In April Matt Pope took a party of WAS members on a tour by mini-bus of the landscape past and present from Worthing to Chichester. Before we set out from Worthing Matt made some introductory remarks inviting us to imagine changes in the landscape during glaciations and warm periods over the last half a million years and in the future including the comforting thought that at some point Worthing as we know it will not exist!
It was a full day tour stopping at The Trundle to look at the formation of the landscape north and south of the hill. West Stoke and Slindon bottom for dry valleys and raised beaches, UpWaltham and The Mens for the formation of the Weald and Peppering Farm (Burpham) for River Terraces where Matt showed the group where work on levelling part of a lane leading down to the river had revealed elephant bones deposited in a warm period between glaciations.
One of the many themes of Matt's tour was the raised beach at Boxgrove which subsequent work has revealed runs from Arundel to behind Portsdown and the related formation of a bay on what is now the coastal plain between Arundel and Westbourne Common. Matt covered a great deal over the course of the day and for those who want to read more about the subject the latest report on the wider Boxgrove area is available from SpoilHeap publications for UCL Institute of Archaeology, M. B. Roberts and M. I. Pope, price £30.
This was a fascinating day with Matt Pope. He started by explaining how the Marine Isotope Curve was obtained and how it revealed the extent and frequency of different ice ages going back over a million years. Using the date of a specific archaeological event and the MI curve it is possible to identify the the MI Stage of the event and hence the climate at the time.
More detail here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_isotope_stage
Simple cores and flake stone tools, had been found in Southern Europe dating back at least 1.5 million years. Human activity at Pakefield, Suffolk in the form of butchered bones and sharp fresh, dated to around 750,000 years ago corresponded to MIS19, a short lived warm period, so they did not need to adapt as they moved from the South. In contrast, at the earlier Happisburgh site in Norfolk, where again lots of cutting tools were found was dated over 850,000 years ago at which time the climate much cooler. These humans must have been sophisticated enough, and used clothing, to survive that climate.
We moved on to the Acheulian industry characterised by hand axes, the earliest found in Europe was in Spain dated from about 1 million years ago. We discussed which of the hominids had brought this industry to Europe, possibly Homo Heidelbergensis, also the different shapes and symmetries of hand axes and their purpose.
Matt told us about a cave site in France dating to 550k years ago which showed evidence of primary access to carcasses and refined hand-axe development, in different stratified layers covering MIS 13 , a temperate period, and MIS 12 a long intensely cold period when it could be seen that people had made intensified use of a cave. Possibly these humans had moved from North to South following the animals?
In the afternoon we moved on to the Middle Palaeolithic in Europe and the Neanderthals. With the number of hominoid species and the DNA evidence of interbreeding what was meant by human was being redefined and Neanderthals should be treated as humans.
We learned about the pit of bones found in Spain, dating from MIS 11, 420,000 years ago where 30 individuals were found in a pit together, possibly the earliest evidence of symbolic ritual in Europe. MIS 9 events revealed the earliest prepared cores in Europe, and hints of more complex behaviour, including wooden spears and possible stone structures.
Lots more evidence of Neanderthals sophistication have been establish in Europe predating the arrival of modern humans, some by more than 100,000 years, such as building structures, using fires and burying their dead. Other examples included collecting claws and wings of birds of prey, perforating and decorating shells and hand blown painting together with a ladder motif, at a cave in Northern Spain dating from 64,000ya.
With the arrival of modern humans in Europe around 45,000 years ago stone technologies; prismatic cores, blades, end scrapers, developed quickly and there was an explosion of art; carved bones and tusks, clay figures, musical instruments and cave paintings.
The day was packed with interest and enjoyed by us all. Thanks very much Matt for a brilliant day.
The Fittleworth Fieldwalking team met up at 8.45am each morning on the sunny but chilly ploughed field to await our instructions and collect our finds bags for the days’ work. The Gazebos were already in place on the hillside as shelter for the flint and finds specialists. Our brief was to spot and pick up any artefact or item that does not naturally occur in this geological area.
