Lynford Quarry, Mundford, Norfolk

English Heritage ALSF summaries. 2002/2003

EH Project Number: 3253REC
Funded Unit: Norfolk Archaeological Unit

 Lynford Quarry, Mundford, Norfolk

In late February and early March 2002, an archaeological watching brief at Lynford Quarry, Mundford, Norfolk revealed a relic Middle Devensian palaeochannel with a dark organic fill containing in situ mammoth remains and associated Mousterian stone tools and debitage buried under two to three metres of bedded sands and gravels. Well-preserved in situ Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites are exceedingly rare in Europe and very unusual within a British context. As such, the site was identified as of national and international importance, and subsequently excavated by the Norfolk Archaeological Unit from the 8th of April to the 11th of September 2002 with funding provided by English Heritage through the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund.

Approximately 199m2 of the palaeochannel survived in situ to depth of c. 1.50m with the deposits containing faunal and lithic material composed of an organic sediment with very fine alternating organic/merogenic laminae and a minerogenic fine sand on which the organic sediment had accumulated. The excavation area was divided into 1m2 grid units composed of four 0.50m2 subunits and excavated manually by trowel using a combination of 0.10m spits and micro-stratigraphy for vertical control. Artefacts and faunal remains larger than 0.02m in size were three-dimensionally recorded in situ with objects less than 0.02m in size collected and recorded by 0.50m2 quadrat and vertical spit or micro-stratigraphy. Three of the four 0.50m2 spit quadrats for each 1m2 unit were dry-seived (6mm or 9mm mesh) and one wet-sieved (1mm mesh) to insure the recovery of small materials. The deposits were also extensively sampled for microfauna (rodents, amphibians, fish), insects, molluscs, plant remains and pollen for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. All deposits within the palaeochannel were fully excavated.

In total, some 2,079 bones, tusks, antlers and teeth of mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), horse (Equus ferus), bison (Bison priscus), wolf (Canis lupus), red or arctic fox (Vulpes vulpes or Alopex lagopus.) and brown bear (Ursus arctos) were individually recorded and a further 25,000 bone, tooth and tusk fragments recovered from the 0.50m2 subunits. Croprolites of scavengers (possibly the spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta) were also recovered from the organic sediments. No articulated skeletons were found. The bone varied in condition with some bones extensively weathered and others exhibiting traces of gnawing by predator-scavengers. Bone fractures characteristic of marrow extraction by hominids have been identified on the some of the reindeer and horse bones recovered from the deposit. Biostratigraphically, the faunal remains recovered from the palaeochannel are typical of the Pin Hole Mammal Assemblage Zone of the Middle Devensian.

Some 590 worked flint artefacts consisting of number of handaxes (pointed, subcordiform, cordiform, ovate and bout coupé forms), three cores and a number of retouched, utilised and waste flakes were individually recorded with over 1,000 pieces of microdebitage recovered from the 0.50m2 spit units. A number of the handaxes and flakes were found in direct association with bones and/or tusks. The artefacts are generally fresh and relatively sharp with minimal abrasion or post-depositional edge damage. Typologically the assemblage falls within the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA) facies of the Middle Palaeolithic.

Optical Stimulated Luminescence dates indicate a date for the organic sediments within the palaeochannel of between 64,000 to 67,000 years ago.

Assessment of the site archive demonstrated the high potential of the contextual, artefactual, faunal and environmental data to address nine research objectives and to make a substantial contribution to Middle Palaeolithic studies in general. These nine research objectives may be summarised as follows:

1. To date the deposit and associated archaeological materials by radiometric and chemical methods.

2. To determine the stratigraphic position of the palaeochannel by recording and interpreting the sequence of deposits at the site and correlating it to known regional and national Pleistocene sequences.

3. To identify and characterise the taphonomic processes responsible for site formation and post-depositional disturbance and modification.

4. To characterise the environmental setting of the site during its occupation and/or use.

5. To identify the range and spatial location of the activities undertaken at the site.

6. To provide a detailed characterisation of hominid butchery and carcass utilisation strategies.

7. To define the nature of lithic technological organisation at the site, notably raw material selection, reduction sequences, tool use and rejuvenation/reutilisation (chaîne opératoire) and its relationship to hominid site use and mobility patterns.

8. To place the site within a wider environmental setting in relation to the Middle Devensian environment.

9. To place the site within its local, regional and European setting in relation to Middle Palaeolithic hominid behaviour and subsistence adaptations.

The post-excavation programme will entail a series of environmental and artefactual analyses that will be inter-complimentary in addressing the project's stated research objectives. Dating and stratigraphic analysis will place the site within the existing chronologies for the last cold stage. The environmental analyses will characterise the palaeoenvironment of the site, the taphonomic processes responsible for deposit and assemblage formation, hominid butchery and carcass utilisation strategies, and the general nature of hominid activity at the site. Analysis of artefactual data recovered will provide a basis for characterising the taphonomic processes responsible for assemblage formation and post-depositional modification, the nature of technological organisation, and the spatial location of the activities undertaken at the site. The analyses of the lithic and faunal assemblages compliment each other and have a high potential to provide a very detailed characterisation of hominid behaviour at the site during the middle of the last cold stage. A programme of research and comparison of selected regional, national and European data will be used to place the results of the excavation within the wider context of the Middle Palaeolithic.

It is currently envisioned to produce a single report of the results of the excavation. The preferred option for publication of the report is as a volume in the Études et Recherches Archéologiques de l'Université de Liège monograph series. It is anticipated that the programme of post-excavation work will require some 12 months to complete.

There is no Middle Palaeolithic open-air site in Britain comparable to Lynford and relatively few similar sites in Europe. The absence of comparable sites and the quality and quantity of the artefactual, faunal and environmental evidence make Lynford the most important Middle Palaeolithic site in Britain to date. Its potential to address many of the ambiguities of the British Middle Palaeolithic record regarding the character of Neanderthal behaviour at the north-western edge of their range is of international importance.

This page was last updated on Friday 30 May 2003

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