Peter Hoare, a member of the Pathways to Ancient Britain team, sadly passed away in 2020. Peter contributed hugely to the project’s work, and was a much-loved friend to those involved. In his memory, we have put together a web page including memories from colleagues, photos and a list of Peter’s many publications.
A new paper by Dr Rachel Bynoe, with PAB researchers and three collectors, has recently been published in Journal of Quaternary Science(the paper is available under open accesshere).
The paper reports on the large collection of ex situ flint artefacts and mammalian fossils found on the beach and it demonstratesthe way in which the time spent on the beach collecting Palaeolithic artefacts and Pleistocene fossils can contribute to research knowledge and understanding. The paper explores the material collected by three of the co-authors, Tim Grimmer, Jo Leonard and Darren Nicholas, along a 5km stretch of the Norfolk coast from Happisburgh to Eccles North Gap between 2013 and 2017. A total of 741 artefacts and 157 mammal fossils were included in this study.
The collections were made available to the PAB project by the collectors and handed over to Rachel Bynoe for detailed analysis of the lithics and identification of the fossil material. The artefact assemblage is dominated by hard hammer flakes and cores, though there are alsoeighthandaxes. Among the mammal fossils are several specimens that are identifiable to species, including the extinct horse Equus altidens, the mammoths Mammuthus meridionalis, and M. trogontherii, the extinct elk Cervalceslatifronsand giant deer Megalocerosdawkinsi.
Importantly, all the finds were geolocated by the collectors using hand-held GPS devices. The location data was used to map all the finds in GIS, the results of which showed some interesting spatial patterning. There are significant concentrations of lithics and fauna in close proximity to the known archaeological deposits at Happisburgh Site 1 and site 3 and in addition there is a substantial ‘hotspot’ at Eccles North Gap, which cannot be linked to any known occurrence of the CromerForest-bed Formation. While the concentration is partly the result of being ‘trapped’ up-drift of the most northerly of the Sea Palling rock reefs, it may indicate that there is an outcropimmediately offshore from which the artefacts are being eroded and transported only a short distance onto the beach. The distribution of the faunal finds also shows concentration close to Sites 1 and 3, but again there are other interesting patterns that might suggest as yet unidentified source deposits.
The handaxe finds are also of interest. Only one, the Happisburghhandaxe, has been found in situ over the last 20 years, and this was associated with the Site 1 deposits. The discovery of several handaxesin the vicinity of Site 3, which has previously been considered as a core and flakeassemblage, raises the question of whether they are an additionalcomponent of the Site 3 assemblage. Further handaxediscoveries in situ within the Site 3 deposits are needed to verify this.
The intriguing possibility that there are archaeological depositsimmediately offshore at Happisburgh is a question that Rachel Bynoe is currently investigating through her diving survey work with some promising initial findings. Onshore the collecting continues, with a growing band of enthusiastic collectors. More material has been discovered since 2017 and the diligence and persistence of the collectors who return to the beach again and againhas been amplyrewarded by the creation of a substantial body of information that has contributed to our understanding of this important Palaeolithic locality.
2020 marks twenty years since the first of a series of archaeologicaldiscoveries that have made Happisburgh a site of great importance in the British Lower Palaeolithic. The Happisburghhandaxe was found by a Norfolk resident walking the beach between Happisburgh and Cart Gap.
The handaxe was found in situ; embedded in the Pleistocene sediments that were exposed at low tide on the Happisburgh foreshore. Realising its significance, the finder reported its discovery and researchers were quickly able to visit the site and make some important observations on the deposits that the handaxe came from and their relationship to the glacial sediments exposed in the cliffs. Among the first on the scene was John Wymer, who recorded in his notebook a visit to Happisburgh with Peter Robins and Jim Rose with accompanying photographs of the handaxe and the deposits themselves. Wymer records subsequent visits later in the same year and again in May 2001, when a team of researchers from Royal Holloway University of London sank boreholes and dug trenches to establish the stratigraphy and recover material for analysis.
Three years later the site was excavated by a team from the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project. Excavating the deposits in the inter-tidal zone proved challenging but productive as a small assemblage of artefacts was recovered together with faunal material. This was followed by excavations by the University of Leiden working with the AHOB team, which added to the artefact assemblage and provided significant new palaeoenvironmental information. The handaxe could now be shown to have been found in organic muds laid down during an interglacial some 500,000 years ago. These results have been recently published in Quaternary Science Reviews.
