Updated Period Resource Assessment: The Palaeolithic Period

by Andy Howard, updating John McNabb’s 2006 chapter

1. Introduction

This chapter provides an updated synthesis of the Palaeolithic archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record, revised for the East Midlands Regional Research Framework (EMRF), which in 2019 was transferred to a WordPress digital (wiki) platform (https://researchframeworks.org/emherf/).

This new synthesis builds upon the detailed hard copy Palaeolithic review of McNabb (2006), which covered the earliest part of the archaeological record for the East Midlands Research Framework volume edited by Cooper (2006); this volume also provided the foundations for the Updated Research Agenda and Strategy published by Knight et al in 2012. In addition to the geographical area considered during the original review, this new synthesis includes the unitary authorities of North and North-East Lincolnshire, ensuring inclusion of the entire historic county of Lincolnshire, though this does not reflect any change in the administrative definition of the East Midlands.

As noted by McNabb (2006), Palaeolithic archaeology draws its primary data from two sources, the recovered material cultural and environmental archaeological record, and the geological (sediment) archive. Over the past 15 years since McNabb’s review, much has changed in our understanding of the British Palaeolithic archaeological record, both regionally and nationally.

In his postscript, McNabb (2006) noted three major research initiatives that were likely to contribute significant new information to our understanding of Palaeolithic archaeology, both within the East Midlands as well as nationally, and raise the profile of the period. In turn, these three initiatives would generate new interest and information, albeit most probably indirectly to begin with.

The first of these initiatives was the Leverhulme Trust funded Ancient Human Occupation of Britain Project (AHOB) which commenced in 2001 with the aim of investigating when hominins first arrived in Britain and what factors led to their survival or extinction. Additional funding from the Leverhulme Trust for AHOB 2 (Ancient Britain in its European Context) and AHOB 3 (Dispersals of Early Humans:  Adaptations, Frontiers and New Territories) resulted in continuity of a major research agenda until 2011 (Ashton et al 2010). It led to the re-evaluation of numerous classic sites and datasets and facilitated the excavation of major new locales: for example, those at Pakefield and Happisburgh, which are associated with the earliest human occupation of Britain (Parfitt et al 2005, 2010) and push back chronologies into timeframes traditionally considered beyond the British Lower Palaeolithic (Pettitt and White 2012, 55). Whilst the funding for AHOB and its successors may have come to an end, the collaboration of expertise fostered by it has continued through a number of research initiatives; these include the ‘Pathways to Ancient Britain’ project (https://www.pabproject.org/) funded by the Calleva Foundation and the Breckland Palaeolithic Project (https://www.qmul.ac.uk/geog/research/research-projects/breckland/#) funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It has also provided an impetus and a research framework for co-ordinated projects that might best be described as citizen science (see Bynoe et al, 2021).

The second of the initiatives cited by McNabb (2006) was The Midlands Palaeolithic Network, co-ordinated by the Shotton Project and aimed at promoting the Palaeolithic of the Midlands region amongst the public, curators and academics (see Lang 2004). This was succeeded by the National Ice Age Network (NIAN) with both projects contributing significantly to both regional and national knowledge (Lang and Keen 2005; Keen et al 2006).

Both the Shotton Project and NIAN were funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF): an environmental tax on the aggregates industry, which ran from 2002 until 2011.  This funding stream provided an important platform for Palaeolithic research across England in both terrestrial and marine environments (White 2016).  With respect to the Palaeolithic terrestrial record of the East Midlands, Aggregates Levy funding resulted in a complete reappraisal of the Quaternary evolution of the Trent catchment, including earlier Pleistocene drainage configurations beyond the current watershed (Bridgland et al 2014)[1],  the re-evaluation of information from the Nene Valley (Boismier 2009), Welton Le Wold (Aram et al 2004) and caves and fissures across the Carboniferous and Magnesian limestone to the north and west of the region (Oliver and Davies 2008).  All of these areas have in the past yielded significant Palaeolithic artefact assemblages and, to a more limited extent, environmental data (e.g. Wymer 1999, 2004; Wall and Jacobi 2000) and these new studies have generated numerous new insights and interpretations.

Within the marine zone, ALSF monies have been used to repurpose geophysical survey data collected by the oil and gas industry to provide detailed reconstructions of the now submerged late Pleistocene and early Holocene landscapes of the central and southern North Sea basin (Gaffney et al 2007; Gaffney et al 2011; Tappin et al 2011). These offshore datasets have added hitherto unprecedented levels of detail to the palaeogeography of the area conceived as Doggerland by Coles (1998). The development of this approach, underpinned by the recognition of landform assemblages, has been important for contextualising important Palaeolithic artefact assemblages when discovered: for example, within Area 240 off the coast of Great Yarmouth in the southern North Sea basin (Tizzard et al 2014).

With the demise of the ALSF, the collection of new Palaeolithic data during the last decade, both onshore and offshore, has been achieved largely through developer-funded projects, underpinned by a new research framework for the British Palaeolithic (Pettitt et al 2008). In the context of the terrestrial East Midlands, activity has generally focused on a relatively small number of mineral extraction sites, the most notable of which is Brooksby quarry, Leicestershire, where exposures through Bytham River Valley sediments have yielded a sizeable, nationally important lithic assemblage (Jarvis et al 2010; Beamish et al 2013; Beamish and Jarvis 2015; Clapton et al 2016; Howard et al 2018). Offshore, the growth of construction projects, notably associated with wind farms, as well as the continued exploitation of mineral resources, has yielded important information off the Lincolnshire coast (RPS 2018). When offshore investigations are dovetailed with the results of Historic England funded coastal zone assessments (Humber Field Archaeology 2009; Cornwall County Council 2021), there is the potential for seamless landscape narratives of the archaeological record from the margins of the now submerged coastal shelf to the Pennine uplands.

The third and final initiative cited by McNabb (2006) was the discovery of Palaeolithic rock art at Creswell Crags, Derbyshire, and the plans for a new museum and education centre.  The construction of a new visitor centre as well as the diversion of the B6042 away from the gorge has provided welcome improvements to the environs of the site.  At present, the gorge is recorded on the UK government’s ‘Tentative List’ for World Heritage nomination, though it is hoped that full status can be secured in the not too distant future (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/78267/WHAF_Creswell_Crags.pdf).

Away from archaeologically driven investigations, much new information concerning Late Pleistocene landscapes and environments has been collected as part of BRITICE-CHRONO, a Natural Environment Research Council funded research initiative undertaken between 2011 and 2018 (https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/geography/research/projects/britice). The overall aim of the project was to use absolute dating techniques to constrain the timing of glacial dynamics of the last British-Irish Icesheet (BIIS) during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM); it built upon the results of the earlier BRITICE project, which ran between 1995 and 2002 and completed the task of mapping all landforms associated with the BIIS.  Since the terminal limits of the BIIS sit across the East Midlands region, the more nuanced understanding that BRITICE-CHRONO provides for late Pleistocene environments has important implications for contextualising the Upper Palaeolithic records either side of the LGM; it also has implications for the preservation of sediments and archaeology relating to earlier Pleistocene climatic stages.

Another initiative of key interest has been the UNESCO-funded International Geoscience Programme project entitled Global Correlation of Late Cenozoic fluvial Deposits (IGCP project number 449). The project, which ran from 2000 to 2004, included a Palaeolithic working group and was instrumental in collating and synthesising information enabling the British record to be better contextualised within a European and global context (Bridgland et al 2006).

This brief introductory overview is by its nature selective: for example, it does not consider the new evidence provided by amateur collecting, doctoral studies and independent academic research, all of which will be considered in due course. However, it clearly demonstrates that baseline evidence has increased both regionally and nationally, providing thereby a secure platform for a revised assessment of early human activity and palaeoenvironments within the East Midlands.

When constructing this review, particular attention has been placed upon the need to navigate non-specialist readers through the complexities of the geological, palaeoenvironmental and artefactual data that underpin interpretations of a period which to many is very unfamiliar territory. In consequence, the summary may lack some of the technical information that a seasoned Palaeolithic specialist might desire but may be too detailed in parts for readers completely new to the period.  We have tried to the find the middle ground, providing sufficient information to allow a project supervisor, project manager or independent researcher with limited experience of the period to take on the task of investigating the Palaeolithic of the region, whilst appreciating the limitations of their knowledge and recognising when to seek additional expert support.

2. The Distribution and Character of Palaeolithic Archives

As demonstrated initially by Roe (1968) and latterly by The English Rivers Palaeolithic Survey (TERPS; Wymer 1999) the Pleistocene terrace sequences within major British river valleys provide the key repositories for the preservation of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic lithic remains: a pattern that extends across continental Europe (Bridgland et al 2006).

Most Lower and Middle Palaeolithic finds are known from the south and east of Britain, extending as far north as an imaginary line from the contemporary Severn estuary to the Wash embayment. Within the East Midlands, the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic artefact assemblages from the Middle Trent around Derby are the most northerly known occurrence from a British river terrace sequence, although it should be noted that Middle Palaeolithic human remains and lithic artefact have been recorded at higher latitudes from Pontnewydd Cave, Denbighshire, north Wales (Green et al 1981; Aldhouse-Green et al 2016).  Historically, in the context of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites, it has been argued that such patterns reflect the inability of early hominins to tolerate and /or adapt to harsh climatic conditions further north and west: concepts that build on the themes explored by Gamble (1995). Investigations over the last 15 years, both grant- and commercially-funded, have done little to change this nationally observed geographical pattern of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic remains. In fact, spatial analyses and interrogations of artefact records based on an enhanced version of TERPS (Wymer 1999) have corroborated this pattern, although studies also demonstrate that preferential collection of hand-axes in the past has created an element of bias within the record (Ashton et al 2018).

Further evidence that the concentration of artefact sites within fluvial settings is not simply a product of preferential collection and/or preservation through sedimentation is provided by other studies. For example, a review of key, fully interglacial Hoxnian sites by Ashton et al (2006) suggests that riparian corridors may have been preferentially selected over other landscape types because of their greater diversity of animal, plant and lithic resources, as well as their navigability. However, Ashton et al (2006) have also tentatively suggested that during cooler periods, when the landscape was more open, early hominins may also have exploited higher interfluves, ­perhaps attracted by exposure of lithic resources as a result of enhanced slope processes.

Taking the theme of landscape zones further, Brown et al (2013) have attempted to quantify the nutritional value of plants and animals between plateaux, valley-slope and floodplain environments, demonstrating that floodplains represent the optimum locations for hunter-gatherers in terms of the concentration of high value resources.  However, the diversity of patterns suggest significant complexity in the archaeological record. The distributions of preserved sediment archives, sample bias, variations in the availability of resources (both food and lithic sources) and hominin behaviour add further complexity to the debate.  Pope et al (2016) have stressed the need to move away from investigating the spatial distribution of (Acheulian lithic artefacts, beyond divisions based on their age and depositional setting (for example, in valley or interfluve locations).  Rather, they argue the need to adopt fieldwork strategies based on a ‘unified Palaeolithic landscape approach’ focusing upon human behaviour, artefact preservation and reworking.

As noted by McNabb (2006), the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic artefact assemblages from river valleys are most readily understood when they are contextualised within a model of river terrace development where each discrete terrace unit is formed over a single glacial-interglacial cycle (Bridgland 2000). The presence of channels filled with organic-rich sediments exhibiting a range of temperate affinities (interstadial or interglacial) at various levels within these terrace staircases provides opportunities to establish robust chronological and palaeoenvironmental frameworks using a variety of absolute and relative dating techniques; this allows the terrace staircases to be linked to the oxygen isotope record of warm and cold climatic stages (Schreve 2001; Bridgland 2010; Penkman et al 2011).

It is also important to understand the role that local lithologies can play in providing material for the production of artefacts. The majority of artefact assemblages from the south and east are made of flint, where the distribution of chalk bedrock provides direct access to high quality flint nodules at the near surface.  In the East Midlands, whilst chalk bedrock is recorded in the far north-east of Lincolnshire, it is buried at depth beneath a thick veneer of glacial sediments and only exposed in coastal cliffs. Therefore, flint has generally been unavailable at the surface, except for pieces of variable size and quality that are derived from the local superficial deposits (glacial, fluvioglacial and river-terrace sands and gravels). In such circumstances, it is clear that hominins looked to locally abundant lithologies to make tools; in the case of the East Midlands and adjoining areas during the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic, tools were manufactured predominantly from quartzite pebbles derived from the Triassic bedrock and occurring abundantly within the superficial deposits. Since the pioneering studies of MacRae and Moloney (1988), a number of published studies have reinforced the importance of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic non-flint resources in records from both the West (Lang and Keen 2005; Keen et al 2006) and East Midlands (Graf 2008; White et al 2008; White and White 2014). With respect to the Upper Palaeolithic, flint from the chalk of Lincolnshire and Carboniferous chert from the Peak District were important lithic resources.

McNabb (2006, 13) outlined the concept that during the intensely cold middle parts of glacials, occupation in Britain would not have been possible but that archaeological., palaeoenvironmental and climatic modelling evidence was beginning to suggest that the early and late phases of glacial periods were times when human occupation was possible under cool but not cold conditions, perhaps reflecting the higher diversity of habitats and hence resources. Combined with the early and late phases of interglacials, these cooler climates provided extended windows of opportunity for occupation.

Over the last 15 years, palaeoenvironmental research and the application of high-precision dating techniques have helped to refine further our understanding of the duration, stability and intensity of interglacial substages (Candy and Schreve 2007; Schreve and Candy 2010).  In turn, this has provided the opportunity for a much more nuanced assessment of artefact typologies from new and previously well-studied sites and their relationship to climatic sub-stages (see for example, White et al 2006; Ashton et al 2008; Bridgland and White 2015; Candy et al 2015; Davis et al 2021).

During these transitional phases of occupation, mainland Britain would not have been an island but connected to the European mainland by lower sea levels, either in a state of retreat or rise depending on the timeline within the glacial-interglacial cycle.  Understanding marine transgression and regression in the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic across the coastal plain of the North Sea basin and English Channel is challenging, given the fragmentary nature of sediment records and landform evidence (including details of former land bridges; Gibbard 2007). Recent palaeoenvironmental investigations and high-precision dating of sediments attributable to the last interglacial-glacial transition on the north side of the Solent in Hampshire suggest early sea level rise prior to significant warming; adding further complexity to understanding these records and the windows of opportunity for migration between mainland Europe and Britain (Briant et al 2019).

The importance of a more nuanced understanding of these now submerged landscapes, which in the case of the North Sea Basin is now popularly known as ‘Doggerland’, is critical. As noted by McNabb (2006,  13) ‘Britain, for much of the Pleistocene was the western end of Doggerland, and the Palaeolithic archaeology of Britain, and the East Midlands, is thus the archaeology of western Doggerland’.

Fifteen years ago, our knowledge of the geography of Doggerland was restricted to a few key landforms, such as the Dogger Bank and the Outer Silver Pit (Coles 1998).  However, since then, the repurposing of geophysical data collected by several offshore industries has allowed the identification and interpretation of near-surface landform assemblages adding hitherto unimagined detail to the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene landscape configuration (Gaffney et al 2007).  With such detailed geographical knowledge, it has now become possible to identify, sample, date and contextualise key glacial-interglacial sediment sequences, in turn providing high-quality chronostratigraphic and palaeoenvironmental records. To date, whilst the greatest archaeological focus has been on post-glacial (Holocene) sequences (e.g. Ward et al 2006) the datasets have significant potential to provide insights into earlier Pleistocene cold and warm stages.

In contrast to the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic, most British records of Upper Palaeolithic age derive from caves, though in some cases this evidence may be shown to extend back into the Late Middle Palaeolithic.  The cave records are augmented by a relatively small number of open-air sites; these are often, although not exclusively, associated with river terraces elevated above postglacial valley floors. Therefore, a strong relationship continues between Upper Palaeolithic records and Pleistocene alluvial sequences. The East Midlands provides key records associated with both cave and open-air localities, with notable finds of the latter across the region within the last 15 years.

3. Quaternary Landscape Evolution and the Role of Glaciation in the Preservation of Palaeolithic Archaeology

As White (2016, 135) observed, advancing our understanding of the Palaeolithic record of Britain requires the identification of many more important new sites, defined by him as in-situ finds of the quality of Boxgrove or Lynford, rather than a few rolled artefacts and scrappy mammoth tooth. Coupled to the analysis of new finds, White (2016) suggested that a continuing review of existing records and predictive modelling are also needed in order to address the established questions within research frameworks.  A useful exemplar of the enhancement of existing Palaeolithic records is provided by the work undertaken on the county HER by Worcestershire Archaeology to provide a predictive management tool (Shaw et al 2015).

With respect to the East Midlands, the general lack of data beyond a few well-known contexts is the major challenge.  Stated simply, understanding of the region’s Palaeolithic record cannot be advanced if there are little data beyond historical records to consider.  Geoprospection is thus the key to unlocking the potential of the East Midlands and should play a key role in the regional research strategy for this period.

A key variable influencing the quality of predictive modelling in any region is an understanding of long-term landscape evolution and the development of models that place the sedimentary deposits within a securely-dated chronostratigraphic framework.  The construction of such a model should be a prerequisite in any field archaeological and geoprospection strategy, especially for the Palaeolithic (Howard et al 2018; insert extra references from Hosfield et al. Palaeolithic volume when published).

The observation that the pattern of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic find spots across Britain has a correlation with past icesheet limits is well-established.  There are significantly greater problems, however, in determining the number, timing and extent of those past terrestrial glaciations (Hardaker 2017). It is beyond the scope of this synthesis to provide a detailed account of the history of research into British glaciations and, for those seeking further information, the key reviews of Ehlers et al (1991), Bowen et al (1999) and Lee et al (2011) illustrate how thinking has evolved and provide summaries of knowledge.

Whilst controversy and disagreement is never far away, and whilst debate concerning the number of glaciations will no doubt continue as new evidence emerges and as published studies are critiqued, the current paradigm within the Quaternary Science community suggests there is terrestrial evidence for glaciation in  Britain during the following  Marine Isotope Stages:  MIS 16 (informally the Happisburgh glaciation), MIS 12 (the Anglian glaciation), MIS 10 (informally the Oadby glaciation), MIS 8 (informally the Wragby glaciation), MIS 6 (informally the Tottenhill glaciation), MIS 4 (an un-named early Devensian glaciation) and MIS 2 (the Dimlington Stadial glaciation).  With the exception of the Anglian and Dimlington Stadial glaciations, whose extent is well-established and formally recognised, the limits of the other icesheets are more problematic; this has significant implications for our understanding of the distribution and taphonomy of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic remains.

With respect to the East Midlands, the oldest glacial sediments mapped across the region are those associated with the Anglian cold stage (MIS 12); they are widespread, but fragmentary.  In contrast, glacial deposits associated with the Dimlington Stadial icesheet (MIS 2) are much more restricted since ice only entered the lower Trent valley area around Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire); ice also remained east of the Lincolnshire Wolds, although in this latter area the possibility of early Devensian glaciation (MIS 4) adds a degree of complexity to the story (Straw 2019).

However, there are also other relatively widespread though fragmentary glacial sediments within the East and West Midlands which, on the basis of biostratigraphical evidence, cannot be related to either the Anglian or Dimlington icesheets.  In the West Midlands (Birmingham suburbs) the youngest glacial sediments are attributed to MIS 6 (the Tottenhill glaciation). Across the higher ground of Lincolnshire sediments are primarily attributed to MIS 8 (the Wragby glaciation) whilst in Leicestershire some of these deposits have been attributed to MIS 10 (the Oadby glaciation).

As alluded to previously, these multiple glacial incursions will have had a significant impact on the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic archaeological record. Furthermore, the fragmentary nature of the sediments means that these events are only known from a small number of key sites and that, beyond those localities, the nature of the record is largely conjectural.  Understanding the character of these discrete glaciations, their extent, how ice entered the region and what happened where icesheets met are critical questions to unravelling the taphonomy of Palaeolithic deposits and designing strategies for geoprospection.

4. The Division of Time

McNabb (2006) moved away from the established tripartite subdivision of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Palaeolithic, instead assigning the archaeology to five periods which he suggested encompassed more distinctive artefact technologies.  With all divisions of the archaeological record, the transition points tend to be areas of overlap with arguments for and against divisions.  Whilst McNabb (2006) presented a strong argument for his proposed scheme, a major challenge of using the adopted nomenclature was that it did not gain traction and hence adoption beyond the East Midlands. Therefore, to provide ease of inter-regional comparison, this revised chapter has returned to the more conventional tripartite scheme, albeit with reference to the respected text of Pettitt and White (2012) which divides the Middle Palaeolithic into early and late stages.

Insert table here summarizing key stages – to replace McNabb Fig 11

5. The Earliest Lower Palaeolithic Occupation of Britain during the Pre-Anglian

5.1 The Broader Archaeological Context

As with many large archaeological syntheses, the ‘moment in time’ capture of information pertaining to the Palaeolithic record of the East Midlands was completed several years before publication of the regional resource assessment(Cooper 2006). At that time, it was known that the major warm stage associated with pre-Anglian human activity, the ‘Cromerian’, comprised more than a single interglacial; now a combination of biostratigraphic and aminostratigraphic dating evidence indicates that it can be divided into five discrete interglacial cycles attributed to MIS 13-21 (Preece et al 2009; Penkman et al 2010). Critical biostratigraphical information that has helped to unravel these records is the differentiation between water vole species with unrooted and rooted molars, and such studies emphasise the need to assess suitable Pleistocene sediments of this period for microfaunal remains.

Climatic evidence for this period derived from marine and ice cores, when set within a global context, suggests that the individual cycles within the complex may have been subdued, with many of the interglacials more similar in character to interstadials (with MIS 13 being the coolest of the last 800 kya years: Lang and Wolff 2011).  However, Candy et al (2015) suggest that this generalised global model may not apply to the British Isles and, in the case of MIS 13, that stage may have been as warm as the last interglacial (the Ipswichian, MIS 5e); this optimum, however, may have been short-lived, and the transition to MIS 12 may have been rapid (within around 20,000 years).

At the time of the 2006 synthesis, the earliest record of human occupation in Britain was provided by lithic artefacts (hand-axes, flakes and cores) and a fragment of human bone from Boxgrove (West Sussex): a site on the edge of the South Downs, overlooking the resource-rich environments of the coastal plain which extended into what is now the English Channel.  Geological and biostratigraphic evidence suggests that human occupation at the site probably dates towards the end of MIS 13 (Roberts and Parfitt 1999): the Cromerian Interglacial sensu stricto.  The contextualising of Boxgrove within such a timeframe fitted well with the general paradigm of the time in that the human occupation of Europe, including the northern British margins, was characterised by a short chronology extending back no further than around 600-500 kya (for example, Roebroeks and van Kolfschoten 1994). Since then, chronologies of human occupation in Europe have gradually been pushed back by indisputable evidence: a combination of human remains and lithic artefacts which suggests a presence extending back to between 1.3 and 1.6 million years ago (Scott and Gilbert 2009; Arzarello et al 2012; Agusti et al 2015; Arzarello et al 2015).

