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2021-12-23 13:00:33   •   ID: 2291

The earliest settlement of The UK at Happisburgh

Figure1 ; Copyright: Jim Whiteside and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license-Figure 1
Figure 2
The coasts of eastern England are particularly affected by rising sea levels caused by global warming. For example, water temperature trends in northern regions have developed differently than in the Mediterranean.

In areas around Scotland, water temperatures have risen by about 1°C over the past 20 years; in the Mediterranean, the increase is closer to 0,5°C. Sea level changes also vary, from 0,8 mm annually to 3,0 mm annually. They interact with other critical processes, such as tides, the state of sea ice, evaporation, and various tectonic developments on land.

Happisburgh is located on the northeast coast of Norfolk, a rapidly eroding escarpment composed mainly of Early and Middle Pleistocene sediments.

Communities like the village of Happisburgh are at the forefront of coastal erosion in the UK - with up to about 4 meters of soil disappearing every year.

Climatic change becomes faster each year, and the UK Government's Committee on Climate Change says that areas at risk, with 100000 homes will simply disappear into the sea if nothing is done.

On the other hand these changes led to the exposure of Pleistocene strata with opportunities for the reconstruction of the earliest settlement of the UK, so far (Figure 1).

Figue 2-5: This is a 12 cm long, Pointed Handaxe from Happisburgh in slightly rolled condition, of black Flint, now patinated with pale orange mottles to one face, the other face is faintly brown. All scars were created by semi-soft hammer Modification, with no traces of the original blank for this piece survived.

Though damaged, the point appeared to have the edge further modified by a tranchet blow (Figure 3). Both lateral edges are straight and there is no natural cortex on the butt.

New excavation finds at Happisburgh indicate that our ancestors surprisingly advanced very far north at an unexpectedly early Pleistocene stage when England was connected to continental Europe.

Figure 3
The archaeology of Britain during the early and initial Middle Pleistocene is represented by a number of sites in S / E- England.

The first locality, detected by increasing coastal erosion and characterized by a pure core and flake ensemble (Mode I) was Pakefield at ca 700 k.a. BP (MIS 17 or late MIS 19) during an episode of Mediterranean-type climate.

After the Pakefield excavations and prior the Happisburgh discoveries, the first emigrants from the African Continent were considered to be able to have crossed the 45th parallel only during warm periods, resembling the climate in their Area of origin.

However, this hypothesis was disproved by the finds of of the Happisburgh Site 3 (HSB3) now securely dated to ca. 850 k.a. (or possibly even ca. 950 k.a. BP), quite earlier than Pakefield (MIS17), High Lodge (MIS 13), Warren Hill (MIS 13)- see 1652 and Boxgrove (500 k.a. BP; MIS 13).

Environmental data show, that our ancestors coped, in contrast to Pakefield, even with cool to temperate climates at Happisburgh as well. Dating of the deposits by Lithostratigraphic and Magnetostratigraphic methods yielded reliable age estimates, which have been widely accepted.

The Happisburgh sediments testify a climate, which roughly corresponds to the climate of present-day Southern Scandinavia. The circumstances of the find at Happisburgh indicate that the first hominids were not discouraged from colonizing northern Europe even at Pleistocene times when the climate was significantly colder than today.

Note that this early core and flake ensemble was incorporated within the Early Pleistocene Cromer Forest-bed Formation. It consists of river gravels, estuary and floodplain sediments predominantly clays and muds as well as sands along the coast of northern Norfolk. It is the type locality for the Cromerian Stage of the Pleistocene between 0,8 and 0,5 mya. The deposit itself range varies in age from about 2 to 0,5 mya.

The small the core and flake ensemble of HSB3 is handaxe free. The artifacts look fresh and testify only minimal transport.

Figure 4
"A characteristic of the assemblage is the predominance of large flakes (up to 145 mm) with sharp cutting edges and opposing cortex. The unusual size-range, together with the high proportion of flake tools, indicates that they have been selected and brought into the area for use and that knapping was undertaken elsewhere. The presence of artefacts at several levels in the succession indicates repeated visits to the site“ (Parfitt et al. 2014).

In May 2013, a series of early human footprints were discovered on the beach near the HSB3 site in Early Pleistocene estuarine muds possibly of five people, one adult male and some children and gave direct evidence of early human activity at the site, slightly younger than the findings from HSB3 (Ashton et al. 2014).

It remains unclear if the hominins, who left their traces at Happisburgh belonged to the Homo antecessor clade as speculated by several researchers.

The Middle Pleistocene HSB1 scatters: The next younger, already handaxe bearing, ensemble at Happisburgh date already to the Middle Pleistocene, the great time of Homo Heidelbergensis and are about 500-600 k.a. old (according to the skeletal remains from Mauer (Germany) and Boxgrove in the UK).

In the year 2000 a black, extraordinary fresh symmetric, in-situ handaxe, made from the same black flint, that was also used for the production of the artifact of this post, was found.

If you take a closer look at some chips of the Handaxe, especially on Figure 3, you will note the characteristic original black colour of the non patinated raw material.

This single find marked the starting point of scientific exploration of Happisburgh and has become the most emblematic piece for the AHOB project (The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain-project as evidenced by the story told here-see: Black Handaxe

Figure 5
The excavations at HSB1 detected a Lower Palaeolithic assemblage comprising flakes, flake tools (notches, denticulates and marginally retouched artifacts), cores and a handaxe. The lithostratigraphic and magnetostratigraphic evidence at HSB1 gave an early Middle Pleistocene age (780–478 k.a.) before the Anglian glaciation.

Technologically hard hammer methods were used on beach pebbles, preferably on the black flint mentioned above. Some refittings could been made and reflect in situ knapping. Reconstruction of the local environment showed a much colder climate that today.

Another assemblage ,not found in an in-situ context, including the handaxe, from this post showed very similar traits compared to the excavated artifacts.

In sum, not only the earliest traces of human settlement of N/W-Europe were found at Happisburgh, but the site also gives us the opportunity to explore the rare MIS-13 settlement of UK along with the famous sites of Warren Hill- see 1652 , High Lodge and Boxgrove.

Note that on the other side of the Channel according newer biostratigraphic and ESR data, even older Acheulian findings were present in the high terrace of the Somme at the Carpentier-quarry and at Moulin Quignon at Abbeville (Somme Valley).

These sites date to the second half of the Cromerian and therefore to MIS15. They represent together with the new discovered Rue du Manège site at Amiens the oldest Acheulian in continental N/W-Europe (ca. 600-550 k.a.) and bear a lot of Handaxes.

PS: The Handaxe shown here was scientifically evaluated, given back to its finder and and is accessible under the number NMS-7158DE in the Portable Antiquities Database.

Provenience: Donated by the Finder (N.N)