Universiteit Leiden

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Happisburgh, East Anglia

The research Early Pleistocene human occupation at the edge of the boreal zone in northwest Europe published 8th July 2010 in Nature is part of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, in which the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University is involved.

happisOne of the authors of the article is Dr Mike Field, staff member of the Faculty of Archaeology. The article in Nature discusses stone tools that have an unprecedented old age for these northern latitudes: they were manufactured between 800,000 years and one million years ago. Even more interesting than the extremely old age is the fact that these tools were left behind at a period when conifer forests grew in the area, a type environment in which it is not easy for hunter-gatherers to obtain food. 

Mike Field is currently in the field, leading an excavation at a location only 2 km south of the site that is today so prominently presented in Nature. He is working there with his colleagues Wil Roebroeks and Thijs van Kolfschoten and a dozen students from the Faculty of Archaeology. They are investigating a site that is at least 500.000 years old, and possibly even (much) older, i.e. roughly of the same age as the tools and site described in Nature. The remarkable aspect of the " Leiden" site is that it yields very well- preserved remains of short-term campsite- activities at a bank of a side-arm of the Ancient River Thames. The flint objects are still in situ where they were manufactured more than half a million years ago, and it is even possible to refit some of the waste fragments. Currently the Leiden team is in the field now trying to collect more precise reference data, and gathering more information regarding to the environment in which the campsites were located. 

The two sites, Happisburgh 1 (the "Leiden" site) and Happisburgh 3 (today described in Nature) are part of a nearly 80 km long series of ‘openings’ on the English east coast, where fine-grained sands and mud of former rivers are still well preserved under a thick package of boulder clay that was left behind by a huge glacier c. 470,000 years ago. The fluvial deposits date from the period c. 1.8 to c. 0.48 million years before present. The cliffs where these deposits are visible are being ‘refreshed’ by the progressive erosion of the coast by the sea, over and over again, and the expectation is that in the next few decades even more spectacular discoveries can and will be made. 

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