April - Oct 2000
Glaston Early Upper Palaeolithic Project: Site Discovery
Why we were there
The farmyard was due for re-development and the area was considered to have high potential for surviving archaeology. During the 1940s an area adjacent to the farmyard had been quarried for sand. The remains of a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery, as well as Bronze Age cremations had been revealed and hastily recorded during the quarrying. The site was also situated within the historic core of the village, which had been recorded in the Domesday survey. The image here shows the site viewed from the base of the 1940’s sand quarry. One of the excavated areas can be seen beneath the polytunnel. Note the difference in height between the site and the quarried area.
After several weeks digging, the team had gathered information that reflected a long history of activity on the site. A small scatter of Mesolithic flints, a Bronze Age pit and the ditches, pits and post holes of more than 400 years of Medieval activity all highlighted the suitability of the area for occupation. This constant attraction over time must, in no small part, have been due to the ridge top location of the site, which could have been a well-used route of communication for centuries. The image left shows the excavation site. The dark brown medieval features can be clearly seen against the lighter natural sand.
Discovery of the Palaeolithic remains
The nature of the geology was very suitable for the ULAS team, who, used to the more heavy soils of the region, were enjoying the sandy conditions. The brightness of the sandy subsoil also helped in the definition of the dull brown archaeological features.
As the excavation drew to a close a group of animal bones was revealed poking from what the team had previously assumed was ‘natural’ sand. It was possible, because of the recent use of the site as a farmyard, that the bones were the remains of a fairly recent animal burial. However there was something distinctly odd about the whole deposit, which could not be ignored. Cautious excavation of the area revealed many more bones some of which were extremely large and, sitting in the midst of the whole assemblage, a beautifully crafted flint blade. At this point the alarm bells started ringing and the whole assemblage was rushed back to the University where the reality of what had been discovered began to sink in.
This shows the first glimpse of Palaeolithic animal bones protruding from the sand. Note the dark band in the lower left hand corner of the picture. This gave the only clue of a boundary to the ‘feature’.
Above, the entire assemblage of animal bone recovered from the original findspot. The majority of the bones represented woolly rhinoceros (on the right) although a small group of horse bones (on the extreme left) was also discovered.
The inclusion of this flint leafpoint within the bone group was extremely important as it provided an estimate of the age of the assemblage. Leafpoints are fairly common finds of the European Early Upper Palaeolithic and are thought to date to the period between 40 and 30 thousand radiocarbon years ago. A recently announced date of 30,000+ 3,000 BP, by Ed Rhodes of the Oxford Dating Laboratory, appears to support the suggested time for activity on the site. The date was obtained by optical stimulated luminescence (OSL), a technique which measured the most recent exposure to sunlight of quartzite grains from beneath the leafpoint. Further dates may be obtained from the animal bone.
ULAS would like to thank the many site staff involved in the project, without whom it could not have been completed successfully: Jennifer Browning, Sandie Bush, Chris Clay, Lynden Cooper, Michael Derrick, Anthony Gnanaratnam, Cain Hegarty, Tim Higgins, Andrew Hyam, Wayne Jarvis, Keith Johnson, Steve Jones, Dawn Keen, Roger Kipling, Barry Martin, Matt Parker, John Thomas and volunteers Michael Hawkes, Clare Kelly-Blazeby, George Marchant and Jen Wooding.
The project also benefited considerably from the input of the various specialists involved: Roger Jacobi and Gill Cook (British Museum), Andy Currant (Natural History Museum), Simon Collcutt (Oxford Arch. Assoc.), Clive Jones (Local geologist), Nick Burton, Jon Humble and Sarah Reilly (English Heritage), Ed Rhodes (OSL dating), Christine Buckingham, Nick Barton (Baden Powell Quaternary Research Centre, University of Oxford) and Ann Graf (former Leicestershire Planning Archaeologist).
Finally we would like to thank the landowner Capt. Robert Boyle, for his patience and interest throughout the project.