During the 2004 excavations, a survey along the beach led to the discovery of what became known as Site 2 and, in the following year continued exploration led to the discovery of Site 3 (the locality excavated in 2004 becoming known as Site 1). Site 2 afforded little opportunity for extensive excavation; though a small excavated area yielded a handaxe from deposits immediately beneath the Happisburgh Till. Site 3 on the other hand offered the greater scope for excavation and each summer between 2006 and 2012 archaeologists could be found digging the sediments and sieving them in the sea to recover flint artefacts and faunal and floral remains. The faunal assemblage, in conjunction with palaeomagnetic evidence, led the researchers to conclude that the site dated to around 850,000-900,000 years ago, making it the earliest evidence of human presence in Britain.
More archaeological information was revealed as the sea continued to erode the Pleistocene sediments. In 2013 a member of the research team was conducting a geophysical survey and noticed a particularly distinctive surface of the laminated sands and silts exposed by the waves near the old step tower. Closer inspection suggested they might be footprints, so a team was quickly assembled who returned to the site, in appalling weather conditions, to record the footprint surface before it was washed away. Analysis of the photographs showed beyond reasonable doubt that they were indeed human footprints and the size of the impressions indicated that they were left by a group of people ranging from adults to small children, who had walked across the soft mud flats around 850,000 years ago. These findings were published in PlosOne. Similar, but smaller, footprint surfaces were exposed in 2018 and 2019 in the same area.
Approaching the end of the year is often a time to look back and reflect on past events, and perhaps this year more than most. It is interesting to ponder that so much of what we now know about the earliest humans to enter Britain stems from a chance discovery on a Norfolk beach. The Happisburgh story hasn’t ended, the coastline is still the subject of research and collecting activity and no doubt 2021 will bring more new information to add to what we already know and perhaps change our understanding of our distant past one more time.
This Sunday saw our first Community Beach Sieving Event at Bacton. The event was planned, with the support of North Norfolk District Council, as part of our Palaeolithic Artefact Discoveries from the Sandscaping area (PADS) Project and we hope that it will be the first of several community events – pandemic permitting.
We couldn’t have hoped for better weather for our first community event and we were joined by two enthusiastic groups of volunteers – a mix of experienced collectors, faces we recognised from previous events that we’d run locally, and some complete beginners.
Since the emplacement of the 1.8 million cubic metres of dredged material on the beach between Bacton and Walcott in 2019, the beach profile has been modified by wave action. As the beach has been reshaped it has become a favourite spot for local collectors to visit and their careful beach walking efforts have been repaid by a large collection of Palaeolithic material. The sieving event was designed to take advantage of the wave cut ‘cliff’ features to study the structure, composition and artefact density of these deposits. Establishing the density of artefacts within these deposits and any variations across the Sandscaping area, provides us with useful data alongside the large number of artefacts that have already been reported.
During the two 90 minute sessions on Sunday we sieved around 2.5 cubic metres of the deposit, this yielded one possible artefact, a small struck flake. While this is a small return for the effort it does point to a sparse presence of artefacts within the beach deposits. It also highlights the value of collecting from the beach surface where artefacts may be more visible and larger surface areas can be searched and does contribute to our knowledge of these dredged deposits.
Although the Sandscaping deposits offer a unique research opportunity we are well aware of the power of the North Sea to reshape the coastline – the ‘cliff’ features in the Sandscaping deposits bear witness to the sea’s power. Many of the Pathways to Ancient Britain project team have worked along this coastline for the best part of two decades and the last thing that we would want to do is to negatively impact the communities we have received so much support from. All the material, bar the one possible artefact, was left on the beach to be redeposited by the waves.
East Farm, near the village of Barnham, Suffolk, is an internationally-significant Lower Palaeolithic site dating to 400,000 years ago. Excavations at the site have been ongoing since 2013 and this year we are offering 12 scholarships worth £500 to students who have a desire to pursue serious study of Palaeolithic archaeology to participate in the excavation.
If you would like to apply for a scholarship please complete the application form by Friday 28th February 2020. Candidates will be selected on the basis of a demonstrable interest in Palaeolithic archaeology.
The focus of attention on an archaeological excavations is what’s happening on site but an often-overlooked part of the story is the work done by people away from the trenches which is just as important. Simon Lewis talks to Sophie Hunter about her role in the Barnham Palaeolithic Project.
SL: Sophie, thanks for sparing some time to chat. Please can you tell us about your role in the Barnham excavation? SH: My main job is finds processing; drying and re-bagging fauna; washing and re-bagging burnt flint; washing and marking lithics; packing up finds, ensuring that they are in good order, going to the correct institution and in an undamaged state. I am also the office manager, with a diverse range of tasks including procurement, a first aid and counselling service, and looking after the accounts with the help of Tudor Bryn Jones. After the excavation ends, back in the real world, I also contribute to the post-ex work by sorting residues and preliminary identification of faunal remains.
