A new paper by PAB researchers documents artefacts derived from dredged sediments found on the beaches between Bacton and Happisburgh
A recently published, open access paper in Journal of Quaternary Science by Dr Rob Davis and PAB colleagues details a Middle Palaeolithic artefact assemblage that has recently been found on the newly replenished beaches between Bacton and Walcott, Norfolk. The paper describes the artefact assemblage and its spatial distribution and discusses its significance in the wider context of the British and European Middle Palaeolithic record. Among the paper’s co-authors are eight Norfolk residents who have been actively collecting artefacts and fossils on the beaches between Happisburgh and Bacton, and without whose diligent and persistent searching and recording we would not have such a detailed picture of this lithic assemblage and its spatial distribution.
The Sandscaping project emplaced 1.8 million cubic metres of sediments dredged from the submerged portion of the River Yare (the Palaeo-Yare) some 11km off Great Yarmouth to defend Bacton Gas Terminal as well affording some protection to the coastal communities in the area. The Sandscaping works were completed in late 2019 and it quickly became evident that these sediments contained Palaeolithic artefacts including distinctive Middle Palaeolithic flakes, cores and handaxes. A concerted phase of collecting activity followed, leading to the accumulation of over 850 pieces, most of which were geolocated using GPS units or mobile phones to record their position on the beach. The paper describes the artefacts and explores their significance for understanding human occupation of the region during the earlier Middle Palaeolithic. It is likely that the artefacts are from fluvial sediments deposited during Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 7-6, some 200,000 years ago. The assemblage from the beaches at Bacton and Walcott therefore adds to our knowledge of neanderthal populations in the southern North Sea region in the later Middle Pleistocene.
The Sandscaping sediments are being reworked down-drift in a south easterly direction and have reached Happisburgh, all but concealing the foreshore exposures of the Cromer Forest-bed Formation, though inevitably on-going erosion and scouring of the beach does reveal these sediments from time to time. Artefacts from these dredged sediments have also been found on the beach at Happisburgh. Previous work by the research team, published in 2021, has demonstrated the potential value of beach finds at Happisburgh, so the arrival of this imported Middle Palaeolithic material is likely to further complicate Happisburgh’s Palaeolithic archaeological story.
If you would like to find out more about the Palaeolithic archaeology of the Norfolk coast you can view a virtual tour here or look at the Information and resources for collectors on the PAB website. This includes advice on what to do if you have found something on the beach that you think may be of interest and you would like to learn more about it. Previous beach finds from Happisburgh were reported by Bynoe et al. (2023). You can also learn more about Norfolk’s Ice Age past from the Deep History Coast project, and you can visit the Deep History Coast information panels located at various points along the north Norfolk coastline.