The Palaeolithic Rivers of Southwest Britain

Tony Brown, Robert Hosfield, Laura Basell, Phil Toms, S. Hounsell, R. Young, 2008

Data copyright © Dr Robert Hosfield unless otherwise stated


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Dr Robert Hosfield
Department of Archaeology, School of Human and Environmental Science
University of Reading
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PO Box 227
Reading
RG6 6AB
England

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Introduction

The Palaeolithic Rivers of Southwest Britain (PRoSWeB) project synthesises the archaeological evidence for the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic occupation of south-west Britain (c. 500,000 - 40,000 BP), with a principal focus upon the archaeological and geological potential of the region's Middle Pleistocene fluvial environments. South-west Britain was defined as the region west of the headwaters of the Rivers Frome and Piddle and south-west of the River Avon.

The key results of the project's new field work (in the Exe, Otter and Axe valleys) are:

Image of handaxe from Chard Junction, Somerset
  • The majority of OSL dates sampled from the river terrace deposits are younger than OIS-9. Although the results are complicated by later cryoturbation, the modern fluvial drainage patterns of the Exe, Otter, and potentially the Axe, appear to be relatively recent, post-dating a major re-alignment of palaeo-drainage systems.
  • Artefacts deposited in pre-OIS-9 terrace deposits are likely to have been substantially re-worked, resulting in single artefact and/or low concentration findspots. Material may also have been re-worked into the maritime zone.
  • Terrace formation in the Exe and Otter rivers (staircase/strath terrace systems) is in marked contrast with the river Axe (fill terrace system) to the east.
  • Geoarchaeological evidence suggests that the recorded distribution of artefacts in the deposits of the Palaeolithic rivers of the south-west region is not necessarily representative of the spatial and/or chronological distribution of Middle and Late Pleistocene hominins.
  • The greater concentration of artefacts in the Axe valley may at least partially reflect the fill terrace system of the Axe.
  • The apparent paucity of artefacts to the west of the Axe is at least partly due to severe re-working of strath terrace deposits which may have eroded, dispersed and re-worked any artefact assemblages.

Project results (including GIS and database resources) have been disseminated to the region's Historic Environment Records (HERs), to support the current and future mitigation of aggregates extraction in the south-west.

Public engagement with the project and the Palaeolithic archaeology and Pleistocene fluvial landscapes of the south-west has been promoted through a series of events (e.g. Palaeolithic Geoarchaeology walks), the project website and other resources.