Record Details

NHER Number:35385
Type of record:Monument
Name:Lower Palaeolithic lithic working and kill site, 'Happisburgh Site 1'

Summary

This lithic working and butchery site dates to between 500,000 and 700,000 years ago and is one of the earliest known sites in northwestern Europe. In 2000 a Lower Palaeolithic handaxe was found in Cromer Forest Bed deposit. Excavations followed in 2001, 2004 and 2005 and around 140 flint flakes, butchered animal bones and plant remains have been recovered. Although the exact date of the deposits are uncertain, this is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in northwestern Europe.

Images

  • Palaeolithic handaxe discovered in Happisburgh  © Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service
  • Palaeolithic handaxe discovered in Happisburgh  © Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service
  • Palaeolithic handaxe discovered in Happisburgh  © Norfolk County Council
  • Composite image of a Palaeolithic handaxe discovered in Happisburgh  © Norfolk County Council
  • Palaeolithic handaxe from NHER 35385  © Norfolk County Council
  • Upper Palaeolithic handaxe from NHER 35385  © Norfolk County Council

Location

Grid Reference:TG 3893 3067
Map Sheet:TG33SE
Parish:HAPPISBURGH, NORTH NORFOLK, NORFOLK

Full description

Happisburgh 1.

INITIAL DISCOVERIES AND SITE INVESTIGATION

March 2000. Stray find.
Found by [1] on Happisburgh foreshore, in situ in patch of exposed sandy silt at median low tide level:
1 Lower Palaeolithic handaxe - very important find. See digital images and drawings (S1), (S2) and (S3).
Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2000.99.1). The NCM also holds a replica of this object (NWHCM : 2009.297).
Initially reported to P. Robins (NCM), see description in file.
This immensely important discovery was subsequently seen by J. J. Wymer and others.
The silt in which this object was described by Wymer as a dark grey with iregular streaks of buff, includes copious wood fragments but only occasional fragments of black natural flint. Only a few mm of the object was protruding when it was found. Apparently the finder had previously found bone and antler fragments in the immediate area. See note in file.
This discovery was first reported in (S4) and was subsequently noted in (S5). It was also described and illustrated in (S6).
K. Hinds (NLA), 31 May 2000. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

8 June 2000. Field Visit.
Visit by J. J. Wymer, P. Robins and J. Rose (Royal Holloway, University of London) to location where handaxe had been discovered in March. Wymer recorded that a low tide a raft of a dark ckay with numerous wood fragments was well exposed in this area, which had suffered severe coastal erosion. The deposit appeared to be Cromerian and beneath two separate glacial tills.
See notes and photos in (S7).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

3 August 2000. Field Visit.
Visit to site by J. J. Wymer, P. Robins and [2]. The deposit that had produced the handaxe was well exposing in late afternoon at low tide. P. Robins found in situ within this deposit:
1 Lower Palaeolithic flint handaxe thinning flake. Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2000.99.2). Identified by P. Robins (NCM).
Information from museum records and (S7). See copy of drawing by J. J. Wymer (S19) (from British Museum Wymer Archive).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

2 September 2000. Borehole Survey.
Site evaluation by J. Rose (Royal Holloway, University of London) and students. J. J. Wymer, R. G. West and [1] also present.
Drilling of borehole on beach between the deposit exposed on foreshore and cliff in order to establish the contact between the exposure and the glacial deposits seen in the cliff. The difference in level between the surface of the till on the beach and foreshore deposit levelled and found to be 3.2m. Depth of bore at 4m failed to find it.
Information from (S7).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

15 October 2000. Field Visit.
Site visit by J. J. Wymer, S. Parfitt (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) and others. Foreshore deposit well exposed and samples collected. Some of the bone fragments recovered had cut marks on them. No micro-mammal bones or teeth found.
Information from (S7).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

November 2000-August 2001. Stray Find.
A number of worked (or potentially worked) flints recovered from deposit exposed on foreshore by J. J. Wymer, P. Robins and others:
13 Lower Palaeolithic flakes and flake fragments, 1 flake possible from hammerstone and 15 chips/shatter pieces. Mottled dark grey flint, some with small areas of cortex. Some possibly natural fragment. Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2000.99.4).
Information from NCM records.
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

