Palaeolithic and Mesolithic


Only three papers were identified as having accessed the pre-Neolithic collections of the Wiltshire Museum since 2010, with one further piece of research undertaken by an independent researcher, but which did not lead to a thesis or written report (although the results were fed back to the museum). Whilst material from these periods is among the least requested, this is proportional to the relative size of these collections. The papers meaningfully engage with the museum collections and make significant contributions to our understanding of the archaeological and taphonomic development of the sites which they discuss. Unfortunately, the none of the results have received wider publication.

Davis (2012), as part of their PhD thesis with the University of Worcester, re-examined 1,007 flints from Mesolithic levels at Oliver’s Hill Field, Cherhill, including all of those from the ‘working hollow’. Davis’ detailed reanalysis supports the interpretations of Pitts (in Evans and Smith 1983), that the group as a whole is Late Mesolithic in date, and suggests that changes in the relative proportion of obliquely blunted points may imply a localised continuation of the form into the later Mesolithic period. They also argue for a new interpretation of the ‘working hollow’, drawing on the high proportion of burnt flint (not mentioned in the original report), the presence of other materials such as sarsen fragments and animal bone, and parallels to other sites to suggest that the hollow may have been deliberately dug for deposition. Their argument that the transformative properties of a tufa spring may also have had symbolic importance has interesting parallels with Jacques and Phillips’s (2014) recent observation of the spring at Blick’s Mead, Amesbury, where a rare alga would have caused submerged flint to permanently stain pink.

As part of a wider scheme of fieldwork Hosfield and Green (2015) have re-examined a sample of Lower Palaeolithic hand axes from Knowle Farm, focusing on morphological examination, but also examining a smaller sample with pXRF analysis and Scanning Electron Microscopy in an attempt to better understand the Knowle ‘polish’, which they suggest may be caused to the redeposition of silica at a microscopic level. A full publication of the study is hoped to be forthcoming. Egberts (2017) has then also accessed the Palaeolithic handaxes from Bemerton and Milford Hill, Salisbury, as part of her study of hominin colonization of the Avon valley. The only other piece of research undertaken on the Museum’s collections was at the instigation of the former curator, Dr Paul Robinson, which led to the suggestion by the South West Implement Petrology Group that a chert handaxe attributed to Knowle Farm may in fact have originated in Broom, Dorset.

Research projects and publications

Egberts, E. (2017) The Palaeolithic of the Avon valley: a geoarchaeological approach to the hominin colonization of Britain. Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Bournemouth.

Davis, R. (2012) The Nature of Mesolithic Activity at Selected Spring Sites in South West England. Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Worcester.

Hosfield, R. and Green, C. (2016) Project Report: Lower Palaeolithic archaeology at Knowle Farm Unpublished report: University of Reading.

Research priorities


The research potential of the collections as they currently stand is obviously limited, although there are clear opportunities to expand upon our knowledge of the collections. Whilst research into the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic has tended to focus on the region further south, around the Hampshire basin and the river valleys feeding into the extinct Solent River (e.g. Hosfield 1999, and the recent exceptional discovery of in situ Palaeolithic occupation at Harnham, Salisbury, Bates et al. 2014), Knowle Farm remains the largest deposit of Lower Paleolithic flint in the region, comparable in the South West only to Broom, Dorset. The main opportunity for research into this assemblage seems to be extending the preliminary research of Hosfield and Green (2015) to a larger sample1. In particular, a better understanding of the technology and morphology of the group would allow for the assemblage to be compared to similar studies of other deposits (e.g. Hosfield and Chambers 2009). A smaller scale project could be built around attempting to provenance the chert handaxes attributed to Knowle Farm. Passing references to chert handaxes were made by both Cunnington and Cunnington (1903) and Kendall (1906), although no chert was included in Hosfield and Green’s (2016) sample. The chert axes could be compared morphologically to the Broom and Knowle assemblages as a whole, and whilst the Knowle ‘polish’ is less likely to be visible on chert by eye, if the redeposited silica can be detected at a microscopic level this would seemingly confirm the attribution.


As with the Palaeolithic, the opportunities for further research using the museum collections are limited. As the only assemblage of excavated material, the material from Oliver’s Hill Field, Cherhill, is of central importance. The flint from the site is well stratified, and the potential exists to include it in a regional study of knapping technology incorporating assemblages from outside the museum collections (both Pitts in Evans and Smith 1983 and Davis 2012 suggest similarities between Cherhill and Wawcott III, Berkshire). Notably only seven percent of the flints examined by Davis were encrusted with tufa, and patination similarly appears limited. The group may therefore be suitable for use- wear analysis, although the assemblage is dominated by knapping debris. The limited discussion of the animal bone assemblage from Cherhill, as well as the small proportion of the assemblage identified to species level, both imply that the animal remains could be usefully re-examined (see Banfield 2018, discussed below). The Museum has approached the Natural History Museum to attempt to arrange for the animal bone assemblage’s transfer.

1 Hosfield (pers. comm.) has no intention to expand the study themselves.

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