SL: Which bit of your varied job do you find most interesting and why? SH: This is very difficult to answer as I thoroughly enjoy all my roles. As finds processor, I am incredibly privileged to see and handle every single find that is recovered on site. Doing the accounts is probably at the lower end of the spectrum, for obvious reasons!
SL: Which do you prefer working with, lithics or fauna? SH: Oohh, that’s a tricky one… Both! Lithics are my favourite thing to wash and I like the challenge of writing on the tiny pieces. Choosing a good spot to mark also means that I get a thorough perusal of every flint artefact. Fauna used to put the fear into me, as I assumed it would be impossible to get to grips with – there are so many different species and different bones. If you think about how many different species of mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds there are (including ones that are now extinct), and tot up how many bones each has, that’s a monumental amount of different bones to learn. However, since taking on the role of sorting the residues from Area III, and with plenty of help from Simon Parfitt, I am gradually expanding the bone bank.
SL: What’s the most unusual find that you have processed in the office? SH: Last year we found a very exciting and special tool. That’s probably the star of the show for this current phase of excavation. A piece of pyrite was also recovered, which will help in determining whether the burning was natural or man-made. This year, the winners are: a large chopping tool and a ginormous core in the flint artefact department; and some amazing lion foot bones (c. 20% larger than the lions we have today), a rhino tooth, and plenty of pond terrapin in the faunal department. A good non-archaeological find last year was a parched and shrivelled up mole carcass, which is in the process of being prepared for the reference collection.
SL: It’s an intensive three week excavation, what happens to all the finds that you process on site when the excavation ends? SH: It is indeed an intensive three weeks, and not solely because of all of the hard work… Different finds go to different places. The lithics and burnt flint go with Nick Ashton to Franks House (British Museum), where they are catalogued by Claire Lucas. The faunal remains go to the Natural History Museum, to be cleaned and identified. The sieving residues also go to the NHM, where they are sorted and provisionally identified. Following this, they are analysed by the relevant specialist (experts in mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles). Geological samples end up at Queen Mary for analysis. This year we have possible charcoal, so this will be analysed over the next twelve months.
SL: How long have you been involved in the Barnham excavations? SH: Since 1991, when I was 10. The Headings (farmers) introduced me to the team, who kindly took me under their wing. I was hooked immediately – by the excitement of the archaeology, in addition to the very interesting characters and sense of community. It is amazing to be back here again after all this time, and with some of the same people. I have never looked back and feel very lucky indeed to be part of something unique, interesting and fun.
SL: Sophie, thanks for telling us about your varied and interesting work for the Barnham Project.
Simon Lewis talks to Dr Anne-Lyse Ravon to find out more about her first experience of digging at Barnham.
SL: Anne-Lyse, thanks for taking a few minutes to answer some questions. Please can you tell us a little about your research expertise. AR: I am a specialist in Lower and early Middle Palaeolithic lithic industries in Western Europe, but particularly in north-western France, where I direct excavations at the Lower Palaeolithic site of Menez-Dregan.
SL: This is your first time taking part in the Barnham excavations, what were your first impressions of the site? AR: Barnham is a huge site, with different areas to correlate. The geological context is very different from what I am used to in Brittany: I usually work on coastal sites.
SL: What have you been working on for the last two weeks? AR: I have mainly been working in Area I. Our first job there was to expose the surface of the cobble layer excavated in the 1990s, and then to excavate a palaeosol. This palaeosol preserved a lot of charcoal and burnt flint, which is particularly interesting for me.
SL: Has it been successful? AR: Yes, very successful: at the end of the 2 weeks, the excavation of the palaeosol is finished, and we recorded numerous charcoal fragments, which is quite rare for this site.
SL: What have you enjoyed most, and least, about being part of the Barnham team? AR: What I enjoyed the most: identifying charcoal and heated surfaces, because this is something that is very familiar to me, since we have a lot of charcoal and hearths in Menez-Dregan. What I enjoyed the least: the heavy rain during the night which caused a bit of the section to collapse before we arrived on site, and we had to work in the mud that morning.
SL: How does Barnham compare with excavating in France? AR: Same techniques and methods, same recording systems, the only difference would be that in France, we provide all the equipment for the dig, including trowels: here everyone comes with their own trowel!
SL: This is your last day on site, where are you heading for next? AR: Directly to Brittany: I’m heading to Menez-Dregan on Monday, where we are going to excavate for 8 weeks, up to the end of August.
SL: Thanks Anne-Lyse, and good luck with the field work at Menez-Dregan.