However, this new extended chronology is far from simple and there is currently no indication of patterning in terms either of the technologies used or the scales of activity either side of a notional point around 700 kya.  The earliest part of the record, from 1.6 mya to 700 kya, is sparse and most of the sites are known from south of the Alps and Pyrenees (south of 40֯N; Dennell and Roebroeks 2006) with just a scattering of sites further north; all of the sites suggest short-lived, intermittent occupation. In contrast, after 700 kya, there is a notable expansion northward beyond the major European mountain chains, with sites characterised by denser, more prolonged occupation.

5.2 The Coastal Margins: the early site of Pakefield, Suffolk

Around the time of publication of the regional resource assessment (Cooper 2006), although not described within it, evidence had emerged from the site of Pakefield on the Suffolk coast, which would begin the process of extending back the chronology of human occupation in Britain (Parfitt et al 2005).  At the very margins of the European landmass, Pakefield yielded 32 pieces of worked flint consistent with Mode 1[2] technologies (flakes, pebble tools and choppers made with hard hammers); the tools were recovered mostly from channel lag deposits[3] within the Cromer Forest-bed Formation deposited within the lower reaches of a tidally-influenced Bytham River System (Parfitt et al 2005).  Multi-proxy environmental evidence indicated a meandering river fringed by alder and surrounded by damp marshland with broadleaved woodland present on higher drier terraces; grassland nearby was grazed by large herbivores, followed by predators and scavengers higher up the food chain. Insect remains included a number of warmth-loving species no longer found in Britain, with mean July temperatures calculated at between 18 ֯C and 23 ֯C and mean January / February temperatures of between -6 ֯C and +4֯ C.  Geochemical analysis of carbonate nodules within a ‘rootlet bed’ provided indications of soil and atmospheric moisture conditions, and together this corpus of information suggested a warm, seasonally dry Mediterranean climate (Parfitt et al 2005). Based on geological, biostratigraphical and absolute dating evidence, Parfitt et al (2005) argued that the youngest age estimate for human occupation at Pakefield was around 680 kya, within the interglacial associated with MIS 17 (ie in the early part of the Cromerian Complex sensu lato). However, this ‘young’ chronology is dependent upon the overlying glacial sediments being assigned to the Anglian glaciation (MIS 12) rather than the alternative interpretation of Lee et al (2004) which proposes that the icesheet depositing those glacial sediments is attributable to MIS 16 (the Happisburgh glaciation).  If this older glacial chronology is accepted, the interglacial sediments at Pakefield would need to extend over an additional glacial / interglacial cycle, suggesting occupation during MIS 19, around 750 kya. Further support for the younger chronology is provided by biostratigraphic and aminostratigraphic investigations of organic-rich sediments beneath the HappisburghTill at Sidestrand, north Norfolk (the Sidestrand Hall Member of the Cromer Forest-bed Formation); this suggests that these (organic) sediments are attributable to interglacials MIS 15 or 13, implying that the oldest regional tills must be assigned to MIS 12 (Preece et al 2009).

Whilst the age of the deposits at Pakefield will undoubtedly continue to be the focus of discussion and debate within the Quaternary research community, the record demonstrates that, at least 200,000 years earlier than Boxgrove, humans were living in a valley-floor environment with rich food resources and a ready supply of flint within the river gravels. However, despite this step-change in our knowledge of the timing of occupation, the evidence does not require a re-evaluation of the challenges these hominins may have faced or the adaptations required to venture to latitudes of 52֯N; quite simply, they continued to occupy a Mediterranean style environment, but just further north.  As Roebroek (2005) as intimated, they continued to enjoy ‘Life on the Costa del Cromer’; alternatively, Candy et al (2015) have suggested that the presence of early hominins under full interglacial conditions at Pakefeld may be somewhat of an anomaly.

5.3 The Coastal Margins: the early site of Happisburgh 3, Norfolk

The investigations at Pakefield were underpinned by the AHOB project and, whilst the evidence at that site may not have changed archaeological thinking with respect to human behaviour and adaptation, work by the team at Happisburgh 3 on the north Norfolk coast certainly did (Parfitt et al 2010). As with Pakefeld, the lithic artefacts at Happisburgh 3 were found along an eroding coastline, and comprised 78 flint artefacts within fluvial gravels and estuarine sands and silts, this time most probably associated with an ancestral course of the River Thames. Many of the flints were consistent with Mode 1 technologies (hard hammer flakes retouched flakes, cores) and were fresh and unabraded, suggesting minimal transport subsequent to deposition. However, the large size of the material was considered unusual and the high proportion of flakes was interpreted as reflecting artefacts manufactured elsewhere and subsequently carried into the area. The occurrence of artefacts at several stratigraphic levels suggests multiple visits to the site. Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction using a combination of terrestrial and marine proxy biological remains illustrates how the environment changed through time. Prior to occupation, the area was characterised by deciduous woodland, which transitioned to heathland with pine and spruce during the earliest period of human activity, though this level only yielded two artefacts. The phase of maximum occupation, denoted by the remaining 76 artefacts, is characterised by regional coniferous forest (pine and spruce) with the more immediate local environment comprising grassland, alder carr and reedswamp; coeval insect remains suggest that mean winter values were between 0 ֯C and 3 ֯C.  Overall, the corpus of palaeoenvironmental data, including further information from a nearby borehole, indicates that human occupation occurred during the latter part of an interglacial cycle, after the climatic optimum, under conditions akin to present day southern Scandinavia.  Reversed magnetic polarity of the artefact-bearing sediments, together with biostratigraphic evidence, suggests that this occupation occurred either towards the end of MIS 21 (866–814 kya) or MIS 25 (970–936 kya). Alternatively, Westaway (2011) has argued that whilst the magnetic dating of the lowest sediments is secure, data concerning the age of the artefact-bearing sediments are less robust – suggesting that occupation may have occurred during a cooling transition at the end of MIS 15.

The discovery of Happisburgh 3 has not only pushed back human occupation by at least another 100,000 years, but it has also radically challenged previous interpretations. Pakefield was characterised by full interglacial conditions, suggesting a model where humans migrated northwards from southern climes during optimum climatic conditions, most probably following animal migrations.  At the height of glaciation, humans may have retreated back to these southern refuges (Roebroeks 2006), though others have argued that migration, extinction and replenishment may provide a more realistic model (Dennel et al 2011). The evidence from Happisburgh 3 appears to indicate purposeful, repeated occupation at the interface of the boreal and temperate zones. The analysis of footprints found after the original excavation suggests mixed aged groups, perhaps families; on the basis of calculated foot sizes and height, they are suggested to belong to Homo antecessor (Ashton et al 2014).  The challenges of over-wintering in such an environment would have been considerable, raising questions around the lack of winter daylight, the use of shelter, controlled use of fire and clothing (Parfitt et al 2010): themes discussed in further detail by Ashton and Lewis (2012), Hosfield (2015) and Scott and Hosfield (2021).

More recent work on the environmental signal from Happisburgh 3 by Farjon et al (2020) suggests the climate was more continental, with greater seasonality and significantly colder winters than initially suggested. Exploring further the questions raised with respect to coping strategies, Farjon et al (2020) lament the lack of evidence more generally; they do, however, highlight the abundance of available ecotones, which would have offered a rich variety of resources that could be exploited at different times of the year, providing thereby a favourable ‘nutriscape’ (see Brown et al 2013).

5.4 The Early Interior of Britain: The Upland Catchment of the Bytham River Beyond the East Midlands

Waverley Wood quarry

Although just beyond the area of our study, the deposits from Waverley Wood quarry in Warwickshire are extremely significant for any consideration of the East Midlands. The sizeable lithic assemblage from that site is located within the upper part of the Bytham River and constitutes part of a wider Lower Palaeolithic record from the West Midlands (Lang and Keen 2005).

The now buried Bytham River Valley cuts across the southern half of the East Midlands, and would have functioned as a major drainage artery and migration corridor in Lower Palaeolithic times. Furthermore, the initial discoveries included three hand-axes made from volcanic andesitic tuff: a lithology that does not crop out naturally within the region, raising important questions of provenance; suggestions for their presence ranged from their collection at source in the English Lake District to recovery from glacially derived gravels (Shotton et al 1993). The initial finds also included two artefacts made from quartzite pebbles, suggesting that exploitation of local gravel resources was also taking place. Palaeoenvironmental remains from the basal organic channel sequences, considered coeval with the archaeological evidence, suggested sedimentation under cool, temperate to cold, continental climatic conditions. Analysis of insect remains suggested mean July temperatures of close to 15 ֯C, with mean winter temperatures ranging from -25 ֯C to 0 ֯C. (Shotton et al 1993; Coope 2006). The palaeoclimatic evidence pointed to deposition during the later stages of an interglacial, but neither the biostratigraphic nor the amino-acid dating evidence was conclusive; the former suggested MIS 13 whilst the latter pointed towards MIS 15.  Therefore, the sequence was initially assigned to an undefined stage of the Cromerian Complex. Subsequent investigations at Waverley Wood quarry between 2004 and 2006 led to the recovery of an additional 60 artefacts indicative of Mode 1 and 2 technologies including two hand-axes of andesite, three of quartzite and one of flint, as well as a variety of other artefacts made from quartzite (cores, pebbles cores, chopper cores, and flakes).  The finds were recovered from channel-bar sediments and, as during earlier investigations, environmental evidence suggested occupation during the cool temperate conditions prevailing towards the end of an interglacial (Keen et al 2006). As with the volcanic rocks, the presence of a flint hand-axe raised questions regarding artefact provenance given the absence of flint-rich pre-Anglian glacial deposits within the region. Whilst no biostratigraphic or absolute dating evidence was presented, Keen et al (2006) suggested that this human occupation was associated with the Cromerian sensu stricto (MIS 13). More recently, new biostratigraphic and amino-acid dating evidence for a number of sites assigned to the Cromerian Complex suggests that a date of either MIS 13 or MIS 15 is possible (Preece et al 2009; Penkman et al 2010; Penkman et al 2011) though on the basis of the archaeology a MIS 13 age still appears to be preferred (see Lewis et al 2019a).

5.5 The Lowland Catchment of the Bytham River Beyond the East Midlands

As with the records from the uppermost part of the Bytham River, it is important to have some knowledge of the records from the lower reaches of the system beyond the East Midlands.  In the 2006 review, McNabb identified the key Suffolk sites of Warren Hill and High Lodge, highlighting the conundrum that the former was characterised by hand-axes whilst the latter comprised core, flake, and flake tools.

Recently, the assemblages from both Warren Hill and High Lodge, together with a number of other altitudinally distinct terrace localities along a 15km stretch of Bytham River valley, have been re-evaluated to disentangle further the records of human occupation, lithic typology and technological variation (Davis et al 2021). When the lithic assemblages from the terraces are set in the contexts of Pakefield and Happisburgh 3, it is argued that six phases of human occupation can be identified within the East Anglian region. The earliest assemblages from Pakefield and Happisburgh 3, spanning MIS 21 and MIS 17, are small and include both core and flake technologies; during MIS 15 and MIS 13, there is a notable increase in the number of lithics, including the appearance of hand-axes.

5.6 The Later Coastal Margins: Happisburgh 1, Norfolk

As well as the investigation of new and established sites spanning the earlier part of the Cromerian Complex, new information has been provided by recent discoveries on sites spanning the later part of this period, most notably at Happisburgh 1. Situated a few hundred metres eastward along the coast from Happisburgh 3, three field campaigns at the site have led to the collection of a large assemblage of material from several stratigraphic units and the foreshore surface (AHOB 2004; University of Leiden 2009-12; Norfolk Museum Service nd). This includes 199 flakes, flake tools and cores in good condition from near primary contexts; these are securely attributed to grey sands and organic muds interpreted as part of an active river channel, possibly influenced by estuarine processes (Lewis et al 2019a).  Over time, the channel was abandoned and formed a lake within a wider mosaic of floodplain wetland. Multi-proxy analysis of the organic muds suggested a cool-temperate climate with grassland, sedge and reedswamp close to a channel or lake; pine and birch woodland were present beyond the immediate floodplain, and parts of the valley floor may have dried out seasonally. As with Happisburgh 3, the presence of lithic artefacts at several stratigraphic levels might imply prolonged occupation over repeated periods. However, the absence of soil development is argued to suggest that the sediments accumulated rapidly, leading the authors to opt for a model of short, probably continuous presence at the site. On the basis of biostratigraphic and lithostratigraphic evidence, Lewis et al (2019a) suggested that Happisburgh 3 dates to the latter stage of MIS 13 or early MIS 12.[4]

5.7 Concluding Remarks on the Evidence from the Lowlands beyond the East Midlands

The lithic evidence from sites attributed to the Cromerian Complex within the lowlands of the Bytham River system and adjoining parts of East Anglia provides a number of insights into human occupation spanning this timeframe.  The sparse nature of the earliest archaeological record to MIS 17 appears to indicate short-lived, low density occupation, whereas during MIS 15 population numbers appear to increase significantly, suggesting longer and/or more intensive periods of settlement (Davis et al 2021).  With respect to the Bytham terraces, these changes in the scale of activity also appear to be associated with technological changes, which Davis et al (2021) argue represent different human groups.  MIS 15 was marked by the expansion of a group using crude hand-axes struck with hard hammers, whilst MIS 13 is characterised by two further groups: one using core and flake technologies (including the manufacture of elaborate scrapers) and a later group characterised by the use of ovate hand-axes, created using soft hammers.  Assuming that mainland Britain was abandoned during the intense cold of MIS 14, these changes in hand-axe typology indicate that the observed changes between MIS 15 and MIS 13 must indicate two different populations, possibly also reflecting different source areas.  In terms of the MIS 13 population, what is not clear at the moment is whether ovate hand-axes were used alongside other tools such as elaborate scrapers or whether there are distinct tool-making traditions (Davis et al 2021).

The introduction of hand-axe (biface) technologies during the Lower Palaeolithic has also been reviewed by several other authors.  Candy et al (2015) argued that Acheulian technologies were introduced into Britain after the climatic optimum of MIS 13 and into early MIS 12, during periods of increased continentality, possibly aided by falling sea levels.  Hosfield (2011) suggested that the direct hunting of large game, as opposed to scavenging, may have contributed to the development of new tools, with stylistic variations underpinned by the need to adapt to local landscapes and the nature of raw materials; these themes were developed further by Hosfield and Cole (2018) in their discussion of behavioural plasticity (see also Moncel et al 2015 for additional discussion).  Ashton (2015) has suggested such changes are part of a package of developments associated the migration northwards of Homo heidelbergensis.

5.8. Lower Palaeolithic Occupation in the East Midlands during the Cromerian Complex

Cohen et al (2012) noted how the earliest north-west European sites, including those at Pakefield and Happisburgh 3, were distributed in the lower, estuarine parts of the ancestral Thames and Bytham rivers respectively, suggesting that the hominins associated with them may have preferred to move around the temperate coastal Atlantic margins rather than venturing further inland.

The re-evaluation of data from Warren Hill and adjacent sites has, however, demonstrated that hominins penetrated inland along the Bytham from a much earlier date than was hitherto imagined, extending their territories at least 60km from the contemporary coastline (Ashton et al 2021). During the occupation of Happisburgh 3, Parfitt et al (2010) suggest that the Bytham and Thames were confluent on the north Norfolk coast, though during later stages the systems clearly diverge.  When the evidence from central East Anglia is coupled with the observation that Palaeolithic artefacts and environmental evidence from Waverley Wood quarry (Warwickshire) are attributable to MIS 13/15 (Shotton et al 1993; Keen et al 2006), it becomes clear that the Bytham River valley in the intervening corridor has the potential to yield significant evidence.

Based on the reconstruction of Rose (2009), this intervening corridor between the West Midlands and East Anglia comprises the southern part of the East Midlands across north Leicestershire and south Lincolnshire.  Eastwards, the Bytham Valley can be traced to the western edge of the Fen Basin, the latter a feature formed by glacial erosion during the Anglian or perhaps during a later cold stage (Perrin et al 1979; Langford 2004).  Despite lacking present day surface expression, reflecting its burial beneath glacial sediments, the form of the Bytham Valley is well known from borehole evidence.  Whilst much of this borehole evidence is privately held by commercial mineral companies, other geotechnical records are available as open-access data from the National Geosciences Data Centre of the British Geological Survey.  Such open-access records can be used to assess the stratigraphy of the sediments and to create deposit models along the Bytham Valley. Any such analysis can be aided by the significant corpus of published academic literature on the geology and archaeology of this landform; the paper by Rose (2009) and references therein are valuable starting points for any further investigation of this feature.

Given the lack of surface exposure of the Bytham River deposits, the greatest potential for finding in situ Palaeolithic archaeology (primarily lithic artefacts) or material that is ‘fresh’ and has been reworked relatively locally, is within quarry exposures.  At the time of McNabb’s assessment (2006) quarry exposures were known from the Bytham deposits of south Lincolnshire around Castle Bytham (Rose 1989) and Witham on the Hill (Lewis 1989) but neither appear to have yielded any cultural archaeological evidence. However, organic sediments were preserved at Witham on the Hill and provided palynological evidence for regional boreal forest, typical of modern day central Scandinavia, plus surrounding herb-rich floodplain grassland (Gibbard and Peglar 1989).  From analogy with other sites, this is an environment that early hominins would have found favourable for occupation.

The presence of pre-Anglian organic-rich remains within the Bytham deposits was further corroborated by the investigation of borehole sequences around Brooksby (Leicestershire), first by Rice (1991) and latterly by Coope (2006).  The study by Rice (1991) identified organic-rich remains within sands and gravels immediately overlying bedrock; termed the Brooksby Sand and Gravel, the pollen spectra was dominated by pine with subsidiary fir, suggesting a milder climate than associated with the overlying ‘Baginton sand’ (now considered part of the Thurmaston Member) which contained ice-wedge casts indicative of periglacial conditions. The study by Coope (2006) analysed insect remains from three borehole samples, considered as a single assemblage because of the small sample sizes. The insects indicated a large meandering river with riffles and pools, flanked by sandy to clayey banks. Though no direct evidence was found for woodland, many of the preserved insect species had preferences for such habitats: notably for willow and alder, possibly suggesting carr environments. Notably, there was a complete absence of dung beetles suggesting that large herbivores were absent from the landscape.  A reconstruction of palaeoclimate based on the insect remains suggested mean July temperatures of 15 ֯C to 16 ֯C and winter temperatures of between -10 ֯C and 2 ֯C (Coope 2006).  These reconstructed palaeotemperatures indicate that the area was only slightly cooler than the East Midlands today and that this meandering river was flowing under full interglacial conditions.  On this basis, it seems likely that the cooler conditions reported by Rice (1991) are from the warming or cooling limbs of the same interglacial.  However, the precise stratigraphic relationship between the sediments investigated by the two authors is unclear.[5]

Despite the significant organic remains, Coope (2006) noted that the Brooksby area had only yielded a single Lower or Middle Palaeolithic artefact: a hand-axe presumed to have eroded out of the Bytham deposits, but found at the surface.  However, the artefact evidence-base changed significantly with the opening of Brooksby quarry in the same year.  As part of the planning application, evaluation works further demonstrated the presence of organic-rich sediments beneath the glacial tills; therefore, as part of the planning permission, provision was agreed with local authority planning archaeologists to develop a mitigation strategy to alleviate the impacts of mineral extraction on any Lower Palaeolithic remains (see Stephens et al 2008).  The majority of the mitigation strategy focused around the use of a periodic watching brief: a methodology that had been employed successfully at other quarry sites of Palaeolithic importance (Harding and Bridgland 1999; **cite Harding and Bridgland in HE volume**).

From 2006 until spring 2021, Palaeolithic investigations at Brooksby Quarry were undertaken by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) and their findings provide the record described below.  During the fifteen years of monitoring by ULAS, approximately 903 lithic artefacts have been recovered, representing one of the largest Lower Palaeolithic collections known from the Bytham River corridor (Jarvis et al 2010; Beamish et al 2013; Beamish and Jarvis 2015; Clapton et al 2016; Howard et al 2018). Most of the tools are made from quartzite derived from local Triassic bedrock, water-worn samples of which are found abundantly in the regional fluvial gravels. Artefacts made from flint and volcanic rocks were also found, but these comprised only minor components of the total collection. The identification of artefacts made from volcanic rocks again raises questions of provenance but, in contrast to the artefacts from Waverley Wood, suggestions have been made that outcrops around Charnwood Forest, around 15km west of Brooksby, may have provided a local source; this hypothesis, however, has not been investigated in any significant detail (Matt Beamish pers comm; see White and White 2014, 289).

The artefacts include hand-axes, chopper-cores, flakes and some flake tools. Whilst much of the collection was recovered from the quarry reject heap, material was also collected from the quarry floor; the latter was georeferenced using a hand-held GPS.  The artefacts are considered in generally good condition (i.e. fresh to slightly rolled) and, from knowledge of the extraction schedules, all may be assumed to have derived from the fluvial sands and gravels of the Thurmaston Member.  The fresh and relatively unrolled nature of the assemblage would suggest that few of the artefacts have moved significantly from the site of human activity, presumably located on a gravel terrace or bar within the contemporary valley floor.  The lack of pieces with advanced wear at Brooksby, which might be expected if there were residual artefacts from earlier activity, may suggest that this part of the system, and indeed the East Midlands region, was first colonised during this time period.

As mentioned previously, interglacial and / or interstadial sediments are recorded around Brooksby Quarry[6], but the likely levels within the Brooksby Sand and Gravel at which these occur are not subject to aggregates extraction at the site and any deposits will remain in situ. Unsurprisingly, therefore, no primary or near-primary assemblages of artefacts have been recovered, though they might be preserved, and this unit could provide a key target for geoprospection at future quarry sites.  At Brooksby Quarry, the thickness, form and spatial extent of the likely artefact-bearing sediments have been investigated using a combination of purposive borehole sampling and electrical tomography (see Howard et al 2018); results have been mixed, but both techniques offer significant potential, especially if linked to a wider programme of deposit modelling using appropriate guidance (see Historic England, 2020).

