University of Leicester Archaeological Services

Asfordby Mesolithic Site, Leicestershire

image of Asfordby Mesolithic site during excavation. One of the possible stone settings can be seen in the foreground, next to an earlier testpit which helped identify the concentration of Mesolithic flintworking.The Asfordby site is situated 3 miles from Melton Mowbray on the north side of the Wreake valley, in north Leicestershire. The Wreake valley is an area of significant Prehistoric archaeology, with other Mesolithic sites known at East Goscote and Eye Kettleby. Initial work for Asfordby included a desk-based assessment, geophysical survey, and trial trenching. The trial trenching identified unabraded worked Mesolithic flints from the subsoil in one area. Further test-pitting work involved excavation by hand of eighteen 1 metre square test-pits through the soils, to determine the location and depth of the flintwork. The test-pits identified a dense scatter of Mesolithic flint, with in addition to unstratified material, over 1300 lithic artefacts being recovered.

Image of overall view of Asfordby site, with the ULAS team at work excavating and GPS locating worked flints from the Mesolithic layer. In the foreground is the intial trial trench which exposed several flints of Mesolithic typology which led to follow up work here.Based on the test-pitting results a 10m square area was targeted for excavation and full 3D recording of finds. This area was excavated by hand in thin spits and by metre square and has so far produced 7400 worked flints, burnt bone fragments, charcoal, and possible structural evidence with stone settings and post-sockets.

Image of selected microlith tools from the Asfordby excavations. The lower flints are of early type, the middle are of the intermediate type, and the top row show late form microliths.Initial work suggested that the in-situ flint was of Deepcar type and therefore potentially Early Mesolithic in date, being based upon obliquely blunted points with additional retouch towards the tip. The scatter is seen as being potentially a rare example of a chronologically intermediate site between the established British earlier and later Mesolithic periods, containing both ‘early’ and ‘late’ typological microlith markers (non-geometric and geometric forms) and microliths with additional inverse retouch at the base.  The latter may place the occupation in the first half of the ninth millennium BP (uncalibrated radiocarbon years).  The occupation appears to be focused and represents a snap-shot of activity and without the ‘palimpsest effect’ of known ‘intermediate’ Mesolithic scatters.  This is potentially the only known site of this type known from the Midlands and as such can make a very significant contribution to their understanding.

Image of ULAS staff GPS recording worked flints as the mesolithic area is excavated by spits, 20mm thick layers of soil removed and sieved separately to accurately locate the position of all finds. In the background one of the earlier test-pits can be seen cutting right down through the soils.The main area of flint is at a height of around 80m aOD, just off a hill crest and with the ground sloping slightly down to the east and more steeply to the south and west, to areas where Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age archaeology has also been excavated. The drift geology incorporates a comparatively high density of derived East Anglian flint, material suitable for flint working. The soil sequence is complicated by several factors including a water table that has gleyed the soils due to seasonal waterlogging. A series of buried soils are preserved however, producing a soil profile up to 1.25m deep. This is a sequence of colluvium, infilling one or more hollows in the palaeolandscape. These hollows would have been more pronounced in the Mesolithic period, but gradually smoothed out over time. The Mesolithic ground may have consisted of marshy patches, perhaps with seasonal pools, and a wide variety of flora and fauna. The colluviation is most likely associated with erosion to the north, due to deforestation and more recently, arable agriculture. Certainly some of the colluvial deposits produced flint and pottery of later prehistoric date, and some of the features sealed by the colluvium in the east of the site are probably Bronze Age or Iron Age in date.

Current work is involving a GIS of the recorded material to analyse the site further for activity areas.

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Wayne Jarvis

Lynden Cooper


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UPDATED: 11th April 2014
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.