The field sits within in the narrow band of the Lower Greensand group which, according to Geology of Britain (www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/geologyOfBritain), consists of mainly sands and sandstones with some silts and clays. To the north is the Wealden clay geological group and to the south is the chalk and flint South Downs. The view from the field with its outlook across the river Rother and Arun valley to the Downs is truly inspirational. It’s clear why this piece of land and its surroundings may have been used by the earlier roaming hunter gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods through to the agricultural practices of the Neolithic period. The field would have provided a superb vantage point for watching for herds of animals passing below or gathering on the banks of the rivers. It was easy to imagine the Stone Age hunters knapping and preparing the flint they may have collected or mined and brought back from the chalk Downs and planning the days hunt.
We were organised into groups by Steve Cleverly from CDAS and sent out to walk in straight rows next to each other, examining the ground for artefacts, across a grid mapped out to cover all of the designated area.
The field walkers from both WAS and CDAS had become experts at spotting the flint tools because of the study days sorting and cataloguing the worked flint, found by Mr Smith on his land, under the watchful eyes of our flint specialists Bob and Gill Turner. We spotted some finely knapped Mesolithic curved blades, bladelets and microliths that were made from the best black flint and some cores with several flakes taken off. We found a good
scattering of flint tools from the Mesolithic and Neolithic across the field throughout the week as well as pottery sherds from later periods and even a
Victorian penny. Everything we had collected we put into our bags with a grid number to be properly identified and recorded by the finds team in the
Gazebo. It is now the job of Steve Cleverly and Bob Turner to sort out the results of the fieldwalk and work out a distribution map of all the different
artefacts that were found. Overall a really enjoyable experience.
Bob Turner started his lecture with the premise that island Britain is imbedded in the British psyche. Dover Cliffs epitomise national identity, but it has not always been that way. The separation of Britain from Europe affected the indigenous people.
Showing the AHOB chart of glacial and interglacial periods, he explained post-glacial sea rises, but said that 450,000 years ago most of Britain was accessible to migration from Europe. The only block was the river system (Thames, Rhine, Seine) all going to the Atlantic. Migrants probably did not come from Brittany, but via Germany and Belgium.
A domed chalk ridge linked England to France, of which Dover cliffs were part, with the same chalk escarpment left on both sides of the Channel.
Some of what followed of current thinking remains speculation/guesswork, he suggested we come back in a couple of years to test it. Mesolithic Britain separated from France 6200BC, but was separated before. Research in 2007 using new technology followed the palaeo-Arun offshore extension, and discovered a sudden drop-off into a cut valley running down the channel, and similar results occurred from the Solent. Elongated islands and funnel shape resulted from strong tides, with very little silt – carved out by a lot of water very quickly. In the northern Channel a series of islands with elongated flat tops pointed at the end were found – classic catastrophic flood terrains.
As the ice melted a lake formed where the North Sea now is, developing behind the chalk ridge. The first Brexit was 450,000 years ago as the chalk ridge started to overflow. Dover being prone to earthquakes, the dam was breached, and the water began to gouge channels. These rifts would have silted up repeatedly. There were two major breaks, 450,000 and 150,000 years ago, when a million cubic metres of water per second for several months would have poured through. At the end of the last glacial, rising sea levels meant a final break, after glaciers scooped the bed of the ice sheet.
A maximum of 28,000 years ago the ice slowly retreated releasing waters. Doggerland provided an access area to Britain, but by 6500BC was a low lying area of marsh and small islands linked to Europe. It had a good climate (warmer than today) and good land. An undersea landslide in Norway (the Storegga slide) created one of the greatest tsunamis the world has ever known. It could have been caused by unstable land, and earthquake, or an explosion of methane hydrate.