The deposition at Brooksby of the Thurmaston Member reflects the transition to cooler environments.  It is possible that some of the artefacts may be coeval with the aggradation of the lower parts of this unit, given the apparent preference of hominins for the warming and cooling limbs of the glacial-interglacial cycles. Lee et al (2004) suggested that only the youngest (MIS 13/early MIS 12) terrace unit of the Bytham Valley survives to the west of the Fen Basin. However, a combination of litho-, bio- and amino-stratigraphic evidence from Waverley Wood Quarry, approximately 55km upstream in Warwickshire, provides evidence of lithic artefact-bearing Bytham River sediments attributable to either MIS 13 or possibly MIS 15.  In contrast to Waverley Wood, the acidic bedrock conditions at Brooksby generally prevent the preservation of calcareous or phosphatic fossiliferous remains that might be used to provide an element of chronological control on the basis of biostratigraphy or aminostratigraphy (molluscs, vertebrates).  This situation may change at Brooksby if the quarry extends across calcareous Jurassic (Lias) clays which crop out close by.  Alternatively, other new sites may provide favourable conditions for calcareous or phosphatic preservation and if this is the case, every effort should be made to secure robust dating control[7].

With any consideration of the Bytham River system and the Lower Palaeolithic record, the primary focus is always on the main trunk valley. However, it should not be forgotten that the Bytham itself has a catchment and it would seem only natural that early hominins may have explored its wider extremities. Such a pattern of more widespread human activity is certainly hinted at from two secondary assemblages, which on the basis of their abraded condition suggest a pre-Anglian age.

The first assemblage is from East Leake quarry, Nottinghamshire, where two cores and a broken hard hammer flake manufactured from Triassic quartzite were recovered from deposits mapped by the BGS as ‘Glacial Sand and Gravel’. The remains were initially interpreted as late Cromerian Complex artefacts recycled within Anglian outwash deposits (White et al 2008) but the sediments were subsequently reinterpreted as flint-poor, river terrace deposits suggestive of flow to the Ancaster Gap, possibly attributable to MIS 8 (White and White, 2014, 288; Bridgland et al 2014).

The second, much larger assemblage is known as the ‘Waite Collection’ and comprises surface finds gathered from around Nuneaton (Warwickshire) and Hinckley (Leicestershire). Graf (2002) has noted that a few pieces may derive from occupation coeval with that at Waverley Wood, but the absence of detailed finds contexts prevents testing of this possibility.

Lithological and sedimentological data from the Bytham system suggests that its northern tributaries included areas which are now part of the middle and upper Trent, thereby extending potential corridors of movement into the counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire (see Rose 2009; Bridgland et al 2014).  These corridors are not obvious in the landscape today, but their broad physiography can be established from the lithological signatures of isolated patches of sand and gravel; the archaeological potential of such deposits should not be discounted and their presence and potential significance should be highlighted in desk-based assessments. Furthermore, within the upland parts of Derbyshire, caves and rock shelters are a characteristic feature of the landscape and they are known to contain later Palaeolithic records.  Whilst evidence from both Kent’s Cavern (Devon) and Westbury-sub-Mendip (Somerset) suggest that Lower Palaeolithic communities did not occupy the internal space of caves, the possibility for the preservation of early records from such localities should not be entirely discounted.

Bearing in mind the evidence regarding cave exploitation, it is worth noting that recent uplift modelling of cave systems in the Peak District by Westaway (2020) suggests that floor levels can be extrapolated back to sub-stages of MIS 13 (the Cromerian sensu stricto). Such levels above the contemporary valley floors may provide opportunities for targeted geoprospection, but it must be recognised that these landscapes have undergone considerable geomorphological change since pre-Anglian times.

Taking into account the position of the Bytham River in pre-Anglian times, the severed drainage of the Trent may have flowed across south Lincolnshire via the Ancaster Gap, joining the former somewhere in the vicinity of the Fen Basin (Bridgland 2010; Bridgland et al 2014). To the south, its tributaries are postulated to have included the palaeodrainage arteries known as the Milton River and Brigstock River, both flowing off the Jurassic escarpment south-eastwards across Northamptonshire (Belshaw 2007). Whilst no Palaeolithic archaeology has been found within sediments associated with the Ancaster Trent, Milton or Brigstock Rivers, pre-Anglian temperate ostracod remains have been recovered from organic sediments within the Milton Formation at Courteenhall Grange Farm Quarry, Northamptonshire (Smith et al 2000). Such environmental evidence demonstrates the Lower Palaeolithic geoarchaeological potential of these tributary deposits and opportunities should be sought to undertake geoprospection as new exposures are created within these deposits.

Finally, it is worth noting that whilst the Bytham may seem like the most direct and obvious corridor of Lower Palaeolithic migration into the East Midlands, the ancestral Thames would have provided access into the West Midlands via the lowlands of the River Severn. Such connections are alluded to by the distribution of Lower Palaeolithic artefacts in the West Midlands (Lang and Keen 2005; Shaw et al 2015) and highlight the proximity of the upper reaches of the Bytham and wider East Midlands region (see Rose 2009, 15, Figure 8).

6. The Early and Intra-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic

6.1 The Broader Archaeological Context

The corpus of Palaeolithic research amassed since 2006, relating both directly to Britain and within its wider European context, suggests that humans would not have been present (in Britain) at the height of glaciation (see Dennell et al 2011).  With respect to the Anglian cold stage, at the glacial maximum, the icesheet extended as far as north London, destroying the Bytham River and diverting the Thames south into its present valley.

However, palaeoenvironmental evidence from Happisburgh 3 demonstrates that humans were capable of enduring harsh conditions on the limbs either side of such cold events and therefore the key questions are how close to a glacial peak would it be feasible for humans to remain and whether such timespans can be identified in sedimentary records.

Within the Bytham system at Warren Hill, the review by Davis et al (2021) demonstrates that crude hand-axes, ovates and scrapers are all recorded in sands and gravels attributable to the early Anglian. Around 80km south of the icesheet, early Anglian occupation is indicated at Boxgrove from hand-axes and manufacturing debris interbedded within solifluction deposits (Roberts and Parfitt 1999).  In contrast, the well-dated terrace sequence from the Middle Thames suggests the complete absence of lithic artefacts s from the Winter Hill (terrace) Member (White et al 2018).[8] However, the Black Park (terrace) Member, which is the first aggradation of the Thames within its present valley and therefore immediately postdates the Anglian glacial maximum, is artefact-rich (White et al 2018); many of the hand-axes, cores, flakes and scrapers recovered from this deposit, however, are probably associated with the ‘Caversham Channel’ deposits mapped around Henley.

At the time of maximum Anglian glaciation, mainland Britain was still a peninsula of continental Europe, connected by the Weald-Artois (chalk) ridge that stretched from south-east England to north-east France (essentially in the region of the Straights of Dover). However, the encroachment of ice from Scandinavia led to the development of a large proglacial lake across the southern North Sea basin, extending across the northern parts of modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany (Gibbard 2007; Murton and Murton 2012). This lake was fed by the Thames and other major European rivers and the Weald-Artois ridge initially formed a natural barrier to the south until lake levels reached the lowest part of the ridge (calculated at around 30m above present-day sea level).  Once this low point was reached and breached, the lake drained catastrophically southwards through the English Channel, thereby creating the Straights of Dover.  Whilst this event did not disconnect mainland Britain from continental Europe, the loss of the high ground of the Weald-Artois ridge would have had a significant impact on the windows of opportunity that allowed early hominins to move to and from Britain during subsequent warm and cold stages.

6.2. The East Midlands in the Early and Intra-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic

The extension of Anglian ice across the East Midlands and southwards into the Home Counties led to the destruction of the Cromerian landscape, including the major drainage artery and former migration corridor of the Bytham River and its tributary system valleys (for example, the Ancaster Brigstock and Milton Rivers).

However, the direction and speed of ice movement was not simple and McNabb (2006) highlighted how the complexity of ice fronts may have created notable features within the landscape which may have been attractive to any visiting hominins.  In this respect, McNabb highlighted the presence of a large proglacial lake across the Midlands called Lake Harrison; this had developed along the broad alignment of the Bytham Valley in response to ice entering the region from the east and west and causing the ponding of water between these icesheets. Evidence from glaciolacustrine sediments, intimately linked to the glacial sediments, suggests that this feature may have attained a height of around 125m AOD, and it would certainly have extended into the Leicestershire part of the East Midlands (between Leicester, Hinckley and Market Bosworth).  However, the age of the lacustrine sediments associated with this feature and the glacial deposits which underlie and overlie them (the Thrussington and Oadby Tills respectively) is far from clear. For example, Murton and Murton (2012) renamed this feature Lake Bosworth, suggesting that it may be associated with the formation of icesheets during MIS 10 (the Oadby glaciation) or MIS 6 (the Tottenhill glaciation). More recently, the recognition of the Wragby glaciation during MIS 8 (White et al 2016; Rose et al 2021) may provide a further alternative mechanism for the creation of such a feature.

In-spite of considerable research activity within the region during the last 15 years, no primary deposits associated with intra-Anglian occupation have been recorded across the East Midlands, corroborating the earlier findings of McNabb (2006). However, the recovery of isolated, secondary assemblages of Lower Palaeolithic lithic material across the surfaces of the pre-Devensian glacial sediments of the region provides a hint of potential hominin activity during this timeframe (Graf 2002; 2011). The absence of secure evidence is not perhaps unexpected, given the variability of the record elsewhere. However, with respect to the East Midlands, unravelling the complexity of glacial histories is key to understanding the paucity of the evidence.  If icesheet chronologies can be resolved, geoprospection strategies could be developed with the aim of targeting investigations on key areas and landform features.

7. The Post-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic

7.1 The Broader Archaeological Context

The peak of the Anglian glaciation and the period immediately following that marked a significant point in the Lower Palaeolithic human occupation and natural landscape development of Britain.  Firstly, it punctuated a timeframe when population sizes appear to have been on an upward trajectory in what was then a peninsula of mainland Europe; this growth appears to be linked to the introduction of new hand-axe technologies (bifaces). Secondly, it led to the destruction and reconfiguration of the major drainage systems of southern and Midland Britain, creating a pattern largely recognisable in the present day (Bridgland 2010)[9]. Thirdly the catastrophic drainage of the glacial lake ponded in the southern North Sea basin led to the destruction of the Weald-Artois ridge and, although a land-bridge may still have existed between peninsula Britain and mainland Europe, migration would have been much more challenging in later stages and shaped more profoundly by the nuances of climate and sea level change[10].

The post-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic spans two warm stages, MIS 11 (the classic Hoxnian Interglacial) and MIS 9 (the more recently recognised Purfleet Interglacial), as well as an intervening cold stage, MIS 10 (informally known as the Oadby glacial).

At the time of writing, McNabb (2006) noted that the Hoxnian was one of the best studied periods in British prehistory, with a significant evidence base focused around half-a-dozen key sites which have yielded a combination of high-resolution environmental records and lithic artefacts.  Over the last 15 years, the number of Hoxnian sites has not changed significantly, though new discoveries have been made: for example, at Ebbsfleet, Kent. However, the continued analysis and reinvestigation of existing datasets, notably focused around the character of the environmental signal and its relationship to key stratigraphic sequences and lithic records, have provided significant new insights: for example at the classic Suffolk sites of Hoxne (Ashton et al 2008) and Barnham (Ashton et al 2016).

Climatic and environmental records for the Hoxnian, interpreted from a combination of marine ice-core and offshore palynological records, suggest that this was a highly variable period which can be broadly divided into two warm phases separated by a colder episode (Davis and Ashton 2019). The first warm phase follows the rapid warming at the end of the Anglian glaciation between 425 kya and 390 kya (MIS 11c) and is followed by cold/cool climatic oscillations between 390 kya and 375 kya (MIS 11b), before a final warm phase to 360 kya (MIS 11a).  This tripartite sequence was observed well over a century ago at Hoxne, where the unit associated with the cold episode was named the ‘arctic bed’ (see Ashton et al 2008).

At Quinton in the West Midlands, insect remains also suggest a sudden intense climatic oscillation towards the end of MIS 11, which has been named the ‘Quinton cold Interlude’ (Coope and Kenward 2007). Reconstruction of palaeotemperatures using insect remains suggests that mean annual summer (July) temperatures declined by 5 ֯C, whilst winter temperatures (January/February) declined by 10 ֯C. Coope and Kenward (2007) suggest that this cooling may correlate with the climatic signal from Hoxne, suggesting at least a regional response (see Ashton et al 2008).  A similar event is also identified in the MIS 13 record from Waverley Wood Quarry (Warwickshire) and it is suggested that such interludes may be characteristic of terminal interglacials.  However, Coope and Kenward (2007) also note that pollen records coeval with the insect data from Quinton showed little or no response to this event.  Such conclusions demonstrate the complexity of interpreting environmental signals and the need to take a multi-proxy approach to such analyses, basing interpretations and conclusions on several lines of proxy evidence.

The presence at many Hoxnian sites of two distinct lithic components, divisible into non-hand axe and hand axe assemblages, has long been recognised.  Historically these two groups have formed the central theme of the long running Clactonian and Acheulian debate (White 2000; Wenban-Smith et al 2006; Ashton et al 2016) though Ashton (2016, 51) has recently advised against the use of the term Clactonian’ since its use comes with ‘baggage’.

White and Schreve (2000) suggested that the two assemblages were associated with temporally distinct groups with different cultural traditions.  The reinvestigation of the environmental and lithic sequences at key sites, notably Hoxne (Ashton et al 2008) and Barnham (Ashton et al 2016), contextualised further within the British and European record (Ashton 2016; Davis and Ashton 2019), has provided a more nuanced understanding of these events.  The pattern emerging is one where core and flake tools (Clactonian) are found during the warming of MIS 11c (pollen zones HoI and HoII), but at the end of this sub-stage and during the interglacial peak (HoIIc and early HoIIIa) hand-axes appear (Acheulian technologies). Furthermore, where large collections of hand-axes are noted during MIS 11c, notably at the Suffolk sites of Barnham, Beeches Pit and Elveden, the lithics are characterised by ovate and cordiform styles; these were often provided with an ‘S’ twist to the point, which is interpreted as reflecting a tradition of making rather than practical function (Ashton 2016; Davis and Ashton 2018).  In contrast, within the Lower Middle Gravels at Swanscombe, the hand axes are pointed leading to the suggestion that different cultural groups populated the Thames valley and East Anglia (Davis and Ashton 2019).  Taken as a whole, the consensus of opinion is that migration into Britain during MIS 11c was largely associated with a non-hand-axe group who were cut off by rising sea levels at the interglacial peak, though not before, suggesting the availability of an emergent landbridge prior to peak. However, slight fluctuations in sea levels at the end of HoII and early HoIII allowed the reconnection of Britain to mainland Europe and windows of opportunity for the influx of groups who made hand-axes.

Ashton et al (2016) have argued that populations do not move during times of climatic and environmental stability but simply adapt or refine their non-hand-axe and hand-axe technologies through time in response to local needs, including cultural expression (e.g. twisted ovates; see also Schreve and White 2000).  The non-hand-axe grouping is suggested to have originated from central Europe where the tradition of hand-axe making had been lost due to a paucity of raw material. In contrast, the arrival of hand-axe makers appears to coincide with a time of grassland expansion with the suggestion that they came from western Europe where such artefacts were part of a tool kit already adapted for similar environments (Ashton et al 2016).

At Hoxne, the development of the ‘arctic bed’ provides environmental evidence for a time when the climate was harsh and inhospitable to humans: a period which can be correlated with MIS 11b. Hominins appear to be absent from all British sites at this time. Ameliorating climate during MIS 11a saw the return of hand-axe makers, suggesting repopulation by migrating western European groups. In the Thames valley, the reintroduction of twisted ovates during this latter sub-stage is argued to reflect an element of inherited knowledge transfer, despite the break in time and disconnection between groups (Davis and Ashton 2018).

Such cognitive abilities are not unexpected since, as noted by Davis and Ashton (2019), the Hoxnian was a period of demonstrably sustained occupation during which hominins both hunted and processed carcasses using a range of tools (including stone, wood and bone). At Beeches pit, Suffolk, a securely dated Hoxnian sequence[11] provides repeated evidence for flint knapping around a number of features interpreted as hearths, suggesting the controlled use of fire (Preece et al 2006; Preece et al 2007). The tool assemblage comprised entirely hand-axes with no core and flake (Clactonian) tools.  Detailed multi-proxy environmental analyses indicate occupation during fully temperate interglacial conditions within closed canopy, deciduous woodland; despite evidence for climatic deterioration, occupation continued through time. The controlled use of fire at Beeches pit is one of a small number of early examples from Europe, with other notable sites including the locale of Vértesszőlős in Hungary, attributed to MIS 13 (Scott and Hosfield 2021)[12]. It seems likely that controlled fire may have served multiple purposes; for example, calcined bone has been recorded at Beeches pit but, since occupation continued as the climate deteriorated, it may have been used as part of wider coping strategies, together with clothing and shelter.[13]

Settlement within the closed environment of Beeches pit is somewhat counter to the ideas that, during full interglacial conditions, early humans moved away from the forests onto the interfluves, preferring to hunt in more open environments (compare Roebroeks et al 1992 with Gamble 1992). The site is also close to, but away from, a valley floor, on rising ground where tufa-bearing springs emanated. The physiographic evidence is also counter to some extent the ideas of Ashton et al (2006) that hominins preferred valley floors, based on their review of Hoxnian sites. Preece et al (2006) argue that whilst valley floors may have provided an abundant source of game for hunting and raw material for stone tools, they would have been too exposed to flooding and predators to provide localities for prolonged settlement. Therefore, the multiple hearths at Beeches pit are interpreted as evidence for a home-base, with the springs providing the added attraction of good quality exposures of material for flint knapping. From a landscape perspective, the evidence from Beeches pit suggests that valley-side spring-lines could provide preferred sites for settlement, especially if good quality lithic resources are close-by; hence such sites should be targets for geoprospection and/or predictive modelling.

Whilst the number of well-studied Hoxnian sites has not changed significantly since 2006, a new one that does merit discussion is Ebbsfleet, Kent, where the incomplete skeleton of a straight-tusked elephant was discovered within lacustrine sediments that were subject to periodic desiccation (Wenban-Smith et al 2006).  The site is close to the famous Hoxnian site of Swanscombe, but beyond its mapped limits. At Ebbsfleet, the environmental evidence indicates herbaceous grassland and temperate woodland, which became more open through time, and the sequence is considered to be associated with the warming limb of the interglacial.  The presence close to the elephant carcass of cores, flakes and flake tools, described as in ‘mint’ condition, is argued to suggest in situ knapping for the purposes of butchery.  However, the skeletal remains are in poor condition, preventing the identification of any supporting evidence such as cut-marks or trauma wounds. Therefore, it is impossible to determine if the elephant was hunted or simply scavenged. In addition to the butchery site itself, a similar tool selection was found close by and considered coeval with it. However, at this latter locality, the assemblage was sealed beneath fluvial gravels containing numerous hand-axes, many again described as in ‘mint’ condition, offering further fuel to technological debates.

The Hoxnian Interglacial was followed by the cold stage of MIS 10 though, as previously noted, evidence of glaciation during this timeframe is not unequivocal.  With respect to the East Midlands, the chalk-rich Oadby Till, which covers large parts of Leicestershire and adjacent counties, has been attributed to this timeframe – hence the use of the term Oadby glaciation (see Lee et al 2004). More recently, Rose et al (2021) have suggested that these chalky glacial deposits are of MIS 8 age, which supports the views of Middle Pleistocene glaciation outlined by White et al (2016). As mentioned previously, from the perspective of geoprospection and artefact taphonomy, elucidating the number, timing and extent of glaciations across the British Isles has significant implications for our understanding of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic records.

The most detailed environmental evidence for interglacial conditions during MIS 9 is still provided by the record from the Lower Thames terrace sequence at Purfleet (Schreve et al 2002) though a record from Hackney provides significant additional information, suggesting temperatures were approaching that of the last Ipswichian Interglacial (Green et al 2006)[14]. However, unlike the Purfleet record, where Clactonian, Acheulian and Levallois assemblages are all present in stratigraphic order, the sequence from Hackney yielded no cultural remains. The lowest artefacts at Purfleet may reflect migration in late MIS 10 / early MIS 9 and be coeval with remains from Little Thurrock and Cuxton (White 2000). Hand-axe assemblages at Stoke Newington (Green et al 2004) and in the Wolvercote Channel may also be attributable to MIS 9. Whilst twisted ovate hand-axes may be characteristic of MIS 11, recent work by Bridgland and White (2014; 2015) suggests that assemblages with high proportions of cleavers and ‘ficron’ handaxes may be diagnostic of MIS 9.

The archaeological evidence from MIS 9, when combined with that from MIS 11, suggests a similar pattern of non­ hand-axe making communities being replaced by hand-axe makers (White 2000; White and Schreve 2000; Bridgland 2006). Whilst much progress has been made with respect to the relationship of non-hand-axe to hand-axe assemblages, covering migration patterns, demographics and palaeoenvironments, the lack of known sites beyond the river valleys of south-east England and East Anglia does limit what more can be achieved in our present understanding of known MIS 11 and MIS 9 sites. Recently, Shipton and White (2021) have sought to compare the form of hand-axe assemblages from sites belonging to five different isotope stages using 3-D morphometric assessment[15].  With respect to the post-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic, the results demonstrate that hand-axes from MIS 11c contexts at Swanscombe and Hitchin are of significantly different shape to lithic artefacts from the MIS 9 site of Broom (Devon-Dorset border): perhaps a reflection of different waves of colonisation, with each group having a slightly different vision of hand-axe form. Whilst such statistical analyses provide useful supporting evidence for temporal and spatial trends, the most significant advances will undoubtedly be made through identifying sites beyond the south-east and East Anglia, not only from river valleys but from other terrains such as interfluves, caves and coastal settings.

7.2. The East Midlands in the Post-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic

With respect to the East Midlands during the post-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic, McNabb (2006, 27) described the evidence for palaeoenvironments and human occupation as ‘frankly very poor’.  It also seemed that palaeoenvironmentally-rich sites across the near borders also lacked archaeology: for example the Woodston Beds near Peterborough, which are usually ascribed to MIS 11 (Horton et al 1992).

Within Northamptonshire, occasional lithic artefacts within the terrace deposits of the upper Nene were cited as possibly belonging to this timeframe, but limited knowledge of the precise age of these deposits and the contexts of finds create challenges for their interpretation. Most of the lithic artefacts appear to come from the lowest terrace or the alluvium (Wymer 1997) suggesting that many may have derived from earlier, stratigraphically higher landform units; however, personal communications between John McNabb and the late Professor David Keen suggested many were also associated with later (Levallois) artefacts, raising the possibility of primary assemblages, though this would suggest an early Middle Palaeolithic date.

