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The University of Southampton
ArchaeologyPart of Humanities

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

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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.

One of the key points to bear in mind in the Ebbsfleet Valley is that it, or "Bakers Hole" as it is often known (after one of the 19th century chalk quarries), is not a single Palaeolithic site, but an area filled with a complex suite of Pleistocene deposits that have produced different Palaeolithic evidence at various different locations, investigated at different times from the 1880s to the present day. The early finds were poorly recorded, if at all, and it has only been possible to estimate their locations and stratigraphic context by assiduous archival investigations and reference to the sequence of OS surveys fortunately carried out at regular intervals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - 1865, 1895, 1907 and 1938. The earliest finds from the site were by FCJ Spurrell in a pit railway cutting in the 1880s, and then a major recovery of Levalloisian material by RA Smith of the British Museum took place in c. 1910, following identification of an artefact-rich location by a local collector J Cross.

The results include the discovery of a variety of geological deposits rich in biological evidence, whose analysis has allowed a far more complete understanding of the Pleistocene landscape history. Remnants were also discovered of the artefact-bearing deposits investigated by Smith and Spurrell, as well as the actual pit railway route recorded by Spurrell in his pioneering work. However only a few Levalloisian artefacts were recovered, probably representing the tail end of a spread of artefacts caught up in chalk solifluction deposits originating from the spur of Chalk quarried away as New Barn Pit, and investigated closer to their source by Smith and Cross.

The forthcoming monograph provides a wealth of material on characteristic faunal populations from MIS 7, and situates Levalloisian occupation of the site in late MIS 8 or early MIS 7, c. 250,000 years ago.

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