There is an important connection between brickmaking and the Palaeolithic in Barnham, as explored by Peter Hoare.
The archaeological site at East Farm is located on the floor of an overgrown pit set amongst arable fields and farm buildings on the edge of Barnham village. Today, we are confronted with a hole in the ground measuring ca 130 m west to east, 70 m north to south and 6 m deep.
Rumour has it that brickearth (a portmanteau term) was quarried here as early as the eighteenth century. A small part of the history of Barnham brickmaking is recorded in the sole surviving ledger, covering the period 22 August 1895–30 December 1912, held by the Euston Estate (East Farm is just one of several properties on the ca 2530 ha estate). So perhaps more than 150 years of brickmaking are unrecorded. Brickearth digging took place seasonally until the 1930s to supply the Barnham brickyard.
No photographs of raw material extraction can be traced, and the only known surviving photograph of the brickyard, which was demolished many years ago, is a small, poor-quality print held by the Euston Estate (reproduced left).
There were two principal types of clay- and silt-rich brickearth: one produced white bricks (Unit 5c of the stratigraphic story), the other red ones (Unit 7). Bricks and related products were made for a great variety of uses on the Euston Estate, but the brickyard also operated on a commercial basis, supplying Lord Iveagh on the neighbouring Elveden Estate, as well as numerous local builders and others.
Apart from the single Euston Estate ledger, no account of brickmaking at Barnham appears to have survived. Peter Minter, owner of the famous Bulmer Brickyard, Essex, has told us that he believes Barnham bricks would have been produced in a similar way to that of other eastern counties brickyards, including his own.
The highly calcareous brickearth from Barnham Area III would have been tempered with sand or less carbonate-rich material; the amount of space available to dry the bricks before firing would have limited the rate of production; and eighteenth-century kilns would have held between 4000 and 5000 bricks. Each man is likely to have made ca 1000 bricks per day in the nineteenth century; it is now ca 500 at Bulmer.
Although the records are incomplete, the peak period of brickearth quarrying and brickmaking probably occurred at the start of the twentieth century. The south and west wings of Euston Hall were destroyed by fire on 5 April 1902, the fourth occasion on which the premises were badly damaged by fire. Rebuilding took place with little delay. Brickyard ledger entries for ‘Mr Heath Euston Hall’ start on 8 June 1903 and end on 15 April 1912, but 89% of the material was produced in the second half of 1903 and in 1905. The wings were rebuilt on the same plan, consuming, amongst other items, 322,975 red bricks, 3500 white bricks, 650 plain tiles, 150 paving bricks and 130 glazed pantiles. The total cost was £577 12s 5p, equivalent to ca £68,000 in 2019. The south wing and most of the west wing were pulled down by the tenth Duke of Grafton in 1952!
Brickearth extraction was responsible for revealing the Palaeolithic archaeology for which East Farm is renowned. The earliest evidence for the discovery of artefacts is of ‘… two flint implements …’ found in 1882, but they probably came from the gravel pit to the east of the village. Other late nineteenth-century finds are likely to have been of an opportunistic nature, some discovered in the wash-pit at the brickyard.
Barnham artefacts purchased from East Farm in ca 1905 included two twisted ovates, one of which is said to have been used by the brickearth diggers to clean their spades! By the time of the first formal excavation at Barnham in the 1930s, the brickearth diggers had produced numerous sections for archaeologists to explore. But that’s another story.
There is just one brief description of brickearth extraction at Barnham East Farm in Ashton, N.M., Lewis, S.G. & Parfitt, S.A. 1998. Excavations at the Lower Palaeolithic site at East Farm, Barnham, Suffolk 1989–94. British Museum Occasional Paper 125, p. 292.
Readers might like to refer to The Brickmaker’s Tale (The Bulmer Brick and Tile Co, 2014), Peter Minter’s account of his family’s brickyard.
Peter Hoare explains some unusual features of the Breckland landscape that are best seen from the air.
Across substantial regions of the modern world, winters are sufficiently cold to freeze the ground to a depth of several metres, but complete thawing takes place during the following summer. In periglacial regions, with their significantly harsher conditions (mean annual air temperature <−2ºC), long-term freezing may create so-called permafrost that is hundreds of metres deep; ca 60% of Russia, 50% of Canada, 23% of China and 90% of Alaska are underlain by permafrost. Here, summer temperatures are only sufficient to melt the top few metres, forming an active layer. Alternate freezing and thawing of the active layer rearranges the component sediments, and may also disturb the bedrock surface if it is sufficiently shallow. Under these conditions, patterned ground is formed.
