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Palaeolithic Archaeology at the Swan Valley Community School, Swanscombe, Kent

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2014

Francis Wenban-Smith
Affiliation:
Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ
David Bridgland
Affiliation:
Department of Geography, University of Durham, Science Laboratories, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE
Simon Parfitt
Affiliation:
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Andrew Haggart
Affiliation:
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Greenwich, Chatham, Kent ME4
Phillip Rye
Affiliation:
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD

Abstract

This paper reports on the recovery of Palaeolithic flint artefacts and faunal remains from fluvial gravels at the base of a sequence of Pleistocene sediments revealed during construction works at two sites to the south of Swanscombe village, Kent. Although outside the mapped extent of the Boyn Hill/Orsett Heath Formation, the newly discovered deposits can be firmly correlated with the Middle Gravels and Upper Loam from the Barnfield Pit sequence dating to c. 400,000–380,000 BP. This increases greatly the known extent of these deposits, one horizon of which produced the Swanscombe Skull, and has provided more information on their upper part.

Comparison of the lithic assemblages from volume-controlled sieving with those from general monitoring demonstrated that artefact collections formed without controlled methods of recovery, such as form the majority of the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic archaeological record, are likely to be disproportionately dominated by larger, more visible, and more collectable neatly-made handaxes to the detriment of more poorly made, asymmetrical handaxes and cores, flakes, and percussors. The lithic assemblage from the fluvial gravel was confirmed as dominated by pointed handaxes, supporting previous studies of artefacts front the equivalent Lower Middle Gravel at Barnfield Pit. The raw material characteristics of the assemblage were investigated, and it was concluded that there was no indication that the preference for pointed shapes could be related to either the shape or source of raw material.

This paper also reviews the significance of lithic assemblages from disturbed fluvial contexts, and concludes that, contrary to some current perspectives, they have a valuable role to play complementing less disturbed evidence in developing understanding of the Palaeolithic.

Résumé

Cette étude relate la découverte d'objets manufacturés en silex et de restes fauniques datant du Paléolithique dans des graviers fluviaux situés à la base d'une séquence de sédiments du Pléistocène et mis au jour pendant des travaux de construction sur deux sites au sud du village de Swanscombe. Bien qu'ils se trouvent à l'extérieur de la zone cartographiée de la formation Boyn Hill/Orsett, on peut confirmer que les dépôts nouvellement recueillis ont de forts liens avec les graviers intermédiaires et l'argile sableuse supérieure de la séquence de Barnfield Pit, qui date d'environ 400 000–380 000 ans avant le présent. Cette découverte accroît d'une manière importante l'étendue connue de ces dépôts, dont une couche a révélé le crâne de Swanscombe et a fourni un supplément de renseignements sur leurs niveaux supérieurs.

La comparaison entre les assemblages lithiques provenant de tamisages à volume contrôlé avec ceux résultant d'une observation générale a démontré que les assemblages obtenus sans contrôle des méthodes de récupération, comme par exemple ceux qui constituent la majorité des archives archéologiques du Paléolithique inférieur et moyen sont susceptibles d'être dominés, d'une manière disproportionnée, par des bifaces, soigneusement taillés, plus grands, plus visibles et plus faciles à collectionner au détriment des bifaces asymétriques de qualité inférieure, des nucléus, des éclats et des percuteurs. Il a été confirmé que la collection lithique provenant des graviers fluviaux était dominée par des bifaces pointus, ce qui va dans le sens des études précédentes d'objets manufacturés du niveau équivalent des graviers moyens inférieurs à Barnfield Pit. On a étudié les caractéristiques de la matière première de l'assemblage et on en a conclu qu'il n'y avait aucune indication que la préférence pour les formes pointues ait pu avoir un rapport avec soit la forme, soit la source de la matière première.

Cette étude réexamine la signification des assemblages lithiques en provenance de contextes fluviaux perturbés, et conclut que, contrairement à certaines perspectives actuelles, ils ont un rôle important à jouer, en complément des témoignages moins perturbés, dans le développement de notre compréhension du Paléolithique.