Within the Trent catchment and the parts of Lincolnshire assessed for the 2006 volume, which notably excluded the north-east part of the region, no convincing archaeological evidence was recorded, and it was suggested that any contemporary artefacts may have been incorporated into later deposits and assemblages. The role of post-MIS 8 glaciation was also alluded to, as were palaeogeographic considerations, notably a deep marine embayment within the vicinity of Fen Basin creating an obstacle to east-west migration into the East Midlands region (see MacNabb 2006, 27).

If north-east Lincolnshire had been included in the 2006 assessment, the site of Kirmington would have been recorded. Here, estuarine and freshwater sediments are sandwiched between two glacial deposits, the entire sequence infilling a palaeovalley cut into the chalk bedrock. The upper glacial deposits have been attributed to the Last Glacial Maximum (MIS 2; the Late Devensian) whilst the lower deposit is of unknown age (Bridgland and Thomas 1999). On the basis of biostratigraphy, the estuarine and freshwater sediments have traditionally been attributed to the Hoxnian Interglacial (MIS 11; see Lewis 1999).

In addition to providing an important palaeoenvironmental archive, lithic material interpreted as Palaeolithic artefacts have been recovered from gravels associated with the interglacial sequence (see Bridgland and Thomas 1999) although White (1999) has suggested that many are pseudo-artefacts associated with natural wave action on the beach. The fact that the artefacts were not recovered from a single unit or locality further complicates interpretation (Bridgland and Thomas 1999). As well as questions concerning the nature of the ‘artefacts’ themselves, the case made by White et al (2016) for MIS 8 glaciation in the East Midlands has led Straw (2018) to suggest that the lower glacial deposits should be attributed to that icesheet; this would imply that overlying temperate sediments belong to a later interglacial (MIS 7?). Such an assertion has important implications for regional stratigraphy and is explored further in the following sections. Here, from the perspective of this research framework, it is worth emphasising that this suggestion needs to be corroborated through further fieldwork, biostratigraphical analysis of organic-rich sediments and a programme of dating.

Continuing the theme of revising site chronologies in the context of the MIS 8 glaciation, Straw (2015) has reinterpreted the archaeological and fossiliferous remains at the key regional site of Welton Le Wold (Lincolnshire).  The site was originally published by Alabaster and Straw (1976) after the discovery of three hand-axes, a retouched flake[16] and mammalian remains, including a red deer antler, from a unit defined as the Upper Welton Gravel.  The unit was interpreted by the authors as the product of local mass-movement and the remains represented, therefore, a secondary assemblage[17]. The Upper Welton Gravel is positioned immediately beneath the Welton Till and the correlation of these glacial sediments with the MIS 8 icesheet has led Straw (2015) to attribute these locally derived archaeological remains to MIS 9 (the Purfleet Interglacial)[18].

Both Kirmington and Welton Le Wold highlight the challenges of attempting to interpret the age of single and/or small groups of Lower Palaeolithic artefacts when the age of associated glacial deposits is problematic, even where exposures are extensive.

Since the review of McNabb (2006) more records of hand-axes from secondary contexts have been reported.  In Lincolnshire, Bee (2005) has described six more finds from both upland and lowland contexts, which he has contextualised within the wider Palaeolithic knowledge for the county[19]. Though none of the finds are particularly diagnostic, and therefore remain of uncertain date, they do demonstrate the need to look beyond the lowlands and to target the higher interfluves and valley sides.  This latter point is reinforced still further by the recent find of an undiagnostic Lower Palaeolithic hand-axe on the high ground of glacially-covered chalk close to Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Griffiths 2021).  Though the artefact is from beyond the East Midlands and of uncertain age, it is noteworthy for two reasons: firstly, its northern location; secondly, it is beyond the Humber estuary, which probably marks the position of a major west-east flowing river during the early Pleistocene (Gibbard and Lewin 2003) and, as such, may have formed a significant barrier to migration.

In the area once occupied by the Bytham River, a large assemblage of secondary surface finds known as the Waite Collection has been recovered from an area straddling the border of Leicestershire and Warwickshire around Hinckley and Nuneaton. The collection was initially described by Graf (2002), with further finds discovered around Nuneaton (Warwickshire) between 2005 and 2008 described subsequently (Graf 2011). Many of the finds are recorded from the surface of the Oadby Till and associated outwash sands and gravels, which Graf (2002) equates to MIS 10, though this chronology should be treated with caution.  The assemblage is dominated by chopper cores and hand-axes made from quartzite; much of the material is described as fresh and comes from a variety of topographic localities from valley floors to interfluves. Whilst some of the material has diagnostic characteristics, which may suggest certain timeframes within the post-Anglian Lower Palaeolithic (e.g twisted bifaces) caution is needed since the majority of the material reflects isolated single finds, rather than sizeable groups of artefacts.

Farther north, the post-Anglian Trent terrace sequence has yielded a sizeable lithic assemblage, the majority collected between the 1930s and 1960s (White et al 2008). The oldest collections are from dissected, high-level fluvial deposits of the Dove-Trent confluence; historically, these sediments were known as the Hilton Terrace[20] and thought to span the period from MIS 10 to MIS 6, effectively straddling the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic divide (Posnansky 1960). Revision of the chronostratigraphic framework for the Trent terrace sequence undertaken as part of the ‘Trent Valley Palaeolithic Project’ (TVPP; Bridgland et al 2014)[21] has demonstrated that the highest facet of the Hilton Terrace, now renamed the Etwall Sand and Gravel, can be attributed to MIS 8, whilst the lower facet, termed the Egginton Common Sand and Gravel, can be attributed to MIS 6 (Bridgland et al 2014).  This revised chronology suggests that the majority of any assemblages within these units should be attributable to the Middle Palaeolithic timescale and therefore discussion relating to the archaeology of these terrace units will be restricted mainly to the following sections. However, White and White (2014) note that a significant proportion of the material is represented by hand-axes. As discussed earlier, comparisons with other sites suggest that hand-axes may not be considered representative of early Middle Palaeolithic sites, but rather generally reflect derived material. When combined with the abraded nature of the artefacts, it is concluded that the majority of the material from these terraces may in fact be derived, reworked from deposits spanning the period MIS 11 to MIS 8.

As previously noted, two heavily rolled quartzite cores and a flake collected from East Leake Quarry, Nottinghamshire, were interpreted as late Cromerian remains recycled within Anglian outwash deposits.  However, these sediments have now been reinterpreted as fluvial terrace deposits attributable possibly to MIS 8 (White et al 2008; White and White, 2014, 288); given this chronology, a similar taphonomic history to the ‘Hilton Terrace’ assemblages might be envisaged.

It is notable that as well as no in situ archaeological deposits, no organic-rich palaeoenvironmental records attributable to MIS 11 or MIS 9 are known from the Trent. Given this dearth of knowledge, it seems reasonable to assume that the MIS 8 glaciation may play a role in explaining patterns of artefact taphonomy and preservation. However, it therefore begs the question as to whether locations might exist where these earlier Lower Palaeolithic remains might be discovered in situ. The most likely context for such preservation is beneath the pre-Devensian glacial sediments but, given that these deposits are widespread, identification of these resembles ‘needles in haystacks’. However, one possible target is in the Middle Trent of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, where two over-deepened channels (termed the Swarkestone and Elvaston channels) have been identified from borehole data (Bridgland et al 2014, 69). Whilst the origins of these channels is open to debate, they are infilled with pre-Devensian tills, silts, sands, gravels and laminated (glaciolacustrine) clays. In the case of the Elvaston Channel, these sediments attain a thickness of 19m thick, but they are unbottomed; this raises the intriguing possibility that earlier sediments may be preserved within basal localities.

8. The Middle Palaeolithic

8.1 The Broader Archaeological Context

The introduction of Levallois prepared core technology (PCT) is accepted as marking the beginning of the Middle Palaeolithic.  Detailed investigations of the Thames terrace sequence demonstrate that this can be placed at the boundary of MIS 9-8, around 300-250 kya (Bridgland and White 2014). The Middle Palaeolithic continues through until MIS 3, around 35 kya BP: a time associated with the arrival in Britain of modern humans.

This timeframe includes the major temperate stages of Late MIS 9 (the Purfleet Interglacial) and the complete stages of MIS 7 and MIS 5e (the Alveley and Ipswichian interglacials respectively). It also includes the cold stages during MIS 8, MIS 6 and MIS 4; during the first two of those stages, there are sizeable bodies of evidence to indicate that it was cold enough for terrestrial glaciation, as manifested in parts of Midland and eastern Britain by the Wragby and Tottenhill glaciations respectively (see Gibbard et al. 2009; White et al 2016; Gibbard et al 2021; Rose et al 2021)[22]. Both of these glacial events will have had implications for human occupation, archaeological preservation and geoprospection. Notably, ice build-up during MIS 6 may have been instrumental in severing any landbridge between mainland Britain and continental Europe through the impoundment of a large proglacial lake in the southern North Sea basin and subsequent catastrophic drainage via the English Channel (Gibbard 2007).[23]

The density of sites for the latest part of the Lower Palaeolithic, post-dating the Anglian glaciation (MIS 12), suggests a growing hominin population in Britain. However, artefact evidence, predominantly from river terraces, demonstrates that occupation of Britain was not continuous during the Middle Palaeolithic, most probably declining from a high point during the Hoxnian Interglacial (MIS 11). The Middle Palaeolithic record is also marked by an absence of hominins, coinciding with the severe glacial conditions of MIS 6 but continuing through the Ipswichian Interglacial (MIS 5e) and the early part of the Devensian (MIS 4); some recent evidence questions this assumption and is described further below. The hiatus either side of the last interglacial allows the two periods of occupation to be divided into the ‘Early Middle’, and ‘Late Middle’ Palaeolithic (Pettit and White 2012). As with the Lower Palaeolithic, whether the pattern of movement to and from Britain was part of an ‘ebb and flow’ model or one based on local extinction is a point of debate. However, based on the analysis of palaeoecological, archaeological and palaeogenetic datasets, Hublin and Roebroecks (2009) favour the latter explanation.

Numerous Palaeolithic and Quaternary geological studies suggest that the apparent absence of hominins from Britain during the last interglacial is a real feature of the data, rather than a pattern relating to the discovery of archaeological remains. Therefore, it appears to represent the only temperate stage when humans did not reach Britain since the earliest known records. Within the last decade, work in Kent by Wenban-Smith et al (2010) suggests that humans may have returned very soon after the last interglacial in MIS 5d-5b of the Early Devensian, but more generally, the return of humans to Britain is attributed to MIS 3 (the Middle Devensian); this is evidenced by the introduction of typologically very distinctive bout coupé hand axes (Bridgland and White 2014).  This tool form is unique to Britain and has previously been identified as typical of a separate period, the British Mousterian (Wymer 1999; McNabb 2006).

8.2. The Early Middle Palaeolithic

Whilst appearing at the boundary of MIS 9–8, artefacts made using Levallois techniques are not found on all Middle Palaeolithic sites. Nor are they recorded in primary contexts after MIS 7-6, suggesting that it is a phenomenon of the Early Middle Palaeolithic (White et al 2006; Bridgland and White 2014). McNabb (2006) noted that where artefacts with Levallois characteristics are found, they do not necessarily replace other tools; rather they appear alongside previously recognised technologies, (i.e. hand-axes, flakes and flake tools). However, White et al (2006) observe that these other tools are often in low numbers and there is a suggestion that the majority of non-Levallois material may be derived from earlier archaeological horizons or terrace aggradations: a suggestion corroborated, for example, by further studies in the Ebbsfleet Valley, Kent (Scott et al 2010).

At Purfleet, where Clactonian, Acheulian and Levallois lithics were recorded in stratigraphic order up through the terrace sequence, an early form of prepared core technology appears; this has been termed Proto-Levallois. Though it is not the only site known from the literature (see White et al 2006), McNabb (2006, 28) cautioned against use of the term for technical reasons until more examples from secure stratigraphic contexts beyond Purfleet have been investigated.

The best studied Levallois records come from south-east England and span sediments attributable on the basis of biostratigraphy and chronostratigraphy to MIS 9–8 and MIS 7 (White et al 2006). In the Lower Thames Valley, McNabb (2006, 28-29) made reference to the sites of Baker’s Hole (Kent), Crayford (London Borough of Bexley) and West Thurrock (Essex) and in the Middle Thames, West Drayton and Yiewsley (both London Borough of Hillingdon); beyond the Thames Valley, he noted the sites of Caddington (Bedfordshire), a brick-earth filled doline[24] on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, and Pontnewydd Cave (Denbighshire, north Wales). Both these latter sites occupy higher ground, beyond immediate valley floors, adding further to the debate of early hominins’ preferences for lowlands versus uplands. The review by White et al (2006) provides a number of significant other Levallois records from the Thames Valley, Suffolk and the south coast. Many of the lithic records are closely associated with wetland settings, where palaeobiologically-rich sediments are preserved, demonstrating a wide variety of environments from fully temperate woodlands through to cooler, more open steppe grasslands. With respect to MIS 7, high precision Uranium-series dating of tufa deposits from Marsworth in Buckinghamshire, dovetailed with coeval faunal records, has provided further refinement to palaeoenvironmental reconstructions for the three warm (7e, 7c and 7a) and two cold (7d and 7b) sub-stages (Candy and Schreve 2007).

In general, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of the Early Middle Palaeolithic indicates that occupation occurred across a range of environments, principally during the rising and falling climate limbs of MIS 8 and MIS 7.  Currently, there is no evidence for human occupation during the coldest part of MIS 8 (White et al 2006).

Evidence from Neanderthal sites suggests that they were skilled hunters and not simply scavengers (White et al 2016).  The establishment of Levallois techniques appears to represent an adaptation of pre-existing core technologies and the rise of the multi-purpose knife as part of a series of social, technological and behavioural changes for hominins. As well as the artefacts themselves, Levallois blanks could also support the manufacture of a range of other tools, ensuring a mobile technology that could be adapted on the move, perhaps reflecting the movement of Neanderthal communities away from river valleys into the more expansive environments of the mammoth steppe.

According to White et al (2006), the adaptability of Levallois tools contributed to their success and they largely replaced hand-axes at British sites, perhaps with exceptions such as Pontnewydd Cave (Denbighshire). From the distribution of lithics, these authors also suggested that hand-axe makers appeared to be largely concentrated in the west of Britain, whilst Levallois manufacture occurred in the Thames valley and East Anglia.  However, White et al (2006) maintain a caveat that hand-axe making was retained at some sites, either to perform specific tasks, to practice previously inherited tool-making skills, or because the quality of raw materials prevented the manufacture of Levallois tools.

The publication of the site of Harnham, Wiltshire (Bates et al 2014) contributes further to the debate concerning spatial distributions. The well-preserved group of artefacts comprises entirely Acheulian tools within a sediment sequence securely dated by OSL and AAR to an interstadial towards the end of MIS 8.  Despite being of comparable age to the classic Levallois site of Baker’s Hole, there is no such material at Harnham, despite the presence of good quality local flint.  This has led Bates et al (2014) to suggest discrete populations in the west and the east, with Harnham associated with an insular, relict population derived from MIS 10 to MIS 9. The discovery in 2007 and 2008 of 88 worked flints during aggregates extraction 11km east of Great Yarmouth off the Norfolk coast adds further complexity to such hypotheses (Tizzard et al 2014). The offshore material included 33 hand-axes and 23 Levallois pieces; these were considered to be coeval and derived from one or more glaciofluvial units. OSL dating of the sediments places the artefacts within the timeframe of MIS 8–7. The presence of this assemblage at the eastern extremity of Britain, close to a land-bridge to continental Europe, raises questions about the geographical isolation of populations.  The preservation of high-quality artefact assemblages from submerged contexts has implications for geoprospection in the near offshore areas bordering the East Midlands and the potential for such remains should be flagged during desk-based assessments.

As alluded to in Section 8.1., the Early Middle Palaeolithic has not been viewed as a period of continuous occupation. The model proposed by Ashton and Lewis in 2002, based upon hand-axe numbers in the Thames terraces, suggests a declining population since the Anglian glaciation (MIS 12).  White et al (2006) questioned whether this might reflect instead the increasing emphasis upon highly adaptable Levallois tools and a reduced demand for hand-axes; however, they do acknowledge that the richest Levallois sites appeared to date from late MIS 8 to early MIS 7, becoming progressively poorer through time: a trend corroborated by work in the Ebbsfleet valley by Scott et al (2010).  The question of artefact density has recently been readdressed by Ashton et al (2018) through the spatial analysis of an enhanced TERPS database. The study suggests that the pattern of Neanderthal activity in the south-east is real and that Caddington in the Chilterns and Pontnewydd Cave in north Wales are discrete outliers. The analysis suggests that the focus of human activity still appears to be on river valleys, especially their lower reaches, rather than the interfluves; this observation challenges the concept that Levallois tools provided a highly mobile technology that allowed hominins to hunt farther afield across the mammoth steppe.  However, such ideas lead full circle to models outlined for the Lower Palaeolithic: that if there were abundant nutritional resources in the immediate landscape, there was little need to venture farther afield.

White et al (2006) note that there is a dramatic decline in Levallois material and hence hominin populations during early MIS 6, which is at odds with the evidence from the cooling limbs of earlier glaciations. Although early MIS 6 is known to be an intensely cold climatic event, as noted by the authors, this raises the question of why this cold stage appears to have impacted so differently upon hominin communities. Unravelling such questions is unlikely to be addressed by examination of existing or future artefact finds, but rather through proxy analysis of organic sediments relating to the MIS 6 and other cold and temperate stages (see Langford et al 2014). Therefore, in addition to geoprospection for artefacts, research should be focused on identifying, sampling and analysing organic-rich records relating to this timeframe.

8.3. The East Midlands during the Early Middle Palaeolithic

As mentioned previously, there is now strong evidence for glaciation of the East Midlands during MIS 8 (White et al 2016; Rose et al 2021). This resulted in an icesheet which may have extended across the entire region and may even have penetrated into the West Midlands (see the reconstruction of Westaway, 2021, Figure 15). This glaciation will have had a significant impact on Palaeolithic and Pleistocene remains deposited before MIS 8 (i.e. the interglacials of MIS 11 and MIS 9) and also on any archaeology associated with the rising climatic limb of that glaciation. This new glacial chronology has impacted, for example, upon interpretation of the archaeological and faunal remains preserved at Welton Le Wold, which could represent either reworked MIS 9 deposits (Straw 2015) or earlier MIS 11 deposits. Assignment of glacial deposits to the MIS 8 icesheet also has implications for previously established regional stratigraphies, including for example the reinterpretation of assumed MIS 11 deposits at Kirmington as potentially indicative of a significant later depositional event attributable to either the MIS 7 or MIS 5e interglacial (Straw, 2018a).

Whilst landforms and sediments in central East Anglia are suggested as evidence for glaciation during MIS 6 (Gibbard et al 2009; Gibbard et al 2021), the extent of any ice incursion further west into the East Midlands is still poorly understood. The preservation of the organic-rich Woodston Beds at Peterborough (Cambridgeshire), usually attributed to MIS 11 (Horton et al 1992), MIS 7 deposits in the Witham Valley of Lincolnshire around Tattershall Thorpe (Holyoak and Preece, 1985; Coope, 2001; White et al 2016) and the proto-Trent Valley between Newark and Lincoln (Brandon and Sumbler 1991; Lister and Brandon 1991; Bridgland et al 2014) suggest that any ice incursion did not impact upon the southern part of the East Midlands. Farther north the evidence is less clear, though it seems likely that the impacts of both Devensian and earlier glaciations will have either removed or deeply buried any Palaeolithic records relating to this time period; for example, the archaeological site of Welton Le Wold is buried beneath 30+m of glacial sediments attributed to both MIS 8 and MIS 2 (Straw 2015).

McNabb (2006) outlined the evidence for human occupation of the major river valleys of the East Midlands during the Early Middle Palaeolithic.  With respect to the Nene Valley, there has been little change in terms of the knowledge base, with the exception of the occasional hand-axe recovered in secondary contexts (e.g. Phillips and Kidd 2004).  Without further clarification of the age of the terrace sequence, we cannot move on from McNabb’s (2006, 30) conclusion that the small number of Levallois finds probably reflect either reworking from older, higher terrace units or Late Middle Palaeolithic (Early/Middle Devensian) occupation, the latter perhaps coeval with terrace formation. Slightly farther north, no evidence for Early Middle Palaeolithic activity appears to be forthcoming from the Welland Valley or its tributaries.

In contrast to the Nene and Welland valleys, knowledge of the Palaeolithic archaeological record of the Trent catchment, as well as former ancestral courses of the Trent, has changed significantly as a result of the Trent Valley Palaeolithic Project (Bridgland et al 2014). The geological and palaeoenvironmental aspects of the project built upon the investigations of Brandon and Sumbler (1988, 1992) and Lister and Brandon (1992) into the terrace deposits of the Trent north-east of Newark and through the Lincoln Gap along the Witham Valley. Their earlier work established a revised chronological and stratigraphical framework for these deposits, which was more complex than the established model of the Hilton, Beeston and Floodplain Terraces (see Howard et al 2007).

As noted previously, only three new artefacts were discovered during fieldwork associated with the Trent Valley Palaeolithic Project: two heavily rolled quartzite cores and a flake from East Leake quarry, Nottinghamshire (White et al 2008). Originally mapped as Glacial Sands and Gravels by the British Geological Survey, these quarry sediments are now interpreted as fluvial terrace deposits, possibly attributable to MIS 8 (White and White 2014, 288).  The heavily abraded character of these artefacts suggests that they are derived from much earlier deposits and contexts.

In addition to the recently discovered small assemblage from East Leake, the Trent Valley Palaeolithic Project undertook a full re-examination of all accessible collections of artefacts; this included material held in national and regional museum archives, together with some privately held finds (White et al 2009; White and White 2014). These collections were largely recovered from gravel pits in the middle Trent, around the localities of Hilton and Willington at the Dove-Trent confluence and downstream to the Beeston area of Nottingham.  Historically, these deposits were known as the Hilton and Beeston Terraces respectively, with the former assigned to the period spanning MIS 10-6 and the latter attributed to aggradation during MIS 5d-4 (e.g. Posnansky 1960)[25].

Given the concentration of finds, these collections invariably underpin any interpretation of the artefact record from the region more generally. The concentration of material in this part of the system reflects in part a degree of collector bias since the majority of pieces are associated with three individuals; this alone, however, does not fully explain the observed pattern (White et al 2009).