11 February 2001. Stray Find.
Found by [3], also in situ within the deposit that had produced the earlier finds:
1 Lower Palaeolithic retouched flint flake. Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2000.99.3).
1 Lower Palaeolithic utilised flint flake. Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2000.99.8).
Identified by P. Robins (NCM). Information from museum records.
See digital photos.
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

9 May 2001. Trial Trench Evaluation.
Investigation of site organised by J. Rose (Royal Holloway) and T. Stuary (UCL). S. Parfitt (UCL), B. Moorlock (BGS), P. Robins (NCM), J. J. Wymer and others also present.
At low tide a JCB was used to scrape a wide trench from the foreshore back towards the cliff. The archaeological deposit on the foreshore thinned out but it was possibly to confirm that it underlay the Happisburgh Till. The grey clay beneath the deposit was smooth and level. Simon Parfitt obtained large quantities of the deposit for sampling. Several mint condition flakes were recovered.
Information from (S7), which includes photographs of this work.
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

1 December 2001. Stray Find.
Found by [1], also in situ within the deposit that had produced the earlier finds:
1 Lower Palaeolithic retouched flint flake. Donated to the Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2000.99.5).
Identified by P. Robins (NCM).
Information from museum records.
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

In January 2002 a meeting was held at the Natural History Museum (London) to discuss the future investigations of the site at Happisburgh. By this time it was recognised that the discoveries made to date were potentially the earliest evidence for hominid occupation in Britain and potentially North West Europe as a whole. It was reported that the finds recovered in situ comprised 1 handaxe, 18 flakes and 2 pieces of cut-marked bone (1 bovid femer and 1 unidentifiable fragment; presumably recovered during the October 2000 and May 2001 sampling).
See notes in file (S8).

Other summaries of the site produced around this time list the faunal remains recovered as including frog, deer (Capreolus capreolus; roe deer) and bovid. It was also noted that the archaeological deposit itself had produced a range of plant remains, including Silver birch, Trifid Bur-marigold, Starwort, Sedges, Common Spike Rush, Golden Dock, Norway Spruce, Curled Pondweed, Arrowhead and Watersoldier; suggestive of a slow-moving river with much foliage along its banks and trees nearby.
See (S9) in file and reconstruction by P. Rye (S10).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

14 July 2002 Field Observation.
Site visited by N. Larkin (NCM) and [4]. Archaeological deposit well exposed and several finds recovered over the course of a couple of hours:
1 Lower Palaeolithic flint flake ("a good flake").
3 bones (2 large limb bone fragments (1 possibly a femur head) and 1 duck coracoid; all lying parallel to surface).
Position of finds recorded in relation to datum point established at TG 38833 30692.
See notes by N. Larkin in file and digital photos.

The NCM holds a sharp black flint flake recorded as having been found in situ by N. Larkin (NWHCM : 2006.628).
This is probably the flake found in July 2002, although it may be one of the objects found in August 2002 (see below).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

12 August 2002. Field Observation.
Site visited by N. Larkin (NCM) and [4]. Several finds recovered from archaeological deposit:
2 Lower Palaeolithic flint flakes.
2 bone fragments.
See notes by N. Larkin in file and digital photos.
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

7 September 2002. Field Visit.
Field trip by Geological Society of Norfolk.
See (S11) and (S12) in file, the later of which includes a useful summary of the geological sequence at Happisburgh.
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

By December 2001 the evidence being uncovered at Happisburgh was becoming increasingly widely known and several articles appeared in the natural and local press reporting these discoveries and their potential significance. See (S13), (S14), (S15), (S16), (S17) and (S18).

EXCAVATION

The subsequent excavation of the site was undertaken as part of the Leverhulme-funded Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project. This was a multi-disciplinary project, directed by C. Stringer and undertaken by staff from the Natural History Museum (NHM), the British Museum (BM), University College London (UCL) and Royal Holloway (University of London).

