Palaeolithic Artefact Discoveries from the Sandscaping area (PADS)


Research at Happisburgh over the past 20 years has firmly established the area as one of the most important Palaeolithic archaeological locales in northern Europe. The Happisburgh record spans a critical period in human evolution in Europe, from the earliest pioneer populations in northern Europe c. 950 or c. 850 ka to more successful colonisation by larger populations c. 500 ka. It poses important questions regarding the development of technological, cultural and/or biological adaptations by humans to overcome the challenges of surviving in northern latitudes. The addition of a Middle Palaeolithic assemblage currently being amassed at Walcott-Bacton, and coming from a submerged southern North Sea landscape adds a new dimension to this record.

Photograph of beach at Walcott showing newly replenished beach.
Looking north-westwards along the newly replenished beach at Walcott in December 2019, following the completion of the sandscaping work, showing how waves are already reshaping the beach profile (Photo: Simon Lewis).

It is likely that significant numbers of artefacts and fossils will continue to be eroded from the Cromer Forest-bed Formation (CF-bF) between Ostend and Eccles-on-Sea and from the recent Sandscaping area at Walcott-Bacton. This important information would be lost but for the collecting activities of a growing community of collectors. The collaboration between the Pathways to Ancient Britain (PAB) project and a small group of collectors has demonstrated how this information can be captured to enhance understanding of the archaeology of the CF-bF (Bynoe et al. submitted). Over the past few years, as interest in Happisburgh has grown, and with the success of a series of local public engagement events, the number of people actively collecting fossils and stone tools from the foreshore has increased significantly. While this means more material is being recovered, it presents challenges that must be addressed to ensure potentially vital information is not lost.

  • Ensuring good collecting and reporting practice amongst collectors,
  • Developing a sustainable procedure for recording new fossil and artefact finds,
  • Ensuring stakeholder participation during planning of beach replenishment schemes.

Project Outcomes

This project aims to increase the knowledge and skills of the existing collectors and to encourage wider public engagement in the deep history of this coastline. Using existing contacts and social media activity as a starting point it will extend to the wider collector and interest community. Supporting best practice in collecting will maximise the potential of the artefacts that are being recovered to contribute to research databases, HER data and wider heritage management. Five objectives have been identified for this project:

  • Collecting: Support for artefact recording, recognition and identification and improve translation of finds into PAB research project and NHER databases;
  • Engagement: Encourage awareness of and engagement with the Deep History Coast project;
  • Dissemination: A publication for a general audience, available electronically and on paper to summarise discoveries on the Happisburgh coastline and their significance;
  • Academic: co-convene an academic conference, and collaborate on a research paper with PAB colleagues;
  • Longer term sustainability: explore funding options to continue and develop the work started during this project.

PADS Project Team

The PADS Project Team is made up of Professor Simon Lewis, Dr Claire Harris, Dr Rob Davis and Dr Marcus Hatch.

See Project Team for more details.

Funders and Partners

This project, which is funded by North Norfolk District Council, will run for six months from September 2020 to July 2021. The project team will also work with the Deep History Coast Project and Historic England.

Video: Sandscaping | Bacton and Walcott