In total, the assemblage reviewed from the middle Trent as part of the TVPP comprised 339 pieces (White and White 2014): an important group of material, but in comparison to collections from river valleys in the south and east of England it is considered relatively small (Wymer 1999). The majority of the material comprises flakes (51%) and hand-axes (42%), with the remainder divided between cores, flake tools and miscellaneous remains. Nearly all of the artefacts are made from flint, though a small number were manufactured from quartzite pebbles. None of the pieces is described as in mint condition; only two were described as fresh, with the remainder described as slightly rolled to heavily rolled.  Few if any of the pieces were recovered in situ, whileissues of provenance are further complicated by the historical processing of deposits from several different gravel pits (and terraces?) at a single quarry plant.  In spite of these challenges, it does appear that the greatest densities of finds are associated with the highest of the terrace units, historically known as the Hilton Terrace (White and White, 2014).

Given that the start of the Middle Palaeolithic is defined on the presence of Levallois artefacts, and that the age of the artefact-bearing terrace sediments has traditionally been attributed to the timeframe of this period, as noted by Wymer (1999) and McNabb (2006), the presence of Levallois pieces in the region is remarkably sparse, This observation is corroborated by the inventory from the middle Trent, which identifies only two Levallois cores, one from Hilton Camp pit and one from Swarkestone (White and White 2014, 260, Table 5.4).

The revised chronological framework for the Trent terraces, established on the basis of biostratigraphical evidence and absolute dating techniques (Brandon and Sumbler 1988, 1991; Lister and Brandon 1991; Bridgland et al 2014), still places the archaeologically rich middle Trent terrace deposits within the broad timeframe of the Middle Palaeolithic.  The Hilton Terrace is now divided into the Etwall Sand and Gravel and the Egginton Common Sand and Gravel, attributed to MIS 8 and MS 6 respectively and thus spanning most of the Early Middle Palaeolithic. Meanwhile, the Beeston Sand and Gravel is attributed to MIS 5e-4, effectively spanning a timeframe associated with the Later Middle Palaeolithic. Most of the sediments within these terrace units have been aggraded under cool or cold climatic conditions and, in the context of Bridgland’s (1994) model of fluvial terrace development, all reflect environments associated with the rising and falling limbs of glacial and interglacial cycles.  Given that humans would have occupied such landscapes, the absence of Levallois technology presents a conundrum which requires further explanation.

Whilst the quality of available flint may be a factor, White and White (2014) note that a significant proportion of the material is represented by hand-axes. As discussed earlier, analogies with other sites suggest that hand-axes are not representative of Early Middle Palaeolithic sites. Bearing in mind also the abraded nature of the material, it is concluded that the majority of the artefacts from the middle Trent terraces attributed to an Early Middle Palaeolithic timeframe, are derived, reworked from deposits associated with earlier archaeological periods.  As noted previously, no interglacial sediments dating to MIS 9 and MIS 11 are known from the Trent terraces and it seems reasonable to assume that MIS 8 glaciation must have played a key role in determining the taphonomic history of artefacts within the region.

As intimated previously, the concentration of lithic material in the middle Trent can partly be explained by collector bias, both in terms of areas searched and the type of material searched for. Flint represents a small component of the Trent terrace gravels and therefore large flint artefacts stand out from background materials; quartzite, by contrast, is ubiquitous, and hence artefacts simply blend in, especially if degraded.  White and White (2014) also argue that the absence of material east of Nottingham may reflect the lack of terrace preservation within the Trent Trench: an anomalous gorge cutting across the dipslope of the Mercia Mudstone bedrock.  With reference to the model proposed by Hosfield (1999) for constrained valley floors, White and White (2014) note that significant numbers of artefacts might be expected at the end of the gorge, where eroded sediments are deposited in response to reduced energy conditions, but this does not appear to be the case here.

More generally, a much smaller number of finds are known from Lincolnshire, and many of these are associated with terrace deposits of the ancestral Trent and associated deposits flowing through the Lincoln Gap. These sediments are now known to date to MIS 7, MIS 6 and later (Brandon and Sumbler 1988, 1991; Lister and Brandon 1991; Bridgland et al 2014). However, White and White (2014) suggest that palaeogeography may also have played a role. The Fen Basin would have formed a large marine embayment, fed by a complex network of large estuarine rivers; hence, during times of high sea levels, it may have formed a barrier to migration from the south-east.  Such a model builds in part upon the suggestion of McNabb (2006, 27) that the Fen Basin may have placed significant constraints upon the movement of early hominins.

The interpretative model proposed for the lithic material from the middle Trent provides a useful conceptual framework for a review the other major lithic assemblage from the Midlands, the Waite Collection (Graf, 2002, 2011). The assemblage comprises well over 1000 artefacts recovered from a range of topographic localities (valley floor to interfluves) around Nuneaton (Warwickshire) and Hinckley (Leicestershire).  The artefacts, largely made of local quartzite, were generally found upon the surfaces of sediments attributed to the Oadby glaciation. At the time of publication, Graf (2002, 2011) used the established framework of the MIS 10 glaciation, though it is conceivable that such events may have occurred during MIS 8.  As in the middle Trent, there is a notable dearth of prepared cores though Graf (2002) suggests that five examples of split quartzite cobbles where working of multiple surfaces may be involved, demonstrate the essence of the Levallois technique. Taken as a whole, the evidence from the Waite collection is remarkably similar to that from the Middle Trent; again, it seems likely that the majority of the material is derived from the time period spanning MIS 8 to 11, though also conceivably earlier.

Whilst the material culture from the Trent Valley and the borders of the East and West Midlands may be largely derived, a range of faunal and floral remains within sediments attributable to the assumed timescale of the Early Middle Palaeolithic (i.e. MIS 8-6) have been recovered from Trent terrace sediments.  Between Newark and Lincoln, exposures created by a number of quarries and irrigation ponds within the Balderton Sand and Gravel have yielded a large, mixed assemblage of vertebrate remains indicative of both warm and cold stages (Bridgland et al 2014). Bedform structures suggest that the main phase of terrace aggradation was under cold climate, braided river conditions. However, faunal and floral remains recovered from generally basal, organic-rich sediment units provide evidence for temperate environments. Brandon and Sumbler (1991) referred to these warmer units as the ‘Thorpe-on-the-Hill Beds’ and suggested that they were attributable to the Aveley Interglacial (MIS 7): a conclusion subsequently corroborated by amino-acid racemisation dating of mollusc remains (Bridgland et al 2014).  Such a date for the basal sediments would imply that the overlying cold climate gravels are attributable to MIS 6 (the Tottenhill glaciation): an age estimate corroborated by soil development upon the gravels assigned to the Ipswichian Interglacial; in turn, the soil unit has been disrupted by periglacial activity attributed to the Devensian cold stage. Interglacial sediments equivalent to the Thorpe-on-the-Hill Beds can be traced east of the Lincoln Gap along the present-day Witham Valley beneath the Southrey Terrace (Brandon and Sumbler 1991; Bridgland et al 2014) and at Tattershall Thorpe (Holyoak and Preece 1985; Coope 2001).

Together, these temperate sites in the Trent Valley indicate significant preservation of MIS 7 interglacial sediments, but as yet no associated artefacts have been found in situ. The lithic artefacts appear to derive instead from the overlying sands and gravels; since they are usually hand-axes, it seems likely that they are almost certainly not associated with MIS 7 but represent reworked artefacts deriving from earlier warm stages.

In the north of the East Midlands, reinterpretation of the regional glacial stratigraphy and recognition of the MIS 8 glaciation has led to the reinterpretation of Kirmington, Lincolnshire, as a possible Early Middle Palaeolithic site, though the archaeology is not without controversy. Using the new glacial chronology, Straw (2018a) has suggested that the lower glacial unit is of MIS 8 date and therefore any overlying archaeological material must relate to hominin activity during MIS 7 or later (a consideration examined in due course in discussion of the Late Middle Palaeolithic). However, Straw goes further and interprets the artefact-bearing gravels as being of last interglacial age, emplaced at Kirmington as a frozen block of sediment (an ice raft). Such an explanation would require Early Devensian glaciation during MIS 4 and is a topic explored further in later sections.[26]

Also in Lincolnshire, but farther south, a major sediment body worthy of note is the Kirby Moor Sands of the Bain Valley. The deposits rest on glacial sediments, but are higher and hence older than any of the terraces assigned to the proto-Trent route across the region. They have been interpreted in a variety of ways, including glacial outwash, wind-blown sands and lacustrine deltaic deposits. Recently Straw (2018b) has assigned the underlying glacial sediments to MIS 8 and suggested that the sands and gravels were deposited by a meltwater-enriched precursor of the River Bain during deglaciation (i.e. late in MIS 8). Given that reworked artefacts have been found in both Trent terrace deposits and across the Lincolnshire Wolds (White and White 2014), it is possible that the Kirkby Moor Sands might contain archaeology, though none appears to have been reported to date.

8.4. The Human Intermission

As noted in the previous section, there is a sharp decline in Levallois material during the early part of MIS 6 (the period of the Tottenhill glaciation). This appears to signify the rapid decline of hominin populations before disappearing entirely as glacial conditions returned to eastern England. Established chronologies suggest that this absence from mainland Britain may have lasted around 120,000 years until around 60 kya; this therefore includes the last interglacial (the Ipswichian, MIS 5e) as well as the earliest part of the last Cold Stage (the Early Devensian, MIS 4). However, more recent research has claimed that reoccupation may have occurred much closer to the end of the last interglacial, around 115 kya (Wenban-Smith et al 2010). The time period associated with these recolonising populations, before the arrival of anatomically modern humans at around 35 kya, is known as the Late Middle Palaeolithic.

Whilst cultural archaeology may be unknown from Ipswichian and broadly Early Devensian deposits, sediments of this age do have the potential to provide important palaeoenvironmental records. Analyses of these may further our understanding of why Britain was not occupied during this timeframe and elucidate the landscape and resource context which provided the opportunity for subsequent recolonisation. Furthermore, absence of evidence is of course not evidence of absence and, if sediments of this age are never investigated, the argument for absence remains continually circular. It is important, therefore that these apparently barren time periods are always investigated and not simply dismissed.

8.5 The Ipswichian Interglacial (MIS 5e)

Historically, the last Interglacial in Britain has generally been considered to have been a very warm period with insect remains suggesting that July temperatures were on average about 4 ֯C higher than the present day (Coope 2001). However, a recent review of a range of proxy environmental indicators at eight British sites suggests that only one (Trafalgar Square, London) provides evidence for palaeoclimates significantly warmer than the current postglacial (Candy et al 2016). Regardless of precise temperature data, proxy records indicate that the environment was characterised at its height by dense broad-leafed deciduous woodland and by a fauna including what would now be considered as exotic species[27].

Raised beach deposits suggest that sea levels were in the order of 5m+ higher than the present-day and as noted by Gibbard (2007) any remnants of a land-bridge were destroyed by glacial lake drainage during MIS 6. Migration on both the rising and falling limbs of the interglacial would, therefore, have proved exceedingly challenging, and Britain remained at this time very much an island. At Stone Point, Hampshire, OSL and AAR dating evidence, together with sedimentary and environmental records, suggest that sea-level rise may have been very rapid at the start of the Ipswichian and may have occurred before significant climate warming (Briant et al 2019) and, importantly, the migration en masse of animals and of hominin communities in pursuit of these. By the time such responses to climate change occurred, later in the interglacial, the window of opportunity for migration across the channel may have closed.

With respect to the East Midlands, McNabb (2006) noted that fossiliferous deposits of Ipswichian age were relatively common, citing Wing, Rutland (Hall 1980, 135), Little Houghton, Northamptonshire, Boulton Moor, Derbyshire (Jones and Stanley 1974) and Fulbeck, Lincolnshire (Brandon and Sumbler 1988). The site at Wing provides one of the longest Ipswichian sedimentary sequences in Britain, infilling a deep, enclosed depression (kettle hole?) within glacial deposits (Jones and Keen 1993). In contrast, the remaining sites are characterised by organic-rich channel fills preserved beneath river terrace gravels in the present-day valleys of the Nene and Derbyshire Derwent, as well as a forerunner of the contemporary river Witham. To this list of McNabb (2006) must be added two additional Lincolnshire fluvial sites which were not mentioned: Tattershall Castle in the Bain Valley (Holyoak and Preece 1985) and Deeping St James in the Welland Valley (Keen et al 1999).  With respect to these latter sites, organic-rich temperate sediments were again preserved within basal channels. Across all of these alluvial sites, the sedimentology, faunal and floral characteristics of the overlying gravel aggradations are indicative of cold-climate, braided river conditions attributable to the Early or Middle Devensian.

Within a Lincolnshire context, mention must also be made of Straw’s (2018a) suggestion that the supposed artefact-bearing gravels at Kirmington are of Ipswichian age, emplaced into the area as ice-rafted (frozen) sediments by Early Devensian glaciation. Straw (2018a) suggests that these gravels represent beach deposits, laid down at the head of a deep valley known as the Immingham Channel and now buried beneath glacial sediments[28]. The interpretation of these deposits as beach gravels of Ipswichian date lends support to the conclusions of White (1999) who suggested that the flints are pseudo-artefacts (as no archaeological remains would be expected from deposits of last interglacial age). Whilst Straw (2018a) provides an interesting argument, the absence of secure absolute dates or further biostratigraphical evidence means that this hypothesis must remain a working model requiring further investigation and corroboration.

Between them, these sites demonstrate that the preservation of Ipswichian deposits can be within a range of depositional contexts and may be buried beneath later fluvial and glacial sediments. Consideration should be given, therefore, in the development of archaeological schemes of investigation to geoprospection strategies for such deeply buried remains.

8.6. The Early and Middle Devensian (MIS 5d–5a, MIS 4 and MIS 3)

The established consensus that early hominins returned to Britain around 60 kya broadly coincides with the transition from the Early to Middle Devensian (i.e. from MIS 4 to MIS 3). However, if reoccupation was earlier, as suggested by Wenban-Smith et al (2010), it would encompass the majority of the Early Devensian. The palaeoenvironmental record of the Early and Middle Devensian provides the context within which to understand the character of the climate, landscape, fauna and flora, and hence the conditions and resource-base both prior to, and during recolonisation.

As noted by Jones and Keen (1997), identifying the precise timing of the transition from the Ipswichian Interglacial into the Early Devensian is problematic since it is beyond the limits of radiocarbon dating and as biostratigraphic sequences for this period are rare. Generally though, climatic deterioration around 115 kya is correlated with MIS 5d, followed by warming around 100 kya (MIS 5c), cooling around 90 kya (MIS 5b) and warming around 80 kya (MIS 5a). From 80-65 kya, there is evidence of a prolonged period of significant cooling which is correlated with MIS 4 (Jones and Keen 1997). During the cooler phases of the Early and Middle Devensian, the general consensus is that much of the British landscape would have been a tundra environment, often referred to a mammoth steppe with little in the way of tree cover.

Straw (2019) has long advocated that conditions were cold enough during MIS 4 to allow significant icesheet build-up and an incursion into north-east Lincolnshire, essentially butting up against the eastern side of the Lincolnshire Wolds.  Straw (2019) argues the evidence for this incursion is provided by glacial sediments and landforms that are not quite as ‘fresh’ as those deposited during the Last Glacial Maximum (i.e. the Dimlington Stadial of MIS 2); equally, they are not quite as weathered and degraded as those which can be related to earlier events such as the Wragby glaciation of MIS 8. Worsley (1991) reviewed the evidence nationally for Early Devensian glaciation and concluded that it could not be proved either way. Notably, none of the investigations undertaken over the last two decades by the BRITICE AND BRITICE-CHRONO projects or associated initiatives have supported such ideas (Clark et al 2012, Bateman et al 2015; Evans et al 2019). Whilst the hypothesis remains unsubstantiated, it is important however to be aware of the model. Such a glaciation, if demonstrated, would not only have significant implications for the preservation of Palaeolithic archaeology in north-east Lincolnshire but also for the Late Middle Palaeolithic record generally in view of its implications for sea-level changes.[29]

Around 65 kya to 60 kya, there is evidence from Chelford in Cheshire of a warming episode, characterised by coniferous forest (pine, birch and spruce) with sphagnum-rich pools surrounded by willow (Simpson and West 1958; Coope 1959; Worsley et al 1983); some of the tree stumps show evidence of beaver gnawing (Worsley 2009, 2015). This period is known as the Chelford Interstadial and broadly coincides with the transition from the Early to Middle Devensian. Whilst Chelford is arguably the most well-studied of these Early/Middle Devensian warm episodes, it is one of a number of interstadial sequences that have been identified between approximately 55 kya and 70 kya, including Brimpton in Berkshire (Bryant et al 1983) and Wretton in Norfolk (West 1977)[30].

Evidence for interstadial warming in the Middle Devensian (MIS 3) around 42-44 kya is found at a number of sites across central and southern Britain: for example, Upton Warren, Worcestershire (Coope et al 1961), Four Ashes, Staffordshire (Morgan 1973) and Earith, Cambridgshire (Coope 2000), though at least eight more are recognised in the NGRIP core record before the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum (Svensson et al 2008).  The NGRIP data suggests significant, rapid climatic variability, and though the broad vegetation characteristics of MIS 3 were similar to earlier periods, it does differ in the absence of tree cover, a feature that seems to have been unique to MIS 3.[31]

8.7. The Late Middle Palaeolithic

The general consensus from the available evidence is that Neanderthal communities returned to Britain around 60 kya (broadly the transition of MIS 4 to MIS 3) – albeit in relatively small intermittent groups until around 42 kya (MIS 3). The arrival of early modern humans around 35 kya (MIS 3) marks the end of the Early Middle Palaeolithic, though the nature of this transition and the degree of overlap between Neanderthal and early modern humans remains the focus of much debate.  These topics focused around transition are considered further in discussions of the Earlier Upper Palaeolithic (Section 9.3).

The discovery of two mint condition flint flakes deeply buried on an ‘occupation surface’ at Dartford, Kent, suggests that hominins may have arrived much earlier (Wenban-Smith et al 2010). The pristine flakes are overlain by a mixture of fluvial and slope deposits, which in turn also contained other worked but abraded lithics, the worn condition of these suggesting that they were derived from elsewhere. Using OSL dating, the so-called ‘occupation horizon’ has been attributed to MIS 5d–5b, with the authors suggesting that lower sea levels during the cooler sub-stages of the Early Devensian may have offered a window of opportunity for migration from mainland Europe.  Furthermore, sea level is envisaged to be the main obstacle to movement since Neanderthal groups would have been familiar with, and hence able to adapt to, the cold environments of that time period.

Despite the research at Dartford now being over a decade old, no other occupation sites of a broadly similar age have been found in Britain. For example, approximately 30 km further upstream in the Thames Valley, Bates et al (2014) reported a large, mammalian fauna from the floodplain of the River Westborne, Paddington, west London; OSL dating suggests deposition of the fauna during the later sub-stages of MIS 5 and into MIS 4. If early hominins had been in the region, such a collection of remains (which is interpreted as a natural death assemblage) might have been expected to attract their attention; the only evidence of scavenging, however, appears to be that of animals.

Returning to the established model of initial, small-scale incursions around 60 kya, followed by more substantial migration around 40-43 kya, such events are broadly coincident with the Chelford and Upton Warren Interstadials respectively.  Whilst the former dates to the transition between MIS 4 and MIS 3, the latter lies firmly within MIS 3. This latter timeframe is particularly notable since MIS 3 represents the warmest part of the last cold stage, though characterised by rapid, probably millennial-scale climatic oscillations. To date, interpreting the impact of such rapid climatic fluctuations on landscape, vegetation and fauna has proved exceedingly challenging, hindered by poor chronology and dating resolution. It seems likely that a mosaic of environments existed, dominated by mammoth steppe, which would have been able to support a large biomass of herbivores; however, MIS 3 is also notable for the dearth of evidence in the proxy record for trees.

McNabb (2006, 34) referred to this period, which he termed the British Mousterian, as one of the ‘bleakest archaeological landscapes in the Palaeolithic’. His assessment reflected the extreme paucity of the available evidence and the pressing need to identify more sites by reviewing all extant artefact collections that might shed light upon this period, developing ambitious and co-ordinated dating programmes on extant collections, and identifying for further human or humanly modified organic material. These aspirational aims were underway at the time of writing and in the last two decades much of this agenda has been taken forward, largely underpinned by AHOB and its successors.

A key challenge that still remains is how to separate Early and Later Middle Palaeolithic sites when mixed assemblages are found within open-air contexts and there is clearly an element of reworking and derivation. Prepared core technologies can be very similar, and without robust chronological and stratigraphic control, untangling any records is still challenging.

The bout coupé hand-axe is considered the only really reliable item of Neanderthal material culture in Britain relating to this period and McNabb (2006) noted that only around 30 such artefacts which conformed to the ‘holotype’ from Coygan Cave, south Wales were known[32]. In his review, McNabb (2006) provided a detailed description and account of the typological form of the British Mousterian, and in particular the relationship of bout coupé artefacts to continental parallels; since these typological discussions have not progressed significantly in the last two decades, and as these may be accessed here, they are not repeated in this updated review.

Within the literature, sparse artefact numbers have generally supported the idea of low population densities. Whilst a couple of significant new open-air sites have been discovered in the last 15 years, including within the East Midlands (Section 8.8), the number of individuals probably remains low. Furthermore, whilst these new excavations have added significantly to our knowledge of the period, there still remains no direct osteoarchaeological evidence for Later Middle Palaeolithic populations.

As noted in 2006, evidence for Later Middle Palaeolithic occupation comes from two main geomorphological contexts: within caves[33] and from open-air localities, the latter often though not exclusively associated with river terraces.

The absence of new excavations within caves on the British mainland relating to this time period, either investigating primary sediments or those previously assessed/disturbed, means that the physical archaeological evidence-base remains unchanged. Beyond the East Midlands, this includes the records from Kent’s Cavern in Devon, Rhinoceros Hole and Hyaena Den in the Mendips and Coygan Cave and Paviland Cave in south Wales (McNabb, 2006). Though the amount of archaeological evidence has remained the same, there has been a step-change in the understanding of established chronologies based on new radiocarbon dates on archaeological bone, which use ultrafiltration techniques to remove low molecular weight contaminants from gelatine samples (Jacobi et al 2006).  Away from the British mainland, a renewed programme of archaeological investigations and OSL dating at the Neanderthal cave site of La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey, is particularly significant (Bates et al 2013). The OSL dating has constrained the age of the lithic-bearing sediments to between 105 kya and 48 kya, with the youngest OSL sample obtained from a layer overlying sediments in which a skull fragment and 13 teeth has previously been discovered. The relationship of the human bone to the OSL dates demonstrates Neanderthal occupation until at least 48 kya.  Furthermore, there is a suggestion from an OSL date in a different part of the site that the skeletal material may be associated with a final phase of ‘head’ deposition, which has now been dated to around 25 kya; if this correlation can be further corroborated, this raises the tantalising prospect that Neanderthals may have been present within this area at the same time as early modern humans.