Zusammenfassung

Dieser Artikel berichtet über die Entdeckung von paläolithischen Feuerstein Artefakten und Faunaresten aus fluvialem Schotter an der Basis einer Abfolge von pleistozänen Sedimenten, die bei Bauarbeiten an zwei Stellen südlich des Dorfes von Swanscombe entdeckt wurden. Obwohl die kürzlich entdeckten Ablagerungen außerhalb des bekannten Ausmaßes der Boyn Hill/Orsett Formation liegen, können sie mit Sicherheit mit den mittleren Schottern und dem oberen Lehm der Barnfield Grubenabfolge korreliert werden, die c. 400,000–380,000 BP datiert. Dies erhöht das bekannte Ausmaß dieser Ablagerungen beträchtlich, ein Horizont aus dem der Swanscombe Schädel hervorgegangen ist, und hat somit zusätzliche Information zu ihrem oberen Teil geliefert. Ein Vergleich der lithischen Inventare, die aus kontrolliertem Sieben stammen, mit denjenigen in allgemeinen Kontrollen gefundenen, zeigte, daß die Artefakt Inventare, die ohne kontrollierte Fundbergung zusammen getragen worden sind – unter diesen Umständen wird die Mehrheit des alt- und mittelpaläolithischen archäologischen Materials gesammelt – wahrscheinlich überproportional von größeren, und dadurch leichter sichtbar und zu sammelnden fein gefertigten Faustkeilen als von asymmetrischen Faustkeilen minderer Qualität und von Kernen, Abschlägen und Schlägeln dominiert sind. Weiterhin bestätigt das lithische Inventar aus dem fluvialen Schotter, daß es von spitzen Faustkeilen dominiert war, was frühere Studien über Artefakte vom vergleichbaren unteren mittleren Schotter aus der Barnfield Grube bestätigen. Nachdem die Merkmale der Rohmaterialien des Inventars untersucht waren, konnte geschlußfolgert werden, daß es keine Anzeichen dafür gibt, daß die Präferenz für spitze Formen auf die Form oder die Herkunft des Rohmaterials zurück zu führen ist.

Zusätzlich behandelt der Artikel die Bedeutung von lithischem Inventar aus gestörten fluvialen Kontexten. Im Gegensatz zu anderen neuen Ansätzen, kann man davon ausgehen, daß sie einen wertvollen Beitrag liefern können, indem sie die weniger gestörten Befunde komplimentieren, um schließlich ein besseres Verständnis des Paläolithikums zu entwickeln.

Resúmen

Este trabajo informa del descubrimiento de útiles de sílex y restos de fauna paleolíticos en las gravas fluviales halladas en la base de una secuencia sedimentológica del Pleistoceno, y que han salido a la luz durante las obras de construcción en dos sitios al sur del pueblo de Swanscombe. Aunque no pertenecen a la extensión conocida de la Formación Boyn Hill/Orsett, los recién descubiertos depéisitos pueden ponerse en relación directa con las Gravas Medias y la Marga Superior de la secuencia de Barnfield Pit que data a alrededor de 400,000–380,000 BP. Esto aumenta grandemente nuestros conocimientos de la extensión de estos depósitos, uno de cuyos horizontes produjo el Cráneo de Swanscombe, y ha producido más información sobre su parte superior. Un análisis comparativo de los grupos líticos hallados a través de la criba de volúmenes controlados y con aquellos hallados a través de una búsqueda general, demostró que las colecciones de artefactos formadas sin métodos de recuperación controlados, como es el caso de la mayoría del registro arqueológico del Paleolítico Inferior y Medio, están más probablemente dominadas de manera desproporcionada por hachas de mano más grandes, visibles y bien hechas, en detrimento de hachas asimétricas peor ejecutadas, núcleos, lascas y percutores. El material lítico de las gravas fluviales está dominado por hachas apuntadas, lo cual confirma estudios previos de artefactos procedentes de niveles equivalentes en las gravas bajo-medias de Barnfield Pit. Se investigó la materia prima característica de este grupo, concluyendo que no había ningún indicio de una preferencia por las formas apuntadas en relación ya sea a la forma, ya a la fuente, de la materia prima. Este trabajo también examina la importancia de grupos líticos procedentes de contextos fluviales no intactos, y concluye que, en contra de algunas interpretaciones actuales, éstos tienen un importante papel en el desarrollo de un conocimiento del Paleolítico al complementar la evidencia procedente de contextos intactos.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Prehistoric Society 2001

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