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Dr Francis Wenban-Smith PhD, MA, BA

Principal Enterprise Fellow, Director of Centre for Applied Human Origins Research (CAHOR)

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith's photo

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith is a Principal Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Southampton.

It all started for me on a peat bog in Yorkshire, where an interest in lithic technology was stimulated in my teens by fieldwork at the Mesolithic site of Seamer Carr. This was followed by a BA in general archaeology at the London Institute of Archaeology, where I became enthused by human origins research through involvement with Boxgrove Lower Palaeolithic site. I then studied for an MA in Lithic Analysis and Microwear at University College London before carrying out a PhD at the University of Southampton, completing in 1996. My PhD was based on the classic British Levalloisian site of Baker's Hole, although this was used as a case-study for an organisational approach to lithic analysis, rather than merely being about "the Levalloisian". Previous employment includes many years at Boxgrove, culminating as Senior Supervisor and Lithic Analyst on the Hominid Site project in the mid-1990s. Fortuitously for me, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link - now rebranded as HS1 - was put straight through my PhD site of Baker's Hole, leading to my becoming heavily involved in the pre-construction route-planning and archaeological work as a Palaeolithic specialist.

Since the late 1990s, I have been carrying out a combination of commercial contract and research work as part of the University of Southampton Archaeology Department, through the contracting centre CAHOR, Centre for Applied Human Origins Research. My work involves developing/leading major research projects and carrying out commercial archaeological investigations in advance of development, as a specialist in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods, Quaternary geoarchaeology and lithic analysis. Commercial projects have ranged across southern England, including much work in relation to HS1, including discovery, excavation and publication of The Ebbsfleet Elephant, the undisturbed remains of a 400,000 year-old early hominin elephant butchery site. Following from HS1, there is still much archaeological work to be done in the surrounding area, most notably in conjunction with the recently proposed Ebbsfleet garden city. Other commercial projects have included fieldwork in advance of improvements to the M25, leading to discovery of the earliest Neanderthal occupation of Britain and investigations of Bronze Age activity at the site of the new 2nd runway for Manchester airport.

Various research projects have been carried out alongside my commercial contracting work. As well as the current projects listed separately - see tab link above - previous projects have included: fieldwork at Red Barns handaxe site near Portsmouth and the Priory Bay cliff-top site on the Isle of Wight; the Medway Valley Palaeolithic Project

], which involved a regional survey of the Lower/Middle Palaeolithic occupation of the Medway basin, including fieldwork at the late Lower Palaeolithic site of Cuxton; and the Stopes Palaeolithic Project, which involved investigating the archive and lithic collection of Henry Stopes, an active antiquarian in the late 19th century, and a vigorous proponent of "Tertiary Man" in the UK. I am closely involved with a number of academic societies, in particular I am a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and an active member of the Lithic Studies Society where I was Chair between 2004 and 2009.

Research interests

My primary research interests are human evolution and cognitive development, the Palaeolithic, Pleistocene geo-archaeology and lithic technology. All these areas overlap and coalesce in the exploration and interpretation of the material remains of the earlier prehistoric past; although the same interpretive principles apply in later periods, and I am also interested in the role of lithics in later prehistoric and proto-historic societies. My research is driven to a certain extent by the chance of where major development projects take place; but, alongside this work, I am also able to maintain activity in the areas where I have greatest interest. My work is particularly informed by my long experience of excavation on Palaeolithic sites, and by my history of practical experimentation in replication of prehistoric lithic material culture by flint knapping.

I am currently involved in a wide range of research projects, from tiny pre-development investigations of specific housing plots, for instance investigating the presence of pre-Anglian occupation in the Caversham Ancient Channel in Berkshire, to major projects such as the completion of post-excavation analysis on material recovered during construction of High Speed 1 and a survey of the Stour Basin in northeast Kent.

Research group

Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins

Affiliate research groups

Centre for Archaeology of Human Origins Contracting, Human Evolution, Chronology, Dispersals and Lifeways

Research project(s)

The Ebbsfleet Elephant

Archaeological excavations in advance of High Speed 1 have revealed an undisturbed Lower Palaeolithic Clactonian palaeo-landsurface 400,000 years old in the Ebbsfleet Valley, near Swanscombe, Kent. The skeleton of a single elephant has been preserved in the muddy sediment near what was then the edge of a small lake, and is surrounded by flint tools, lying undisturbed where they were originally discarded. The remains of other animals are also present, including aurochs, two species of rhinoceros, and several species of deer. The sedimentary sequence also includes pollen, molluscs and abundant small vertebrate remains.

Prehistoric Ebbsfleet, Excavations in Advance of High Speed 1 - Dormant

A major programme of fieldwork was carried between 1997 and 2004 in the Ebbsfleet Valley, Kent in collaboration with Oxford Archaeology in advance of the construction of the new High Speed 1 line linking London to the Channel Tunnel portal near Folkestone. Although many significant Pleistocene deposits containing Palaeolithic evidence have been removed by previous quarrying, the route of HS1 and the footprint of the new Ebbsfleet International station impacted upon surviving patches of Pleistocene sediments with biological evidence and Levalloisian remains. The programme of analysis is now reaching its end, and the resulting monograph Prehistoric Ebbsfleet is due for publication in 2013.

Stour Basin Palaeolithic Project

This new project is a collaboration with English Heritage and Kent County Council. The project is focused on the Palaeolithic resource of the Stour Basin of northeast Kent, covering the planning districts of Swale, Ashford, Thanet, Dover and Canterbury. The Stour Basin is relatively uninvestigated compared to other parts of Kent, such as the Lower Thames and Medway valleys, and the Thames Gateway, which have been the focus of previous Aggregates Levy projects and large-scale commercial investigations such as in advance of High Speed 1.

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Not teaching in 2012-13

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith
Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton
Avenue Campus, Highfield
SO17 1BF
United Kingdom

Room Number : 65A/2213

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