The open-air record beyond the East Midlands, described by McNabb (2006, 36) comprised a relatively small number of sites, often isolated and lacking secure stratigraphic contexts. Examples included the sites of Bramford Road (Ipswich, Suffolk), Oldbury (Kent) and Little Paxton (Cambridgeshire), all yielding bout coupé artefacts together with small ovate and cordiform bifaces.

A major Neanderthal open-air site which had not been the focus of significant post-excavation assessment by 2006, but which was discovered in early 2002, was that of Lynford quarry, Norfolk. Following its discovery, an interim statement was published the following year (Boismier 2003), with the full volume brought to fruition around a decade later (Boismier et al 2012).  The site comprised an abandoned, organic-rich meander channel infilled with over 1300 identifiable pieces of bone, 91 per cent attributable to woolly mammoth, representing at least 11 individuals. Taphonomic and sedimentary evidence suggested that the bones were deposited over an extended period of time; whilst there was limited evidence for carnivore gnawing, there was no direct evidence of butchery. Palaeoenvironmental evidence suggested open conditions characterised by herb-rich grassland, but with some scrub (birch) and acid heathland or bog. Insect remains indicated a relatively mild climate, with mean July temperatures of up to 14 ֯C and winter temperatures between -8 ֯C and -15 ֯C. A series of OSL dates placed the record from around 65 kya to 57 kya, essentially at the boundary of MIS 4 and MIS 3, though biostratigraphical evidence places it more firmly within MIS 3 (i.e. the Middle Devensian). Whilst no direct evidence for Neanderthals was found, 41 complete and 6 broken hand-axes were recovered, with the majority described as cordiform, ovate and triangular in form (i.e. of bout coupé character)[34].  The sizeable number of tools suggests that a Neanderthal group was spending a significant period of time on the floodplain making hand-axes from local flint.  Whilst the faunal record does not provide any direct evidence for hunting and/or butchery, the absence of long bones from the main channel deposit, together with analysis of the age profiles of the mammoths, provides circumstantial evidence for their exploitation for bone marrow, a high value source of protein (Schreve 2006).

Just over the border in the West Midlands, the Middle Devensian palaeoenvironmental site of Whitemoor Haye, Staffordshire, is also worthy of note.  In 2002, the partial remains of a woolly rhinoceros skeleton was discovered in terrace sediments of the Trent-Tame confluence, a combination of radiocarbon and OSL dates suggesting that the animal lived between around 41 kya and 43 kya (Schreve et al 2012).  Whilst no evidence of hunting, butchery or lithics was found at the site, the palaeoenvironmental records indicate that these large mammals were roaming a largely treeless, herb-rich grassland at a time when mean July temperatures were between 8 ֯C and 11 ֯C and December temperatures between -22 ֯C and -16 ֯C.

The data from both Lynford and Whitemoor Haye provide no direct evidence for hunting during this timeframe.  However, this view contrasts with the evidence assembled by White et al (2016) based on the wider European literature; this suggests that, rather than simply scavenging, Neanderthals were skilled ambush hunters of large animal groups. Whilst this latter view may reflect the broader observed pattern, it does not take into account the need for opportunistic hunting in response to short-term stresses, and the variable climatic regime of MIS 3 may have accentuated these needs.  The challenges of survival during MIS 3 and the adaptations required, such as the use of fire, clothing and shelter are explored further by White (2006), with much of the discussion applicable also to earlier Palaeolithic periods.

8.8. The East Midlands during the Late Middle Palaeolithic

As described by McNabb (2006), the majority of the palaeoenvironmental evidence for Early and Middle Devensian environments in the East Midlands derives from relatively low-lying terrace sequences within the valley floors of the main river systems (e.g. the Nene, Welland and Trent). Within such terrace contexts, it is not unusual for these Early and Middle Devensian sediments to overlie organic-rich sediments attributable to the Ipswichian Interglacial; therefore, many of these low terraces must be considered composite landforms.

In terms of the material culture that is considered diagnostic of the Late Middle Palaeolithic, McNabb (2006, 31) noted five open-air sites where single finds of probable bout coupé axes were recorded, at Aylestone (Leicestershire); Harlaxton and Risby Warren (Lincolnshire); and Duston and Marston Trussell (Northamptonshire)[35]. With the exception of Risby Warren, the location of all of the finds suggests that they can most probably be attributed to valley floor terrace sands and gravels.[36]

Graf (2002) suggested that some of the lithic artefacts from the Waite Collection may be ascribed tentatively to the Late Middle Palaeolithic, though they could equally be older and are not of classic bout coupé form.  The review of the lithic artefact evidence preserved within low terraces of the Trent that may be attributed to this timeframe (for example, from the Beeston Sand and Gravel) is dominated by abraded hand-axes and only a small amount of Levallois material, suggesting that the materials are almost wholly derived (White et al 2008; White and White 2014).

In McNabb’s (2006) review, the recently discovered open air site of Glaston, Rutland, was mentioned briefly; this is characterised by a leaf point assemblage attributable to the Early Upper Palaeolithic (Section 9.3) and faunal remains preserved within deposits filling a fault structure on the interfluve between the Chater and Welland rivers. The large faunal assemblage was dominated by taxa attributable to MIS 3 (Currant and Jacobi 2001) with extensive evidence of bone fracture and gnawing by hyaenas suggesting that material had been bought into the den to feed their young. Whilst no direct evidence for hunting or cut marks were found on any of the bones, horse long bones did show evidence of spiral fractures, perhaps indicating breakage as part of a scavenging strategy to enable marrow removal; similar interpretations were made for bone fractures at Lynford (Bosimier et al 2012).  Radiocarbon dating of a single horse bone from Glaston provided an age estimate of between 44.3 and 42.5 kya. Subsequent full analysis of the site, interpreted as a hyaena den by Cooper et al (2011), indicates that part of the lithic assemblage can be attributed to the Lincombian-Ramisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ) leaf point techno-complex of the Early Upper Palaeolithic, which is considered further in Section 9.3.

In terms of cave sites attributed to the Late Middle Palaeolithic, the nationally important archaeological records from Creswell Crags, Derbyshire, continue to provide the majority of evidence for human activity within the East Midlands. McNabb (2006) noted that the lithic material comprised a variety of tools made from quartzite, flint and clay-ironstone, though none could be described as hand-axes of bout coupé character.  These lithic remains, together with a range of other evidence including bone tools and large faunal assemblages, are attributable to historical excavations, undertaken with a variety of rigour in one of four caves: Robin Hood, Pin Hole, Mother Grundy’s Parlour and Church Hole.  Since 2006, the gorge has been the focus of periodic, limited excavations and other archaeological investigations, but no new finds of Late Middle Palaeolithic date have been recovered.[37]  However, despite the absence of additional finds, new radiocarbon analyses of existing material, coupled with revised stratigraphic interpretations, has led to significant advances in our understanding of this part of the Palaeolithic record (Jacobi et al 2006).

The new radiocarbon programme was undertaken using ultrafiltration techniques to improve the accuracy and precision of dates on samples of archaeological bone recovered from Robin Hood and Pin Hole caves.  Whilst the lack of stratigraphic control for the samples from the former renders their use somewhat problematic, the data from the latter are much more useable.

McNabb (2006, 37) noted that Jenkinson (1984) had suggested that in Pin Hole Cave the Late Middle Palaeolithic archaeology was at two levels, separated by a sterile unit.[38] Prior to the dating of selected finds, Jacobi et al (2006) reconstructed, where possible, the 2-dimensional stratigraphy of all lithic artefact finds[39] and demonstrated that all of the ‘Middle Palaeolithic’ artefacts were plotted lower down within the sequence than hitherto considered.  From comparison with the faunal material from this revised level, the time-frame of deposition was equated with the Lower Cave Earth, which on the basis of uranium series dating of speleothem fragments was suggested to have accumulated after 64 kya.  Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) dating of wild horse and woolly rhinoceros material from the Lower Cave Earth refined this chronology, suggesting accumulation of the Lower Cave Earth between 38 kya and 50 kya. Together, this corpus of chronological evidence indicates that the bone samples are demonstrably associated with Middle Palaeolithic artefacts.  On the basis of this new interpretation, Jacobi et al (2006) re-sampled bone material previously dated, as well as new samples from the Middle Palaeolithic level, producing age estimates within the range of 40-54 kya (though the two youngest dates may be anomalous). The study has confirmed the suggestion that there is no discrete Middle Palaeolithic layer within Pin Hole, but that rather material is spread through the Lower Cave Earth perhaps suggesting regular, periodic visits to the locale.  Further consideration of the lithic remains within the context of the Early Upper Palaeolithic  are provided in Sections 9.3. and 9.3.1.  

Away from the Magnesium Limestone of Creswell Crags, radiocarbon dating has also been undertaken on a fragment of Bos/Bison bone from Dream Cave near Wirksworth, Derbyshire. The fauna, which was originally excavated in 1823, included the nearly complete skeleton of a woolly mammoth, which is now considered an essential part of Middle Devensian (MIS 3) assemblages (Current and Jacobi 2001). Prior to this dating, the probable age of this fauna was only known indirectly, by the U-series dating of an overlying flowstone; the uncalibrated radiocarbon age of around 43 kya places it firmly within MIS 3 (McFarlane et al 2016).

The evidence from the East Midlands supports the national picture of mammoth steppe with abundant large herbivores to exploit, either through scavenging or hunting. It also indicates that sites are found in a range of open-air and cave settings. As with earlier periods, the evidence from Glaston demonstrates the need to look beyond the river valleys since it seems likely that transient groups were moving between localities, perhaps revisiting sites and following the annual migration patterns of animals.

9. The Upper Palaeolithic    

with contributions from Lynden Cooper                                                       

9.1. Introduction

As noted in the introduction to this chapter, the drafting of the original review by McNabb (2006) overlapped with the beginnings of the AHOB project, the excavation of new (rare) open air sites, and the discovery of cave art at Creswell Crags; therefore, at that time, Upper Palaeolithic knowledge was in a state of considerable flux, both regionally and nationally.

Since 2006, there has been the substantial realisation of AHOB project aims, dovetailed with additional academic studies (including both doctoral and post-doctoral research), as well as the analysis and synthesis of several open sites.  Perhaps the most significant development since McNabb’s 2006 review has been the radiocarbon dating programme for the British and North West European Upper Palaeolithic, undertaken under the auspices of AHOB (Jacobi and Higham 2011a&b) and augmented by late Pleistocene faunal studies which have provided a palaeoenvironmental context for the Upper Palaeolithic (Currant and Jacobi 2011). AHOB followed a rigorous sample selection of incontrovertible humanly modified bone and antler which together with advances in radiocarbon methods and techniques (including ultrafiltration cleaning protocols for collagen extraction for AMS assay, Bayesian modelling and improvements in the calibration curve) produced a refined chronological framework with many repercussions on the timing and longevity of the different settlement pulses. The ultrafiltration cleaning allowed new assays for many artefacts from key Upper Palaeolithic cave sites across Britain, their new dates proving to be somewhat older than their original estimates. The chronology is now more accurately comparable to the climatic records of the NGRIP ice core sequence of Greenland interstadials.

Together, this corpus of data has had a considerable impact upon the understanding of the British Upper Palaeolithic, in turn, providing a fresh understanding of material culture, particularly of lithic types and technological systems for the cultural sequence of the period.  Indeed, many of the national research agenda items listed by McNabb (2006, 32 and 37) and for the East Midlands (Knight et al 2012, 24) have been partly addressed by these new data.

While much of the AHOB and related research has focussed upon re-evaluation of the extant cave collections, the discovery of new open-air sites has largely been achieved through research investigations undertaken as part of the development control process managed by local authority planning archaeologists.  Just like the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic, the Upper part can be daunting period for those practitioners more used to dealing with the archaeology of the late Holocene.  An accessible account for understanding Late Glacial archaeology is provided by Barton (2005) while Pettitt and Jacobi (2009) provides a popular, informative and long overdue summary of Creswell Crags, the East Midlands’s most important site complex.  Additional, comprehensive coverage of the Upper Palaeolithic considering some of the recent advances is provided by the synthesis of the British Palaeolithic by Pettitt and White (2012) and the Upper Palaeolithic chapters focused around AHOB projects in Ashton et al (2011)

As described in previous sections of this chapter, in recent years Lower and Middle Palaeolithic remains have most often been encountered within the context of permissions for the aggregates industry, within deep sand and gravel quarries of Pleistocene deposits, or where large infrastructure projects impinge upon such deposits; often the broad chronologies and depositional histories of these Pleistocene deposits are well known, thereby providing an element of predictability which allows tailored project designs to be implemented (e.g. watching briefs focused on free faces, key sediment units, landforms and spoil heaps).

In contrast, the evidence for Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers has exceptionally (and generally) been found during routine evaluations using techniques such as trial trenching and strip, map and sample strategies, such methods more predicated to the location of later prehistoric, Romano-British and medieval sites. For these reasons, this review of the Upper Palaeolithic will consider the circumstances of discovery of the open sites in the East Midlands and beyond, the wide spectrum of landscape contexts where they occur, the reactive project management by archaeologists (consultants, curators and contractors) that have been followed and a critique of the methods employed. Thus, it is hoped that future discoveries may be the product of informed work programmes designed specifically for Upper Palaeolithic research.

9.2. Upper Palaeolithic Framework and Physiographic Background

As first suggested by Campbell (1977), it is useful to divide the British Upper Palaeolithic into Earlier and Later periods, an accepted division that is still of relevance and used today (Ashton et al 2011; Pettit and White 2012). The two periods are separated by the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), when the British peninsula was subject to an intense cold episode period known as the Dimlington Stadial, resulting in the formation of a major icesheet extending across northern and western Britain (Clark et al 2012).  Whilst there is still debate concerning the timing of ice build-up, the maximum extent of individual lobes and oscillations along the extensive ice margin, a broad model has been established suggesting accumulation after 35-32 kya, followed by maximum extent between 27 kya and 21 kya, and limited advance after 19 kya (Chiverrell and Thomas, 2010).

In terms of the physical geography and chronology of the LGM event in eastern England, the most accessible and up to date account is provided by Bateman et al (2015) with clear summary illustrations provided by Figures 1 and 10 within that publication (pages 713 and 725).  East of the Pennines, large terminal moraines at York and Escrick, the latter approximately 7km further south of the city, denote the major standstill limits of the LGM icesheet in the Vale of York, although glacial deposits around Crowle and Epworth (North Lincolnshire) indicate that it initially surged south into the far north-west of the East Midlands for a short time, around 18.7 kya according to Bateman et al (2015).  East of York, the North Sea Basin was occupied by ice which abutted the eastern side of the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wolds, in turn blocking drainage from the Humber estuary. A significant regional programme of OSL dating has established that the North Sea ice lobe was advancing in this general area between 20.9-17.1 kya and 17.1–15.1 kya (Bateman et al 2015).  On the basis of the ice limits, it is clear that the majority of the East Midlands region lay beyond the direct impact of glacial processes within periglacial zone, but this does not mean the region was not shaped directly by those processes. The blockage of the Humber estuary by ice prevented the major rivers systems of the region, the Trent and Yorkshire Ouse, from draining into the North Sea.  In turn, this led to the formation of proglacial lakes Humber and Fenland, coeval and linked via the gap in the Jurassic escarpment at Lincoln.  Reconstructions of the limits of Lake Humber typically show it extending along the Lower Trent and its tributary valleys, thereby affecting large parts of present-day Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire (See Bateman et al 2015, 713, Figure 1), though the extent of deposits south of Gainsborough is poorly understood; Lake Fenland extended up the Ancholme Valley, along the present day Witham Valley and across adjacent areas of Lincolnshire fenland (see Murton and Murton, 2012, 134, Figure 16).     

As with earlier events, the intense cold of the LGM resulted in an apparent absence of humans with timescales ranging from at least ten millennia (Barton 2005) to possibly in the region of 18,000 years (Pettitt and White 2012). The British Upper Palaeolithic is therefore an archaeology of dispersal, colonisation and settlement of the north-west European peninsula by hunter-gathers from outside of that area. These different Upper Palaeolithic groups are described using cultural-historical terminology, with the French succession used in British prehistory since the early 20th century (Garrod 1926). To the non-specialist archaeologist these terms may seem foreign and difficult to comprehend but, notwithstanding the general issues of a culture-history and ‘block time’ approach, these established cultural terms are necessary to describe and comprehend these Europe-wide archaeological techno-complexes. The cultures are archaeological taxonomic units (sensu Gamble et al 2005) and provide the broad framework for an understanding of the north European Upper Palaeolithic and how these cultural groups moved into the British peninsula.

There is a punctuated record of settlement either side of the LGM with pulses of dispersal, local abandonment and/or extinctions followed by further recolonisation and resettlement. Some of the settlement events, especially in the Earlier Upper Palaeolithic (EUP), may have involved very few individuals such that cultural signatures of the Aurignacian and Gravettian may have been the result of a single pioneering group. It is also feasible that Upper Palaeolithic cultures known from continental neighbours e.g. Solutrean and earlier Magdalenian may have visited the British peninsula either side of the more intense cold period of the stadial but the archaeological evidence has as yet not been found or is unrecognised (Currant and Jacobi 2011; Jacobi and Higham 2011a).

9.3. The Earlier Upper Palaeolithic c.43-19 kya: Broader Context

The north European Upper Palaeolithic is traditionally viewed as the prehistory of early modern human expansion from southern Europe (ultimately from Africa via the Levant) with a rich osseous and lithic material culture, the latter a new technology of blade production (J.G.D. Clark’s Mode 4; Clark 1969). However, even this basic assumption for an equation of Upper Palaeolithic technology and early modern humans (Cro Magnons) is perhaps too simple as there are early manifestations of lithic blade production mode in north Europe that seem related to the latest Neanderthals and feasibly dating to just before the expansion of modern humans to NW Europe.

The framework presented in 2006 involved three techno-cultural traditions termed the ‘leaf point phenomenon’, the Aurignacian and the Gravettian, and these were regarded as more or less sequential with some possible overlap of leaf point industries and Aurignacian stages (McNabb 2006). The major shift in understanding for the EUP is the new chronological model proposed by the AHOB research (Jacobi et al 2010; Jacobi and Higham 2011a; Dinnis 2012). The proposed chronology is based upon a balanced reading of new dates for key EUP sites and artefacts in the UK and north-west Europe, a more informed understanding of lithic and osseous technologies and comparisons and positioning within the better known and representative north European corpus. The AHOB proposed framework comprises at least six separate settlement events, although there remain only three traditions based upon lithic typo-technology: the Leaf-point industries, Aurignacian and Gravettian.

Leaf-Point Industries – Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanovician (LRJ)

The British leaf-points have long been considered a marker of the earlier stage of the EUP and were recognised from late 19th and early 20th century excavations of cave sites including at Creswell Crags, in south-west England and Wales, as well as open sites or findspots across southern and eastern regions of England (Garrod 1926; Campbell 1977; Jacobi 1990). Leaf-points manufactured on blades were compared with Jerzmanovice point industries from Poland as well as similar finds from across northern Europe, especially the Belgian cave site of Spy which had rare evidence of Neanderthal fossils. A thorough review of the north European leaf-point industries was undertaken by Damien Flas (2008) for his doctoral research. The British evidence was also subject to review as part of the detailed analysis of the Beedings Collection, a remarkable early 20th century find of multiple leaf-points and associated lithics from a gull (fissure) on a Greensand ridge at Pulborough, Sussex (Jacobi 2007). Demonstrable technological links over the wide north European plain can be seen for both the lithic blade production scheme and their subsequent working into blade points. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that the lithic blade production technology was quite different from that seen with the Aurignacian techno-complex (based on Aurignacian cave sites on the continent).

There has been growing acceptance of the cultural term Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowecian (LRJ) for the leaf-point industries (Desbrosse and Kozlowski, 1988; Jacobi 2007; Flas 2008; Cooper et al 2011; Pettitt and White 2012), albeit those industries based upon blade technology (also referred to as blade-points by Jacobi and differentiated from bifacial leaf-points). The LRJ is an amalgam of three cultural terms reflecting its widespread north European occurrence from Britain in the west, Germany in central Europe to Poland in the east, a culture now thought to be very likely associated with final Neanderthals (Flas 2011; Jacobi and Higham 2011a). Pertinent here is the suggestion that the bifacial leaf-points are earlier than the blade-point types and may represent a link to Late Middle Palaeolithic technology (ibid).

The ‘weakest part’ of the EUP chronology proposed by AHOB was the leaf-points, as at that time the material dated consisted of ‘humanly unmodified fauna and it is only its reported context which associates it with the leaf-points’ (ibid, 216). However, the anticipated AMS dates of modified fauna associated with a blade leaf-point from Grange Farm, Glaston provided dates within GI-11 (Cooper et al 2011), thus supporting the proposed early chronology as presented by AHOB. The Glaston site, excavated in 2001 was a small open EUP station and juxtaposed, contemporary hyaena den situated on a ridgetop in Rutland. This important open site was excavated by the University of Leicester Archaeology Service (ULAS) as part of the planning process and is considered further below in the East Midlands section; given the overlap with the Late Middle Palaeolithic, it was also mentioned in Section 8.8.

The open site at Pulborough, the site of the Beedings Collection discovery, was re-visited with further exploratory excavations in 2007-8 immediately adjacent to the original discovery, targeting possible fissures revealed by geophysical survey (Pope and Wells 2008; Pope et al 2013). Late Middle Palaeolithic and Early Upper Palaeolithic lithics were recovered from fine-grained deposits within a deep fissure, and it is therefore the only stratified Late Middle-Upper Palaeolithic open-air site in Britain. It is interesting to note this use of the same Greensand ridge location by users of Late Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic technologies. There are obvious similarities with the location of the Glaston site on a ridge plateau and Pope et al (2011) propose that a Sackung process accounted for the capture and preservation of the EUP remains, much as envisaged for the Glaston site (Collcutt 2001; Cooper et al 2011).  


The Aurignacian is associated with the dispersal of early modern humans across northern Europe but in Britain there is scant evidence, limited to a few diagnostic osseous and lithic artefacts from a few cave sites in south-west England and Wales, suggesting that the British peninsula was at the north-west extremity of their known world (Jacobi and Pettitt 2000). Detailed chronological modelling for Aurignacian osseous artefact types and the famous KC4 human maxilla from Kent’s Cavern[1]  suggest two possible settlement events (Jacobi and Higham 2011a) and a much earlier Aurignacian presence in the British peninsula than hitherto suspected; the new modelled dating falls within the Greenland Interstadial 10, but as yet there are no early Aurignacian lithic type fossils to support this possible early settlement event.

