Chronological and cultural patterns among British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic artefacts

The presence of cultural patterns among artefact types has been a key topic among Palaeolithic archaeologists. Schemes based on typology and linear progression are now generally abandoned, in favor of process-driven explanations, incorporating raw material, tool use and resharpening. This is also the case for the British record, where especially river gravels have delivered a rich series of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic artefacts. A recent paper published in Boreas, now tries to reassess the presence of cultural patterning in the British record based on expanded geological, biostratigraphical and geochronological dating frameworks, incorporating a greater number of warm and cold episodes.

The authors rightly stress that their provisional scheme should only be used as a last-resort dating estimation tool, when no other dating methods are present, and this only for larger assemblages, not for individual artefacts. The main trends observed are:

HAMP-7A3C15handaxe

British ficron handaxe recorded in the Portable Antiquities scheme (www. finds.org.uk)

– Mode 1 assemblages occur in different terraces of different ages

– There was an initial non-handaxe phase of hominin occupation at Pakefield and Happisburgh (although these assemblages are still problematic due to their small assemblages sizes and disputed age, MIS 25-21 or MIS 15c)

– Twisted ovate handaxes are concentrated in contexts dating from MIS-11-10

– Assemblages with large proportions of cleavers and ficron handaxes relate primarily to MIS-9

– Levallois occurs around MIS-9/8, as is also the case on the continent

– There is no human occupation of Britain during MIS-6, 5e and 4

– Bout coupe handaxes are indicative of MIS-3, a period in which Levallois is absent

The authors state that the changes in artefacts, and especially in the preferred handaxe form probably reflect the ebb and flow of populations. The reasons why hominins chose to make, or to not make, a specific type of handaxe are still open to question, and GPN would welcome any of your suggestions!

Overall, this paper gives a good overview of the British record, with a strong focus on the Lower Palaeolithic and handaxe types. It builds in enough caveats, stating their scheme should be used with caution and is open to changes as our knowledge of the Palaeolithic sequences increases. They touch briefly on wider comparisons and it will be interesting to see how future work can, or cannot, relate this patterning to sequences from elsewhere in Europe.

Reference: Bridgland, David R. and White, Mark J. 2014. Fluvial archives as a framework for the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic: patterns of British artefact distribution and potential chronological implications. Boreas.
doi: 10.1111/bor.12059

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