Throughout much of the East Anglian region known as Breckland (which includes Barnham East Farm), Upper Cretaceous Chalk bedrock lies within 2.5 m of the ground surface; its upper part is frost shattered (brecciated) and this material is often overlain by windblown (aeolian) coversand and other thin sediments. Large areas of Breckland display inactive or ‘fossil’ patterned ground, consisting of stripes and cellular (often polygonal) forms, indicating that active layer processes took place in the past. Polygons are commonly ca 10 m in diameter; they grade into stripes, which are spaced ca 7.5 m apart, on slope angles of between ca 1° and 6°.
Shallow-lying patterned ground is evident at the surface because vegetation responds to variations in subsoil characteristics (particle size, pH, depth, moisture content, etc.) created by periglacial processes. Crop- or scorch-marks such as those seen in the photograph were especially clear during the long spell of hot and dry weather in the summer of 2018. Every other Breckland stripe is underlain by coversand with a pH of <4.5 (acidic) and heather thrives; Chalk bedrock lies close to the surface beneath the intervening stripes, the soil pH is >8 (alkaline) and grass flourishes.
In the most recent study of the Breckland patterns (Boreham & Rolfe 2016–17), the authors concluded that Devensian (MIS 2) frost cracks developed into what they termed ‘tiger’ stripes; solifluction played its part in drawing material downslope. Although the exact mechanisms underlying patterned-ground formation in Breckland are not fully understood, their presence may be used to say something about former climatic conditions.
Boreham, S. & Rolfe, C.J. 2016-17. Imaging periglacial stripes using ground penetrating radar at the ‘GRIM’ training site, Grime’s Graves, Breckland, Norfolk. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Norfolk 66, 31–43.
Nick Ashton, Simon Parfitt and Simon Lewis discuss the research highlights of the archaeological excavations at Barnham.
Archaeological excavations in an abandoned brickearth pit at East Farm, Barnham have uncovered one of the richest Lower Palaeolithic archaeological sites in western Europe, dating to about 400,000 years ago. Finds include butchered large-mammal bones, flint tools and evidence for fire.
The 1989-94 excavations established the significance of the site, with its in situ artefact assemblages and its substantial quantities of vertebrate remains, include fishes, amphibians and small and large mammals. The second round of excavations that started in 2013 have refined our understanding of these lithic assemblages and also provided an opportunity to explore the evidence for technological transitions and how early humans developed strategies for survival. Recent investigations at the site have identified an earlier core and flake industry that was replaced by a later handaxe industry (Clactonian and Acheulian respectively). This technological transition may reflect arrival of different human populations into Britain from different regions within Europe, bringing with them different technologies.
Area III, pictured in a photogrammetric reconstruction of the excavation (above), shows ‘islands’ of undisturbed sediments cut by late 19th and early 20th century brickearth pits. These sediments contain stone tools and a rich assemblage of vertebrate remains. Area III has provided important evidence for the environment in which early humans lived; pollen grains contained within the sediments enable the vegetation at the time to be reconstructed and the landscape can be populated with both large and small animals based on the fossil remains found in the sediments.
Among the many examples from these deposits are a macaque tooth and elements of pond terrapin carapace (shell) indicating warm conditions and diverse habitats that included both woodland and aquatic environments.
In a different part of the site, the excavations in Area VI, revealed a new dimension to the Barnham story; along with the many flint artefacts that make up the lithic assemblage, there is also a surprising quantity of burnt flint. This material, with its distinctive cracked and crazed surface and often red colouration, was found within the black clay, a layer that we know to have once been a land surface as it shows signs of soil development.
As the excavations have progressed, our research has focused on this evidence for burning and the critical question of whether the burnt flint, which includes some artefactual as well as natural pieces, provides evidence for hearths or does it record ancient forest fires?
To address this question we have excavated and carefully recorded the spatial distribution of hundreds of fragments of burnt flint in order to plot the variation in density across the excavated area. We are also using laboratory analyses, particularly Fourier-transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) to identify heating signals in the sediments. Another avenue of enquiry is the use of experimental fires, set and maintained under carefully controlled conditions, to investigate the changes that take place within and beneath a hearth.
If the evidence points to human use of fire, this would provide further indications of the development of new technology that goes beyond the stone tool evidence and it may also begin to tell us something about societies and culture in the different human groups that entered Britain during this interglacial some 400,000 years ago.
With a focus on the archaeological and environmental evidence, the Barnham Palaeolithic Project is able to address important questions concerning Palaeolithic societies 400,000 years ago at spatial scales ranging from domestic sites with evidence of fire through group territories to relationships between groups across Europe.