Much of the British material culture evidence is comparable to an evolved Aurignacian as seen on the continent and is based upon two lithic type fossils, carinated end scrapers and beaked burins (burins busqués). Recent insights of the lithic chaîne opératoire for these artefacts, as well as a newly defined type, the Paviland burin, demonstrates that these so-called burins and scrapers, rather than tools, were instead small cores for producing bladelets/micro-blades, these almost certainly used as lithic insets in composite weaponry (Flas et al 2007; Dinnis 2008; 2012 a&b). However, the distinctive retouched bladelets seen on the continent do not occur in UK cave assemblages, very likely due to recovery and curation biases from the early cave excavations. This is a pity as such small tool types are very good chronological indicators. Thus, a field method focusing on recovery of such material would be critical in future field excavations. A Paviland burin identified in an old lithic collection from Longhole (Gower, south Wales) adds another cave with evidence for Aurignacian occupation (Dinnis 2012). There is uncertainty concerning the broader lithic technology such as blade production methods (cf Dinnis et al 2019), as in the UK these have not been distinguished from the generic Upper Palaeolithic blades in the mixed lithic cave collections. However, a methodical reconsideration of the Kent’s Cavern lithics has led to a suggestion that shouldered scrapers can probably be seen as another evolved Aurignacian tool type: very comparable scrapers also occurring at Goat Hole (Jacobi and Higham 2011a). Re-dating of the Uphill Quarry and Hyaena Den split-based osseous points has provided direct evidence for a GI-8 settlement event for which the British evolved Aurignacian may be attributed (Jacobi and Higham 2011a).


As with the Aurignacian there have been no recent Gravettian discoveries in the UK although there have been important developments re-evaluating the cultural material for the AHOB dating programme and research of Gravettian lithic technology in the UK and Belgium (where comparable but larger assemblages occur). Further dating work on the ‘Red Lady’ burial has suggested that it is older than previously considered and can be attributed to a warm period in GI-6, equating with the earliest Gravettian in a European context (cf Aldhouse-Green and Pettitt 1998; Jacobi and Higham 2008; 2011a). Beyond the trove of Paviland cave with its rich non-lithic material culture (Aldhouse-Green 2000) the identification of the UK Gravettian technology is based upon a single lithic find type of tanged points, these resembling Gravettian Font-Robert points from south-west France. There are no direct date associations with UK tanged points but a radiocarbon sequence from Maisières-Canal, Belgium falls within GI-5 (Jacobi and Higham 2011a). The dates have a good association with Maisiéres points the lithic analogues of the British tanged points (Pesesse and Flas 2012). Possible corroboration of the tanged points being Late Gravettian comes from re-dating of a bone pin or awl from Kent’s Cavern which apparently post-dates GI-5, but this may be an underestimate, and would thus probably date to GI-5 (Jacobi and Higham 2011). New dates from a human bone probably from Eel Point caves (Pembrokeshire), if correct, would fall within the cold period between GI-5 and GI-4.

9.3.1. The Earlier Upper Palaeolithic in the East Midlands

Glaston: EUP (LRJ) Activity at a Middle Devensian Open Hyaena Den

The open-air EUP site and hyena den at Glaston, Rutland was excavated in 2001 ahead of a small housing development. The project was remarkable for being undertaken as part of the planning process, albeit with significant input from an English Heritage (now Historic England) grant to support evaluation, excavation, post-excavation analysis and publication, including allowance for radiocarbon dating via AHOB (Cooper et al 2012). The Pleistocene remains were discovered towards the end of a small excavation examining mediaeval archaeology relating to the early village. Prompted by large animal bones protruding from the surface of the stripped site, within the so-called natural sands, a small trial excavation revealed a flint leaf-point and a faunal assemblage including woolly rhinoceros and wild horse. Radiocarbon dating of a single horse bone from Glaston provided an age estimate of between 44.3 and 42.5 kya. With support from English Heritage and further advise from Roger Jacobi (British Museum) and Andy Currant (Natural History Museum) the Pleistocene deposits were evaluated by test pits, with the excavation team accompanied by Simon Collcutt as project geoarchaeologist. Anne Graf, Planning Archaeologist for Leicestershire and Rutland County Council, provided encouragement and support for the project with its continuation as mitigation for the proposed development. A key message is that the success of the project was made possible by rapid recognition of the site’s potential and quick responses from the network of archaeologists and specialists.

The site was situated on the plateau of an upland ridge and was preserved in the upper section of a reworked sand, preserved by subsidence associated with a natural fault feature (Collcutt 2001). The ridge top context and preservation circumstances at Glaston are comparable to the Beedings LRJ site, in the latter case involving surface fissuring of the Greensand bedrock (Jacobi 2007; Pope and Wells 2008). At the time of occupation in the Middle Devensian the site would have comprised low Jurassic outcrops of limestone overlying softer sands, features that had attracted a clan of spotted hyaena to set up an open den, the harder limestone providing a secure covering for adjacent surface burrows. Faunal remains comprised gnawed and part-digested bone fragments, teeth and of a range of animals: mostly woolly rhinoceros but also wild horse, reindeer (antler), woolly mammoth and wolverine, all mammals of the Mammoth Steppe. In the area of the leaf-point discovery a group of wild horse bones was noteworthy for displaying spiral fractures, yet no evidence for hyaena gnawing; the fractures may reflect breakage of the bones to extract marrow, an observation also suggested for similar features observed on mammoth limb bones from Lynford quarry, Norfolk (Boismier et al 2012). The lithic remains were scant but included a leaf-point, a fragment of another, a core and some debitage. The juxtaposition of the small LRJ lithic scatter and the hyaena den might suggest that the late Neanderthals, if that is the human species associated with the leaf-point LRJ, may have targeted the den site for meat/bone acquisition: an ecological relationship as speculated by Pettitt and White (2012, 324). A similar situation may account for the LRJ evidence from Pin Hole Cave and Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags. 

Creswell Crags: Visits by Latest Neanderthals (LRJ leaf-points) and Early Modern Humans (Gravettian and possibly Aurignacian)   

The Late Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic archaeology and palaeontology of the caves at Creswell Crags have long been the research focus for the East Midlands. Indeed, for the EUP period the cave complex provides nearly all the evidence for the region. There are blade leaf-points reported from two of the caves on the Derbyshire side of the Crags: Pin Hole with a single example and Robin Hood Cave with at least ten examples, and another three possible examples (Jacobi 2007; Jacobi and Higham 2011). The Robin Hood Cave finds were all made in the excavations of 1875-76 in the Western Chamber but unfortunately there is little useful contextual information. The Pin Hole find was made in the early 20th century excavations by Armstrong and it has only a general provenance. Jacobi (2007) was cautious about associating the leaf-points with dated fauna and the rich Late Middle Palaeolithic deposits from the caves. However, the presence of a rare fully bifacial leaf-point at Robin Hood Cave may provide a tenuous link between the LMP and EUP archaeology at the Crags, while some of the dates of fauna from Pin Hole is in a similar time range for the dated fauna from Glaston.

Two tanged points from Pin Hole provide the only evidence for a presumably brief Gravettian presence at the site. Sufficient details from Armstrong’s records allow these to be plotted in two dimensions (vertically and distance from the cave entrance along the narrow cave) and they are positioned beneath Late Upper Palaeolithic (LUP) finds (Jacobi 2007). Pin Hole provides a rich faunal collection that is beneath LUP occupation levels, although detailed stratigraphy is not recorded. This assemblage provides the radiocarbon dated fauna for the Pin Hole Mammal Assemblage Zone (MAZ), Pin Hole being the type site for the British fauna of MIS3 (Currant and Jacobi 2011). There are radiocarbon dates that fall within the expected range of Gravettian occupation but little more can be said other than there is a presence of Gravettian peoples at this northerly latitude.

There is no lithic type fossil evidence for an Aurignacian presence at the Crags but there is a single osseous artefact, a ringed and snapped reindeer antler that has produced a radiocarbon date that falls within the period where an evolved Aurignacian presence has been found in the UK (Jacobi and Higham 2011). This presents an intriguing possibility that there is northerly dispersal of the Aurignacian away from the Channel river cluster of sites in Wales and south-west England. Of course, this may reflect just a brief scouting venture by a small group as might be envisaged for the presence in North Wales at Ffynnon Beuno cave (Aldhouse-Green et al 2015).

Given the thorough reviews of EUP lithic technology in the UK, particularly those more recently by Roger Jacobi and Rob Dinnis (see Dinnis, 2015), it seems unlikely that the old collections from Creswell Crags can be studied much further for insights into the period. However, further data collection at Creswell Crags (and other caves in the East Midlands) may produce further evidence. This might include not only new investigations of cave sites, but also in other more open situations in the area, and even the excavation of the older spoil heap screes has been shown to yield missed evidence from earlier

The palaeoenvironmental evidence for the EUP was considered in Section 8.8 and will not be revisited here. Suffice to say that the majority of the known record comes from organic-rich sedimentary sequences preserved within the low terraces of river valleys (e.g. palaeochannels and backswamp areas of floodplain). As with the archaeological record, undisturbed sequences within previously investigated cave sites are likely to be extremely rare.  The greatest potential for identifying well-preserved, in situ cave sediments capable of yielding high quality geoarchaeological records are either from deep within known cave systems or from newly identified sites; certainly, archaeologists should remain vigilant given the continued quarrying around Creswell, where other geological contexts create for caves and/or rockshelters, for example, the sandstone bluffs of Nottinghamshire.   

9.4. The Later Upper Palaeolithic – Broader Context

The Later Upper Palaeolithic period encompasses the Late Glacial recolonisation and settlement of the British peninsula during the Lake Windermere Interstadial (GI 1), and the latter part of the Loch Lomond Stadial/Younger Dryas (GS1), and into the very early Holocene. Traditionally the period has been split into two broad periods, the Late Upper Palaeolithic (LUP) which equates to the Creswellian and the Final Upper Palaeolithic (FUP) which comprises the Federmesser/Azilian tradition and the ‘long blade’ industries (Barton 2007). More recently the long blade industries have been assigned to the Terminal Palaeolithic (Cooper 2006; Jacobi and Higham 2011b) or Terminal Upper Palaeolithic (TUP) and attributed to the Epi-Ahrensburgian cultural grouping (Johansen and Stapert 2000). There is also a fourth technological tradition of the Hengistbury Head or straight-backed blade assemblage types that are likely to have been from the LUP-FUP transition and these have close analogues to Early Federmesser/Azilian assemblages known from northern France. However, it has also been suggested that the Hengistbury Head LUP site is an outlier of the Hamburgian culture (Pettitt and White 2012).

Creswellian (LUP)

For the Late Upper Palaeolithic there has been some shifting in the usage of the term ‘Creswellian’, a term coined by Garrod (1926) to describe a ‘semi-independent facies’ of the Late Magdalenian in the UK. The AHOB preferred cultural term has been Late/Final Magdalenian, emphasising the parent techno-complex for the pioneer groups moving into the British peninsula (following Pettitt 2008). A case has also been made for retention of the term Creswellian as it is a long-standing archaeological taxonomic unit that usefully describes a distinct avatar of an evolving Late or Final Magdalenian (Cooper 2012; Jones and Cooper 2013). Indeed, the Creswellian may well be a transitional manifestation of a wider north European process of Azilianization – the Magdalenian to Azilian techno-complex evolution (Valentin 2008; references in Cooper 2012).  On the European continent, the Creswellian includes rich assemblages of bone/antler working, which to some degree is observed in UK cave deposits; however, the recovery of worked faunal material across open air sites has been lacking. In some instances, such as across parts of the East Midlands, the acidic soil conditions of the underlying geology reduce preservation, but this cannot be the case across areas underlain by calcareous bedrock associated superficial geologies.   

Two significant reviews of the Creswellian have been undertaken by Barton et al (2003) and by Jacobi (2004) with a landmark study of the Gough’s Cave material culture. The Gough’s study also summarised the archaeology and technology of the five ‘clean’ Creswellian cave assemblages (Barton et al 2003).

The lithic type fossil of the Creswellian remains the trapezoidal point (Cheddar point, asymmetrical converging truncations with straight retouch along the shorter edge). Other angle-backed pieces in Creswellian collections are Creswell points and curve and angle backed points – both can be seen as a variant of Cheddar points, having similar (sub-)trapezoidal silhouettes. These are not knives but are, as originally envisaged, lithic armatures; Rots et al (2002) demonstrate that they were employed as lithic tips and side barbs.  Creswellian tools also include: scrapers on end-of-blade, sometimes with additional lateral retouch; burins usually on truncated blades; piercers/becs (the former usually small-medium sized blades with converging retouch to form a sharp point, the latter comprising larger pieces with converging retouch, usually on long, stout blades with blunt noses formed by longitudinal laminar removals); pieces with rounded or rubbed ends, especially a distinctive form with alternate lateral retouch.

The open air sites of Bradgate Park, Leicestershire, Farndon, Nottinghamshire and Wey Manor Farm, Surrey have added further technological understanding to the Creswellian database. Bradgate Park and Farndon will be described further in the review of the East Midlands record; Wey Manor Farm site was a small in situ nucleated lithic scatter site investigated by the Surrey Archaeological Unit (Jones and Cooper 2013), which presented convincing evidence for it being a kill site based upon its lithic tool component: several projectile points and a preponderance of large, utilized blades (Cooper 2012).

Recent trace element analysis of lithic material from Bradgate Park, Farndon and Wey Manor Farm has sought to identify flint sources (Pettitt et al 2012).  Whilst the results are considered preliminary, the most important flint resources appear to be the Lincolnshire Wolds for Farndon, East Anglia for Bradgate Park and Salisbury Plain for Wey  Manor Farm.

Beyond the British peninsula, there has been recognition of Creswellian technology in Belgium and the Low countries (Barton et al 2003; Jacobi 2004). The Zeijen site is noteworthy as a rare site with convincing evidence of a tent structure in the form of a ring of stones (Stapert and Johansen 2001). The site assemblage has a rich array of (abruptly modified) backed points including Cheddar and Creswell points. There has been some speculation that these eastern sites may have been early and indicative of the origins of the Creswellian. However, as yet, none of these sites are supported by absolute dates.

In the UK, portable art dating to this period has been known about and studied for several decades, but it was not until 2003 that the first engravings were discovered on the walls of Church Hole cave, Creswell Crags; given the timing of their discovery, these engravings were briefly alluded to by McNabb (2006) and now that they have been analysed fully, they will be described further in the discussion of the East Midlands.  Despite further searches beyond Creswell, the evidence from that site, including within other caves around the complex, remained the sole evidence from the UK for several more years; however, in 2010, a reindeer was found engraved on the wall of Cathole Cave on the Gower, south Wales (Nash, ***[U1] *).

There has been considerable work on the Late Upper Palaeolithic chronology, again as part of the wider AHOB programme with resulting landmark papers (Jacobi and Higham 2009; 2011). As with the EUP programme the re-dating of many artefacts has produced older dates than previous estimates. The major repercussion for the LUP have been a longer chronology extending across the entire Bølling chronozone and with the earliest resettlement being immediately prior to the start of the warming of Greenland Interstadial (GI-1).  The earliest radiocarbon dates are from south-west Britain (Sun Hole and Soldiers Hole in Cheddar Gorge) whereas the dates from Creswell Crags are some decades or more later. Given this geographic patterning, albeit from a limited number of sites, might this indicate the initial pioneer occupations in southern Britain from the Channel river corridor (or even crossing it) rather than the eastwards spread across Doggerland into the British Peninsula? Whatever the explanation, this extended chronology suggests a more successful settlement event than previously envisaged.

Hengistbury Head (Straight-backed blade) type sites (FUP)

Two further open sites of this type have been investigated as part of the development control process and both are fully published: Nea Farm, Somerley, Hampshire (Barton et al 2009) and La Sagesse, Romsey, Hampshire (Conneller and Ellis 2007). These affirm the southern focus of such sites. The Nea Farm assemblage includes blade(s) with concave end retouch and flat retouch, the latter seen as a lithic chrono-type (knives with flat retouch); both have been identified at Hengistbury Head and several other cave sites in UK, including Kent’s Cavern and Creswell Crags where they are described as Magdalenian retouch.  Neither Nea Farm nor La Sagesse have been radiocarbon dated but close comparisons have been made to similar sites in northern France which are placed in the late Bølling chronozone and are seen as some of the earliest manifestations of the Azilian (or earliest Federmesser group; see Pettitt and White, 2012).  

Early Azilian / Federmesser group (FUP)

Earliest Federmesser/Azilian lithic types are seen in cave assemblages by the appearance of curve-backed bipoints. An intuitive association, based upon the better dated French sequence, has been made with such bipoints and the Late Bølling dates produced by the AHOB programme, for example at Gough’s Cave (Jacobi 2004); the lack of penknife points at Gough’s Cave is used as supporting evidence of these being later Federmesser/Azilian (Jacobi 2004; Jacobi and Higham 2011).

A recent excavated site, Guildford Fire Station, Surrey has been proposed as Early Federmesser on the basis of a large bipoint and its blade technology: well executed but lacking elaborate en eperon core preparation. Interestingly, the site is in the same stetch of river valley as the Wey Manor Farm site which was attributed to the Creswellian, although a single large projectile had some resemblance to such a bipoint (Jones and Cooper 2013). Alison Roberts has been studying the Fire Station site and has made a comparative study with the Wey Manor Farm assemblage and the results are eagerly anticipated.   

Across the near continent (e.g. Belgium and the Netherlands) the emergence of concave-shouldered ‘Hamburgian’ points marks a change in lithic assemblages.  The shoulder-points appear to mark an earlier phase, apparent from south-east Germany to the Netherlands; a later phase is denoted by tanged  Havelte points found between Denmark and the Netherlands.  In contrast, the evidence for a British equivalent is less forthcoming, though Pettitt has suggested possible Hamburgian expansion at end of Bølling/Older Dryas and shouldered points are recorded from Hengistbury Head and Creswell Crags.

Later Federmesser/Azilian (FUP)             

During the Allerød, lithics characterised by curve-backed point assemblages with monopoints, including the British Penknife point type are recognised.  Most probably originating in south-west France, they are first associated with the last surviving reindeer populations.  Across England, these assemblages although sparse are relatively well-known from both open air and cave sites (Pettitt and White 2012, 481, Figure 8.17) and evenly distributed, though there appears to be a dearth of evidence from the Midlands around the valleys of the Severn and the Trent.  In the last decade, an assemblage of curved-back points have also been recognised in near Oban in Scotland, making it the most northern known assemblage.   

Epi-Ahrensburgian…Terminal Palaeolithic – ‘Long blade’/’Bruised blade’ industries.

Straddling the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary long blade/bruised blade assemblages from this period have been published from important sites at Three Ways Wharf, Uxbridge, west London (Lewis and Rackham 2011) and Launde, Leicestershire (Cooper 2006). These assemblages have continental links to Epi-Ahrensburgian material from the Low Countries (Stapert and Johansen 2001; Cooper 2006)

These sites often have abundant blades but with very few formal tools, a situation also encountered with analogous sites in France; this has led to the suggestion that these sites should be viewed as workshops where the objective was the production of long blades with their export to other activity sites, however, recent technological and use wear work on some French assemblages show that there can be a more nuanced chaine operatoire.

The lithic technology is distinctive with giant and long blades being definitive if around 150mm+ & 120mm+ in size, though these proportions may not always be achieved.  Opposed platform core technology and soft stone percussion is predominant; there is also a high frequency of faceting/core preparation on straight, rectilinear blades.  Projectile technology [U2] microlithic points (obliquely truncated, Zonhoven type), straight backed bladelets, and rarely small tanged points (Ahrensburgian points), scrapers, end on long flakes and a few burins are also recorded.  There is also an increasing recognition that much of debitage could be used.

9.4.1. The East Midlands during the  Later Upper Palaeolithic   

Creswell Crags: cave occupations of Creswellian (LUP) and Federmesser group (FUP)

Creswell Crags, the ‘jewel (albeit a tarnished one) in the crown’ (McNabb 2006, 40), remains a focus for study in the region following the discovery of the cave art at Church Hole and the establishment of the new museum and study centre on the site. The entrances of Church Hole and Robin Hood cave were investigated by exploratory trenches as part of the Sheffield University archaeological field school (Pettitt et al ****). The major discovery of a new cave, ‘the Crypt’, directly beneath the Church Hole demonstrated the potential for the Crags to reveal more Upper Palaeolithic evidence. The cave art and the fieldwork provided an impetus for a fresh synthesis of the Crags archaeology (Jacobi and Pettit ****; other refs) and this in turn informed the research aims and objectives of the AHOB project with the Crags having a major contribution towards the revised LUP radiocarbon chronology, particularly the timing of the Late Glacial recolonisation of Britain (Jacobi and Higham 2009; 2011). Comparison with dates from the cave sites in south-west England demonstrated that the East Midlands cave sites were occupied at a slightly later date, and also that late Magdelenian/Creswellian technology had a longer time span than previously thought.

Farndon: Late Magdalenian (Creswellian) and early Federmesser group activity on the valley floor

The open-air site at Farndon fields near Newark, Nottinghamshire was first recognised following the recovery in 1991-92 of nine LUP flint artefacts by fieldwalking ahead of the proposed upgrade of the Fosse Way (A46). The site lies on a gravel terrace in the confluence zone of the rivers Devon and Trent and is c.35km south-west of Creswell Crags.

Subsequent fieldwalking survey and test pitting survey established that the site comprised two artefact clusters within an area totalling c. 15 ha in extent (Garton and Jacobi 2009). Subsequent mitigation work during the construction of the road was confined to small areas of excavation of the flanking road ditches while the main carriageway was built over the not entirely undisturbed site (Cotswold Archaeology 2011). In an area of alluvium where flint hadn’t been recovered by fieldwalking, two small, discrete knapping clusters were identified, one of the expected Creswellian technology and the other a later Federmesser flint-working zone (Grant and Harding 2014). While subsequent fieldwalking survey has produced further Federmesser stage evidence it would appear that much of the evidence is for Creswellian occupation (Garton et al 2015; other references).  Test-pitting in 2015-16 identified extensive buried deposits of Late Glacial age (dated by OSL), with high potential for the recovery of further LUP activities (Garton et al 2020). Frustratingly, even though lithic scatters such as those recognised at Farndon deemed as of ‘national importance’ in the literature of Historic England, the quirks of the Ancient Monument Act, which can be used to formally designate other site types as National Monuments, does not currently allow such sites formal recognition.