All Doggerland was submerged, and England was an island. Funnelled from the North Sea, the water broke through the last remnants of the Channel chalk ridge. The impact would have been catastrophic.
Goodbye to Europe – again!
The National Trust tells us that ‘winter is the best time to wrap up warm, throw on some wellies and go for an invigorating walk’ and this is how a group of 16 WAS members, wearing our warmest layers, celebrated the New Year on January 7th.
We chose a simple but favourite 3 mile route from Angmering to Highdown and back again ending up at the cosy traditional pub The Spotted Cow for drinks and lunch. We crossed the A280 dual carriageway via the footbridge and along Ecclesden Lane passing the historic Ecclesden Manor House with a view of Ecclesden Mill beyond.
The manor house is a Grade 2 listed building was first recorded in 1324 and rebuilt by John Forster in 1634. ‘Two storeys and attic. Seven windows. Faced with flints and some red brick. Horsham slab roof, partly replaced with tiles. Casement windows with stone mullions. Central gable with kneelers and ball finials raised aloft on iron uprights resting on brick and stone piers. Round-headed doorway with pilasters and keystone over. Modern additions to north’ [britishlistedbuildings.co.uk] This beautiful 7 bedroom 5 reception house is currently up for sale for a just under 3 million pounds – the description and images in the Savills brochure are astonishing (where’s my lottery ticket!). You can read more about Ecclesden, the manor, village and farm, the owners and tenants in Angmering Village Life http://www.angmeringvillage.co.uk
A little further along the lane and on the hill behind the manor is the once ‘topless’ windmill known as the Ecclesden Mill or Highdown New Mill. There have been several mills including a watermill built on or near to this site over the centuries but this one was built in 1826. It had a very short life as it was only working until 1872. ‘In 1880, the cap and sails were blown off.
By the 1930s the mill was an ivy clad ruin. It was converted into a house in the early 1970s’ [Highdown New Mill in Wikipedia]
The former mill and attached house are also currently for sale and Strutt and Parker describe it as ‘a truly unique property’. The owners have also re-capped the mill so it doesn’t look quite as quirky as the photo from Wikipedia.
We continued on our walk and soon the neat lane turned into a deep furrowed muddy track. We passed a large chalk pit to the left of the path which is named on an 1875 map as ‘the old chalk pit’ and now has a fine modern house and stables with landscaped gardens built in it.
Highdown Hill began to appear above the trees and we knew that sooner or later we would have to leave the relatively sheltered path and stride out into the wind and climb to the summit. Our leg muscles soon began to groan, the altitude of the brow is about 81 metres, and Jennie suggested that we walk backwards to ease the pain! The views from the top were stunning - you could see as far as Beachy Head one way, Arundel Castle and the spire of Chichester Cathedral the other.
We stood within the ramparts listening to Brenden's fascinating and thought-provoking talk about the early evidence of the Hillfort from Bronze Age through to Iron Age. He also told us about the extensive Saxon burial ground that was excavated in 1872 and the artifacts that were found. Alex explained his theory of flint mines that could possibly be hidden within the Hillfort area. He pointed out the known flint mining areas such as Cissbury, Church Hill and Blackpatch visible from our vantage point. The group discussed the ancient track-ways, possible barrows and other earthworks and, of course, the Roman Bath House that was excavated by Worthing Archaeological Society in 1937/38.
After paying our respects to the ‘Miller’ and admiring his tomb, we headed back down the slope. We searched for the lime kilns on the 1875 map (we’ll find them next time Connie) and crossed the Bath House field, through swamps and marshes and barbed wire fences to Angmering and our friends in the pub.
Thank you to all of the valiant walkers and brilliant speakers, to Keith for sending us his notes and illustrations and to Gill who had us all kicking over mole hills in search of flint tools and Roman pottery.
The AA describes our New Year’s route as a ‘bracing hilltop walk’ and it was positively invigorating in the cold easterly January winds.