Red Barns Palaeolithic Site

By Wenban-Smith, Francis F. | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Red Barns Palaeolithic Site


Wenban-Smith, Francis F., Antiquity


The Lower/Middle Palaeolithic site at Red Barns, Portchester, on the outskirts of Portsmouth (SU 608063), was re-investigated in summer 1999. Three test-pits succeeded in relocating and exposing the artefact-bearing horizon first discovered in 1973 by J.C. Draper of Fareham and last seen in 1975 when a rescue excavation took place. This excavation produced a massive (in every sense) lithic collection including seven sediment samples, 8678 flint artefacts, 2058 flint nodules and a staggering 18,423 thermally fractured flint pieces (Gamble & ApSimon 1986). Recent study of the 1975 material (Wenban-Smith et al. forthcoming) has demonstrated that the site is older than previously thought, dating to at least 200,000 BP and probably to nearer 400,000 BP, and that lithic technology at the site was dominated by the production of pointed piano-convex handaxes. Study of the organizational structure of the lithic production gave an insight into the patterning of Archaic hominid behaviour, with the site serving as a locale were handaxes were regularly made, but from which they were normally removed before being used and abandoned elsewhere.

The study also led to several questions which required further fieldwork. Firstly, the extent and topography of the main archaeological horizon remained unknown. Secondly, more detailed sediment sampling for biological evidence was desirable. And thirdly, excavation of a further sample of lithic material with the orientation recorded could help understand how the main archaeological horizon was formed, and whether it was undisturbed as indicated by the study of the 1975 material.

Two test-pits went down to solifiucted chalk deposits without any sign of artefact-bearing horizons, but the test-pit immediately next to the estimated location of the 1975 trench produced better results, with the cracked surface of the cemented breccia overlying the main Palaeolithic archaeological horizon revealed after several days of heavy digging. In 1975 this breccia was removed by levering out blocks with a pickaxe, taking advantage of the existing cracks. In 1999 attempting this approach led to nothing more than a bent pickaxe and a frantic dash to hire a pneumatic drill (FIGURE 1). After removal of the breccia the top of the artefact-bearing dark grey loam was reached (FIGURE 2). A densely packed surface was revealed at the base of the dark grey loam containing mint condition flint flakes and a handaxe amongst frost-fractured flint nodules and pieces. …

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