The flint scatter is multi-period comprising LUP artefacts and later prehistoric flintwork. The LUP component was identified by LUP tool types, blade technology and the use of differential patina: much of the LUP material had surfaces that had patinated to a blue-white colour contrasting with later artefacts which were unpatinated. Such differential patination occurs across much of the East Midlands and with care it can be a useful rule of thumb in disentangling multi-period sites (Cooper 2004). The scatter also had a small tool component with scrapers being the predominant type followed by burins and becs/piercers. There were very few abruptly modified (backed) pieces contrasting with the cave collections which tend to be rich in such projectile components (e.g. Cheddar points). The range of tools would seem to indicate that processing of animal hides, antler and bone were the principal activities on the floodplain (Jacobi and Garton 2009). By analogy of the Wey Manor Farm assemblage (Jones and Cooper 2013), the high frequency of blades and many utilised pieces, also mainly blades, indicates that butchery probably took place at the site, despite the lack of direct hunting evidence in the form of projectile points.

The site overview included the proposition of an attractive model for understanding the site within the wider network of the Creswell cave occupation and with other open sites such as Bradgate Park forming a part of the annual round of the hunter-gatherers in the region and possibly further afield (Jacobi and Garton 2009, 32-36). Recent trace element analyses of flint assemblage from Farndon, 

Bradgate Park: A Creswellian open site

In 2001 and 2002, a large group of flints were recovered from an eroding footpath at Newton Linford, in the environs of the Bradgate Park Estate and part of the Leicestershire uplands.  This material was published by (Cooper 2012), whilst the results of further excavations in 2014-16 are being prepared for publication.

 The published assemblage is deemed of Creswellian character having both trapezoidal Cheddar points and occasional usage of the en éperon technique in the preparation of core platforms for debitage. Evidence for the use of soft stone percussion is particularly noteworthy since the technique has not previously reported for the Creswellian, together with the use of opposed platform core technology. The assemblage suggests that the site appears to also be related to hunting in terms of gearing up activities (weapon maintenance and re-tooling) and processing of skins and osseous material.

The three major Cresswellian sites described above indicate occupation of both open air and cave environments, spanning upland to lowland contexts with hunters probably pursuing game across the landscape; both Cresswell and Bradgate Park are intimately associated with gorges providing opportunities for game to be funnelled into kill sites.  However, recent watching briefs associated with the expansion of Whitwell quarrying around Creswell has found no evidence for coeval activity beyond the gorge (Parker et al 2012; Parker and Knight 2013); this does beg the question as to how much these communities moved beyond the immediate site and returns to questions of the need to move beyond very specific, resource rich locations.

Launde: Terminal Palaeolithic ‘long blade’ upland campsite

A nucleated lithic scatter site was discovered in 1996 during routine trial trenching along the Wing-Whatborough pipeline corridor traversing a ridge plateau of (High) Leicestershire (Cooper 2006). Large patinated flint blades and flakes were spotted on a spoil heap evidently removed by machine excavation from the surface of the Oadby glacial till, directly beneath a thin topsoil. Prompt reporting by the field supervisor allowed for its recognition as Upper Palaeolithic and for rapid adjustments to the Written Scheme of Investigation methodology. A test-pitting survey comprised square metre evaluation pits at 5 m interval, excavated with 3D recording of artefacts on the assumption of the flint representing a likely in situ Upper Palaeolithic site.

The lithic scatter represents the hearthside activities of a short-term campsite used by a small hunting group with evidence for some provisioning of flint and the on-site production of large and small blades as well as bladelets, the latter to produce small microliths. Hearth position was discerned from the nucleation of burnt lithics, the only evidence for an ‘invisible hearth’ (Sergeant et al ****).

10. Recognising, Predicting, Prospecting and Examining Upper Palaeolithic Sites

Whilst locating entirely new cave sites with Upper Palaeolithic evidence is unlikely – though the discovery of ‘the Crypt’ beneath Church Hole in the 2000s shows even this aim might be achieved, there is still potential for targeted sampling in most of the Creswell caves where remnant deposits remain. As well as standard set-piece cave excavation, new techniques might be applied to any deposits, for example, the application of palaeogenomic analyses, isotopic and trace element analysis of provenanced animal bone and lithics, further environmental sampling, including searching for tephra. Archaeologists from the University of Sheffield have recently undertaken an inventory of all the caves and in the summer of 2022, they plan to begin targeted test excavations, all tied together using 3D mapping software. The initial investigations will be focused on test pits outside cave entrances, and in ‘non-cave’ areas in and around the Gorge.   As well as excavation, a number of useful research projects have been identified that could focus on the existing collections, for example, further work to identify source locations/ similarities with artefacts from other known cave or open sites.

Whilst the potential of cave studies may be limited and tightly geographically focused, the advancement of Upper Palaeolithic studies will most feasibly be achieved through the location of new open-air sites and findspots. The growing number of newly discovered sites in the UK is still some way off the situation on the continent where Upper Palaeolithic site prospection, evaluation and excavation has become commonplace within development control measures. Finding such sites in the UK and investigating them in meaningful ways requires some loosening of the methodological constraints of modern commercial activity. Trial trenching and ‘strip, map and sample’ strategies are not favourable for the discovery of very localised upper Palaeolithic lithic scatters, often only 3m to 5m across. Further prospection for new sites and evaluation of methods is a stated aim of the updated East Midlands Research Agenda (RO 1D, Knight et al 2012, 29), but how is this to be achieved?


Lithic finds and recognition of their Upper Palaeolithic typo-technological signatures are key to finding and identifying new sites. While the intricacies of Upper Palaeolithic lithics might seem difficult, and their analysis the preserve of period specialists, their broad recognition can be achieved. Most field archaeologists have a working knowledge of prehistoric lithics (one would hope!) whereby there is wide recognition of later prehistoric formal tool types such as Neolithic and Bronze Age arrowheads and certain forms of scraper. There should be encouragement for recognition of typical Upper Palaeolithic blade tool forms such as end scrpapers, burins, piercers/becs and the various ‘projectile’ types – all abruptly modified, backed pieces with variously shaped angle-and curve-backed forms. However, while these are diagnostic to each tradition e.g. Cheddar points, Federmesser points etc., it is the recognition of abrupt backing that is important, not the exactitude of typological form. The characteristics of UP blade technology is also not difficult to recognise. Many of the UP open sites were discovered by non-specialist archaeological practitioners, recognising something slightly ‘different’ to certain lithic finds. Often such material is recognised by the larger size of blades and blade cores (the Terminal Upper Palaeolithic ‘long blades’ being an obvious example), the ’textbook’ prismatic blade quality (parallel ridges) and the presence of differential patina. Taphonomic conditions prevalent in many East Midlands soils and superficial deposits (and presumably their temporal change from basic to acidic) can lead to age-related patina where earlier lithics stand out due to their surface patina when compared to later prehistoric lithics. This rule of thumb is very useful in distinguishing earlier pieces in mixed assemblages as might occur with surface scatters or sites with Stone Age palimpsests. However, it should be noted that there are exceptions – the acidic soils of Charnwood meant that the Bradgate Park Creswellian material is not patinated. Given the Wiki format of this document it is hoped that photographs of Upper Palaeolithic tools and debitage from East Midlands sites can be posted as a lithics resource.


The use of this traditional prospection technique has fallen out of favour and fashion in commercial archaeology despite the past successes of field surface collection in not only finding prehistoric lithic scatters but archaeology of later periods. Some community archaeological groups and lone collectors continue to traipse over lowland ploughed fields and erosional outcrops in upland areas, but there is not always full and proper reporting of finds. Relationships between curatorial archaeologists, consultants, commercial practitioners and community groups must be reinvigorated to champion such techniques. Furthermore, a more systematic approach, working with farmers/landowners to schedule activities at appropriate times in the planting/ harvesting cycle would allow a more complete and coherent understanding of archaeology presence and distribution in such areas.  It would also be relevant to develop a strategy to prioritise areas for fieldwalking in relation to known cave sites or limestone outcrops, open areas with known sites or finds etc.

‘Residual’ Lithics

There are very likely huge quantities of residual worked lithics recovered during fieldwork on later prehistoric, Romano-British and medieval sites during commercial development control investigations. There is an unfortunate relegation of such finds as unworthy of study as they are not ‘stratified’, but this is a research folly. These secondary contexts are invariably just reworking of very localised deposits and sometimes can even be equated with extant stratified horizons. There are several Upper Palaeolithic (and Mesolithic) sites that have been recognised by the keen eyes of field staff while digging out features of later periods. Occasionally, this recognition during site investigations can allow adjustment to the objectives of the written scheme of investigations (WSIs), allowing discovery of sites of national significance. Even if this is not the case, the reporting of residual finds can be a proxy for field survey, revealing former stratified sites; if such findspots were added as a GIS layer to HER databases, it would enable developing spatial patterns to be identified and, if appropriate, investigated further.

A recent discovery of an EUP leaf-point during the excavation of a later prehistoric and Romano-British site at Pineham, Northants by ULAS highlights the potential of residual Palaeolithic finds in developer-led investigations. Given the decline in fieldwalking as a prospection tool the analysis of residual lithics may be the only option available for sampling and opportune discovery of rare Upper Palaeolithic lithics. It should be noted that serendipitous discovery has occurred with several Upper Palaeolithic sites in recent years e.g. the EUP sites of Glaston and at Heathrow (Lewis 2015) and, of course, more so for the LUP.  Knowing when and who to ask for help is particularly important and being able to plug into appropriate networks of specialists is very valuable.

Landscape zones

The distribution of known cave and open sites might suggest targeting alluvial plains including confluence zones, upland interfluves with wide aspects such as promontories, gorges and geographical gaps, and especially areas with high ecotonal contrasts. Valuable results have also been produced from wetlands, including kettle holes and other former lake basins (for the latter see the example of Gotham Moor highlighted by Baker, 2021).  In this respect, it is essential to not only look at contemporary landforms, but to have a good understanding of palaeogeography.  For example, Lake Humber and Fenland were significant features within the Late Devensian landscape and although they have drained before humans returned to mainland Britain, it is likely that they remained substantial, extensive regional wetlands within the landscape; not only would this these wetlands have afforded opportunities in terms of food resources, perhaps even materials to construct shelters, they would also have afforded considerable challenges to movement.

Alluvial zones can be one of the areas of highest potential, not only for their prime location but as high potential for sites with excellent stratigraphic resolution. Low energy sedimentation can preserve microstratigraphic precision, separating superimposition of activity phases, sometimes even seasonal visits (French ****), though it should be recognised that spatially, these sequences ca be diachronous, as at Farndon (Garton et al 2015, 108).

Evaluation and Excavation Methodology

As note earlier, trial trenching and ‘strip, map and sample’ strategies are not favourable for the discovery of very localised upper Palaeolithic lithic scatters, often only 3m to 5 m across.  Hand excavation of test pits, augmented by sieving, needs to be given a much higher priority in ‘standard’ prospection and evaluation methodologies. Such approaches are invariably more costly than other methodologies, both in terms of time on site and human resources, which have direct impacts on cost.  Therefore, there is a need to manage the expectations of both clients and their consultants and to communicate clearly and effectively as to why such approaches are required.

At any site, the sampling strategy should be securely underpinned by an understanding of landscape evolution, landform assemblages and past and contemporary geological processes; for example, such sites will not be found near the surface in areas that have undergone significant postglacial alluviation and colluviation.  The interpretations of superficial geology provided by British Geological Survey mapping should always be recognised as a guide and model to be tested through fieldwork, and not as a definitive product (Smith 2009).

As well as sampling strategies being underpinned by fieldwalking, the development of rapid, cart-mounted geophysical survey techniques and rapid geochemical sampling using Portable XRF may provide opportunities to identify hearths and other features associated with controlled burning within the landscape.

Establishing robust chronologies is critical for this timeframe, but given the antiquity of sites, there is the potential for significant disturbance and mixing of sediments coeval with the lithic material and later deposits.  Investigations at Farndon demonstrate that the analysis of single grains using OSL can help to refine the timing of activity on sites (Garton et al 2020, 12).

[1] The Trent Valley Palaeolithic Project (TVPP) aimed to investigate and refine the chronology and depositional history of the Trent terrace sequence through a combination of palaeoenvironmental investigations (pollen, insects, molluscs and vertebrate remains) linked to a programme of absolute dating (OSL and AAR). In turn, this information would be used to construct a revised terrace framework for the region against which the existing Palaeolithic record could be reviewed.

[2] A useful summary of Mode technologies is provided in Wymer (1999, 6-12).

[3] Channel lag deposits are found at the base of newly active channels and reflect sedimentation of coarse material early in the depositional cycle.

[4] The model established by Rose (2009) provides the most-readily accepted palaeogeographic and chronological framework for the age and development of the Bytham River system, envisaging a pre-Anglian river draining across the Midlands and central East Anglia to the North Sea (i.e. prior to MIS 12). However, an alternative chronological and palaeogeographic model has been put forward by Gibbard et al (2013) and Gibbard and West (2020); this model envisages the Bytham Valley as considerably younger and intimately associated with glaciation during MIS 6. The model of Gibbard et al (2013) also proposes that the river did not cross the Fen Basin into central East Anglia but instead headed eastwards from Melton Mowbray towards Castle Bytham, subsequently turning north-east past Spalding and into the southern North Sea Basin via the Silver Pit depression.  Gibbard et al (2013) argue that a forerunner of the Trent was responsible for depositing across central East Anglia the sands and gravels which are attributed generally to the Bytham River.  The two competing models have created significant debate amongst Quaternary geologists. The more generally accepted view is that of Rose (2009) and readers are referred to Bridgland et al (2014) for an expanded discussion.  On the basis of their model and interpretations of the Warren Hill and High Lodge sites, Gibbard et al (2019) argue that Happisburgh 1 post-dates the Anglian glaciation, although such views are refuted by Lewis et al (2019b). For the sake of clarity, the hypothesis that the Bytham is pre-Anglian is adopted in this research framework. It is important, however, that the reader be aware of alternative viewpoints. It is not the role of this research framework to argue definitely for either model, but rather to inform the non-specialist reader that there are differences of opinion and that these contrasting points of view colour the discussion and interpretations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic records.  This framework can contribute to the debate by developing research questions which may provide supporting evidence either way: for example, by identifying potential pre-Anglian ‘Bytham’ sediments and/or archaeology in the vicinity of the Ancaster Gap (Lincolnshire) or by identifying post-Anglian deposits and/or Palaeolithic archaeological remains between Castle Bytham and Spalding.

[5] Whilst Rice (1991) provides a schematic of key boreholes as metres AOD, Coope (2006) refers to the samples as metres below ground level.  It is beyond the scope of this review to reconcile such discrepancies and to correlate deposits, but it is hoped that the information to do so is available in BGS archives.

[6] At the time of writing, Matt Beamish of ULAS has indicated that some organic remains sampled towards the very end of open section monitoring have yielded promising results during pollen assessment; however, these findings are at a very early stage of investigation and further information cannot yet be provided.

[7] Electron spin resonance (ESR) dating has been undertaken on quartz-rich sediment units sampled beneath the Anglian tills at Brooksby Quarry, as part of an Anglo-French programme targeting early Acheulian sites (Voinchet et al 2015). Unfortunately, in contrast to all the other localities investigated, the results from Brooksby proved extremely variable, ranging from 710 ± 64 kya (MIS 18) to 294 ± 36 kya (MIS 8).  This age range for Brooksby is not supported by any other line of evidence and hence the results must be considered unreliable.

[8] The lower part of the gravel sequence was deposited by the Thames prior to ice encroachment; this led to the ponding of waters and deposition of the upper part of the Winter Hill sequence as prograding deltaic sediments (Gibbard 1999).

[9] The Bytham system and all its tributaries were destroyed and buried under Anglian glacial sediments. The Thames was pushed further south into its current valley, though in its lower reaches it flowed north of its present estuary joining the North Sea in the vicinity of Clacton. With respect to the East Midlands, the Trent became established in its middle reaches around Derby and Nottingham, though at Newark it flowed across Lincolnshire to the North Sea rather than via the Humber Estuary (the latter a much more recent Late Devensian course). The Nene was also established as a major Fenland river.

[10] It is generally considered that the catastrophic drainage of the North Sea basin during the Late Anglian led to the creation of the Straits of Dover and the subsequent diversion of the River Thames and River Scheldt south through this bedrock gorge.  However, the lowest reaches of the Thames may still have had connections to the Rhine as sea level during this period fluctuated – as evidenced by the ‘Rhenish’ mollusc fauna in MIS 11 deposits at Clacton and Swanscombe (see Bridgland 2006).  More generally, the Rivers Rhine and Meuse appear to have re-established courses to the north-west, leaving a watershed between the drainage basins in the Southern Bight.

[11] The sequence is dated using a combination of biostratigraphy, U-series dating, aminostratigraphy and thermoluminescence. OSL was also used at the site, but produced much younger dates that the other methodologies whose results were in broad agreement.

[12] At Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Spain), the controlled use of fire associated with charred and calcined bone and thermally altered chert has been identified around 800,000 years ago, but this is not within a context interpreted as a hearth (see Walker et al 2016).

[13] No evidence for clothing or shelter has been found at Beeches pit.

[14] The biostratigraphic evidence from Hackney is the primary basis for its age assignment since geochronological analyses proved inclusive (Green et al 2006).

[15] The analyses also included morphometric measurements of MIS 13 assemblages from Boxgrove and High Lodge, with hand-axe from each stage shown to be different.

[16] One of the hand axes and the retouched flake were recovered from the quarry spoil heap.

[17] The sequence from Welton Le Wold and the associated archaeological and fossiliferous remains were reassessed as part of an ALSF project undertaken by Heritage Lincolnshire (Aram et al 2004). However, Straw (2015) suggests that key points of the report are inaccurate with respect to the original records.

[18] Straw (2015) suggests attribution to the Purfleet interglacial as opposed to earlier temperate stages since the gravels are considered local mass movement deposits; the hand-axes are in relatively good condition and hence it is considered that they have neither moved too far nor been recycled through several glacial-interglacial cycles.

[19] Bee (2001) recorded seven hand-axes from the Lymn valley including an ovate form with a sight twist.  All were from secondary contexts.

[20] The Hilton Terrace was divided by some workers into upper and lower facets and hence the chronological span (see Howard et al 2007).

[21] The project aimed to investigate and refine the chronology and depositional history of the post-Anglian terrace sequence through a combination of absolute dating (OSL and AAR) and palaeoenvironmental analyses (pollen, insects, molluscs and vertebrate remains); in turn, this information would allow the construction of a new terrace framework for the interpretation of the Palaeolithic record. The geological aspects of the project built upon the investigations of Brandon and Sumbler (1988, 1992) who investigated the ancestral terrace deposits of the Trent, north-east of Newark and through the Lincoln Gap along the present day Witham valley; their earlier work established a revised chronological and stratigraphical framework for the deposits, which was more complex than the established model of the Hilton, Beeston and Floodplain Terraces (see Howard et al 2007).

[22] There is some support for early Devensian glaciation, which will be explored in due course.

[23] Low sea levels during MIS 7 and the severing of the connecting land-bridge during MIS 6 is supported by mammalian evidence from MIS 7 Sites (Candy and Schreve 2007).

[24] A doline is a circular hollow found in limestone (karst) areas caused by the collapse of the bedrock in response to solutional processes.

[25] The Hilton Terrace was divided by some workers into two facets, the Upper and Lower Hilton terraces:  hence the extended date range.  The Beeston Terrace is underlain by organic-rich sediments attributed to the Ipswichian Interglacial and hence is a composite unit that may extend back into MIS 5e.

[26] Professor Straw has long been a proponent of the idea of Early Devensian glaciation during MIS 4; he suggests that the evidence is reflected in the contrasting freshness of landforms and sediments across surfaces normally considered a product of Late Devensian glaciation during MIS 2. Useful reviews of the evidence for Early Devensian glaciation in Britain are provided by Worsley (1991) and Straw (2019).

[27] Biostratigraphically important mammalian taxa for the Ipswichian includes the presence of Straight-tusked elephant, Narrow-nosed rhinoceros, Brown bear, Spotted hyaena, Fallow deer, Hippopotamus; horses were absent (Schreve 2001). Until recently, the last interglacial marked the first appearance of Hippopotamus in Britain and whilst this is certainly the case for most of the Pleistocene, a recent paper by Adams et al (2022) has identified remains from Westbury-sub-Mendip (Somerset), attributable to MIS 31 (approximately 1.5-1.07 mya).

[28] The Immingham Channel forms part of a wider complex of coastal landforms, including the buried cliff-line extending from Sewerby in East Yorkshire to Louth in Lincolnshire (McNabb 2006).

[29] Currently, sea levels are envisaged to be around 75m below present day levels during MIS 4.

[30] Unfortunately, since these events are beyond the limits of radiocarbon dating, constraining their precise age continues to prove challenging; for example, thermoluminescence dating of the Chelford deposits places the interstadial around 90-100 ka (Rendell et al 1991) but this was an early application of a technique that has been replaced by the development of OSL.

[31] Various suggestions have been made for the absence of tree cover, including generally humic- and nutrient-poor soils and dryness of climate.

[32] The point made by McNabb (2006) that some archaeologists prefer to subsume bout coupé artefacts into a broader umbrella group of triangular/sub-triangular hand-axes recognised on the basis of specific stratigraphic and chronological contexts still remains.

[33] As noted by McNabb (2006), evidence for earlier occupation inside caves is non-existent though material culture from earlier periods has been found immediate outside of caves. Whether this is a real pattern or reflects taphonomic processes remains a point of conjecture.

[34] In total, the assemblage comprised 2,720 lithic pieces.

[35] The bout coupé artefacts from Risby Warren and Dunston are less certain examples according to McNabb (2006).

[36] Risby Warren is situated on the interfluve overlooking the valleys of the Winterton Beck to the west and River Ancholme to the east.  The interfluve is covered by extensive windblown sand deposits.

[37] Both the Universities of Durham and Sheffield have undertaken excavations as Creswell as part of their degree student training programmes.

[38] McNabb also noted that Roger Jacobi disputed Rogan Jenkinson’s interpretation and suggested that occupation consisted of ‘a thin spread of artefacts scattered throughout their containing deposits with no genuine stratigraphic break.’

[39] The reconstruction was based upon measurements which Armstrong pencilled onto individual artefacts hence not all were still readable.  Armstrong measured the distance of individual finds within the cave from a fixed point at the entrance and the depth of it from the cave floor surface; he considered the narrowness of the cave negated the need to take width measurements; hence the 2-dimensional dataset.

[40] The KC4 human maxilla has been the subject of much debate  since the 1980s when it was accepted as modern human and its EUP date was ascertained. The new AHOB modelling and dates are supported by stratigraphically linked faunal data.

One thought on "Updated Period Resource Assessment: The Palaeolithic Period"

  1. Also from East Yorkshire at Hotham (Proto-river foulness) see Halkon et al 2009Reference

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