potential for elucidating changes in the Pleistocene environment, and merits further study in combination with excavations of in situ deposits. Organic deposits associated with the Bytham drainage system also provide a critical resource for reconstructing the environment of the earliest hominin colonisers, as demonstrated by the discovery of organic remains associated with temperate deposits at Brooksby Quarry in Leicestershire and by discoveries of organic deposits and associated cultural remains from sites distributed widely across the Midlands and eastern England.
Strategic Objective 1H
Explore the submerged Pleistocene landscapes of Doggerland
Sea-level rises between around 13,000 and 7500 years ago, following the melting of ice sheets after the Last Glacial Maximum, have inundated vast tracts of the low-lying plains that for much of the Pleistocene and early Holocene would have extended from eastern England to the Continent. Some 23,000 square kilometres of this submerged landscape, known as Doggerland, have been mapped as part of the North Sea Palaeolandscapes Project, revealing through 3D seismic data a striking image of a lowland landscape subject to continuous and dynamic change. Large areas of the North Sea floor are the products of sediment reworking following submergence of low-lying areas, and may in many places seal preserved Pleistocene and early Holocene landscapes. Seismic interpretation techniques have permitted the identification of buried river channels with the potential for preservation of cultural and environmental remains that may elucidate landscape developments and changing lifestyles – both in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic (Objective 2H). For both periods, therefore, there is a clear need to identify, target, date and sample submarine palaeochannels and pre-inundation land surfaces, and to record and date artefact, faunal and botanical material retrieved principally through dredging. There is also an opportunity to recover palaeoenvironmental data and artefacts from the assessment and development of further wind-farm locations, and from continuing liaison with the fishing industry.
1.1.1 What may analyses of artefact assemblages contribute to studies of the material culture of the earliest colonisers of western Doggerland?
1.1.2. From how early may this material date?
1.1.3. Where is pre-Anglian material found, and what may we deduce from its distribution about the routes of movement of early colonisers (e.g. along the Bytham River and ancestral routes of the Trent)?
1.1.4. Can we detect traces of intra-Anglian activity within the region, and in particular how should we interpret rare finds of artefacts associated with Anglian outwash and till?
1.1.5. Can we define more closely the distribution of sediments likely to yield traces of Period 1 activity and associated organic remains (notably those relating to the River Bytham and precursors of the Trent and Witham)?
1.2.1 Can we locate convincing evidence for Period 2 activity in the region?
1.2.2. Can we elucidate further the distribution, topographic location, character and date of Period 3 material, especially in sealed contexts in terraces?
1.2.3.What is the range and variability of Levallois (prepared core) technology, and what may East Midlands assemblages contribute to studies of the development of this technique?
1.2.4. What is the composition of Lower Palaeolithic assemblages of non-Levallois/Levallois type, and how might this have changed over time?
1.3.1. How can we locate additional caves and open-air sites with evidence for Mousterian activity?
1.3.2. How might caves and open-air sites have been related?
1.3.3. Can we refine by radiocarbon dating the chronology of Mousterian sites and key artefact types (e.g. bout coupé axes)?
1.3.4. Can we characterise more precisely the extant artefact collections from the region?
1.3.5. What may artefact analyses contribute to studies of relationships between Mousterian hunter-gatherer communities?
1.4.1. How may studies of East Midlands sites contribute to testing and dating of the proposed EUP and LUP cultural succession?
1.4.2. How may studies of artefact typologies and raw materials contribute to our understanding of patterns of hunter-gatherer mobility?
1.4.3.What was the relationship between caves and open-air sites, and may we discern differences in artefact typologies?
1.4.4. How were EUP and LUP sites distributed across the landscape, and what contrasts may be observed with earlier and later (Mesolithic) periods?
1.4.5 What may artefact analyses contribute to studies of relationships between groups across Doggerland and of regional cultural traditions?
1.4.6 Can work at sites such as Creswell Crags elucidate the chronology of the recolonisation of western Doggerland after the Late Glacial Maximum?
1.4.7 May further important examples of Palaeolithic artwork be preserved in caves of Magnesian Limestone or elsewhere?
1.4.8 How may lithic technology and typology have changed at the Terminal Palaeolithic–Mesolithic transition and what may this signify culturally?
1.5.1 Can we shed further light upon the development of the pre-Anglian river systems that may have served as corridors of movement for the earliest hominines (especially the Bytham River and precursors of the Trent)?
1.5.2 How may studies of fauna, pollen and other organic material from palaeochannels, caves, terrace sediments and other deposits refine our understanding of the evolving environment, and how may this have varied spatially?
1.5.3 Where are resources for the identification, recording and study of organic remains best targeted?
1.6.1 How best may we extend and enhance regional fieldwalking or test-pitting programmes as means of prospecting for open-air sites?
1.6.2 How can we enhance the Historic Environment Record dataset for study of the Palaeolithic period?
1.6.3 How can we elucidate further the archaeological potential of the submerged landscapes of Doggerland?
1.6.4 How can we ensure that resources are focused upon monitoring quarries with the highest potential for unearthing Pleistocene cultural and environmental remains?
1.6.5 How can we maximise the research yield of Pleistocene sites investigated during developer-funded work?