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Palaeolithic Flints From Submerged Landscapes

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The Marine Aggregate Industry Archaeological Protocol encourages the reporting and recording of maritime archaeological finds discovered by the aggregate industry during dredging works. The discoveries that come to light form a database of maritime archaeological finds that otherwise may have been discarded. The scheme boasts the reporting of 1600 finds since its launch in 2005 ranging from metal artefacts to timber and flints.
 
Arguably the most important collection of flint finds reported through the Protocol were recorded on 13 February 2008 as Hanson_0133. The finds were reported by Hanson Aggregates Marine Ltd, (the licensee) and described as ‘28 x hand axes, mammoth molars, tusk fragments and antlers’, and they were recovered from Area 240, a dredging area situated approximately 11 km east of the Norfolk coast. On further analysis, it was established that 88 flint artefacts were present in the assemblage, classified as 33 hand axes, eight cores, and 47 complete and fragmentary flakes. 
In 2014, this important discovery was published in the Journal of Quaternary Science and in 2015 Seabed Prehistory Investigating the Palaeogeography and Early Middle Palaeolithic Archaeology in the Southern North Sea, which discusses the finds in detail, was published. The analysis of the assemblage found that the Area 240 lithic material could be considered typologically heterogeneous. The finds were characterized by the occurrence of cordiform or sub-cordiform hand axes, and included a substantial proportion of well-made Levallois products. Around 20% of the identified finds were of Levallois technique and just over 25% of the flakes were diagnostically Levallois manufacture. Both cordiform and sub-cordiform hand axe types could represent Late Middle Palaeolithic, Mousterian or Acheulean Tradition (MTA) products. Alternatively, the hand axes may be older, of Lower Palaeolithic or Early Middle Palaeolithic (EMP) origin and be broadly contemporary with the Levallois material. It was found that on 13 of the flakes, retouch was evident. 

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The majority of the artefacts indicated that rolled raw flint nodules were likely to have been sourced from river deposits. Area 240 is situated in the lower reaches of the Palaeo-Yare river system. For most of the last one million years the area has been part of a coastal or inland environment because of lowered sea levels. The assessment of the palaeolandscape (using geophysical and geotechnical data), palaeoenviromental material and sediment dating indicate an EMP age for the assemblage.
The identification of the initial ‘chance’ finds of flint led to a regional study being conducted on Area 240. The results of the wider regional study demonstrated that submerged landscapes can preserve in situ artefacts. The investigations confirmed that the artefacts found after the initial encounter were not ‘chance’ finds, but indicated clear relationships to submerged and buried geomorphological features. Palaeolandscapes, although complex, can be examined in detail using a variety of existing field and analytical methods. Through close collaboration between archaeologists, regulators and industry it has been possible to go beyond an assessment of potential submerged prehistory and identification of buried geomorphological features, and investigate the archaeology and its wider palaeogeographical context.
 
By Andrea Hamel Senior Archaeologist
 
 
 
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