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May 2001, summer 2004 and early 2005. Excavations by Ancient Human Occupation of Britain Project.
More than 30 struck flakes have now been found in situ, most in mint conidition. They include a handaxe thinning flake and several that have been retouched. Faunal remains recovered include rhinoceros, bison, fallow deer, duck, frog; flora includes Norway spruce, silver birch, waterside plants. Cut marks on some of the bones show butchery by hominids using the flint tools.
The date of the deposits the objects found continues to be debated. The artefacts were found in organic Cromer Forest bed formation sediments. One interpretation dates the sediments to about 500,000 years ago (oxygen isotope stage 13/14), another to a minimum of 680,000 BP (oxygen isotope stage 17).
Flint artefacts dating to about 700,000 BP have been found at a site at Pakefield in Suffolk - if the first interpretation is correct, Pakefield is older than this site. If the second is correct, they are relatively contemporary sites, with Pakefield probably slightly older.
Information from (S3 and S4).
D. Robertson (NLA), 22 February 2006.

July 2009.
Around 140 flint flakes or pieces of debitage have now been recovered from the site.
It is now thought that the site relates to Homo heidlebergensis rather than Homo erectus.
Information from N. Larkin (NM&AS), July 2009.
D. Gurney (NLA), 9 July 2009.

February 2010.
The handaxe (S8), found in March 2000 featured in a BBC series designed to reveal more about Norfolk's history.
See (S5) and (S6) for further details,
H. White, (NLA), 30 April 2010

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SUBSEQUENT DISCOVERIES

May 2012. Stray Find.
Recovered by [1] in vicinity of Happisburgh 1 (found loose, not in situ):
1 ?Middle Palaeolithic miniature flint handaxe. Pointed ovate in glossy buff to grey flint; undamaged, lightly rolled. See drawing (S50).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

Pre August 2012. Stray Find.
Found by [5]:
1 Lower Palaeolithic crude, unfinished flint handaxe. See drawing (S51).
P. Watkins (HES), 28 July 2014.

Monument Types

  • FINDSPOT (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • KILL SITE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • LITHIC WORKING SITE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FINDSPOT (Middle Palaeolithic - 150000 BC? to 40001 BC)

Associated Finds

  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • AXE TRIMMING FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • CORE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • CORE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • CORE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • CORE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • DEBITAGE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • DEBITAGE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • DEBITAGE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • DEBITAGE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • DEBITAGE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • DEBITAGE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • HAMMERSTONE? (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • HANDAXE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • HANDAXE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • PLANT REMAINS (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • POLLEN (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • RETOUCHED FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • RETOUCHED FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • RETOUCHED FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • RETOUCHED FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • RETOUCHED FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • RETOUCHED FLAKE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • WATERLOGGED SAMPLE (Lower Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 150001 BC)
  • HANDAXE (Middle Palaeolithic - 150000 BC? to 40001 BC)

Protected Status - none

Sources and further reading

---Unpublished Document: Draft press release.
---Correspondence: 2001 to 2002. Correspondence regarding Happisburgh.
---Unpublished Document: Rose, J., Hamblin, R. & Lee, J.. Dating the Archaeology at Happisburgh - The Oldest Evidence for Humans in Northern Europe.
---Unpublished Document: NCM. Printout of Geology fossils Master for finds from Happisburgh.
---Secondary File: Secondary file.
---Publication: West, R. G. 1980. The Pre-glacial Pleistocene of the Norfolk and Suffolk Coasts.
---Article in Serial: Shindler, K. 2014. Colonising Britain. One million years of our human story. Current Archaeology. No 288 pp 14-21.
---Article in Monograph: Ashton, N., Parfitt, S., Lewis, S.G., Coope, G.R. and Larkin, N. 2008. Happisburgh 1 (TG388307). The Quaternary of Northern East Anglia. Field Guide. Candy, I., Lee, J. R. and Harrison, A. M. (eds). pp 151-156.
---Publication: Pettitt, P. and White, M. 2012. The British Palaeolithic: Human Societies at the Edge of the Pleistocene World.
<S1>Article in Serial: Wymer, J. and Robins, P. 2006. Happisburgh and Pakefield: The Earliest Britons. Current Archaeology. No 201 pp 458-467.
<S1>Illustration: Robins, P. 2000. Drawing of a Lower Palaeolithic flint handaxe from Happisburgh. Paper. 1:1.
<S2>Article in Serial: Parfitt, S., Stuart, T., Stringer, C. and Preece, R. 2006. 700,000 years old: found in Suffolk. No 86 pp 18-27.
<S2>Illustration: Wymer, J. J. 2000. Drawing of a Lower Palaeolithic flint handaxe from Happisburgh. Paper. 1:1.
<S3>Illustration: Gibbons, J. 2011. Drawing of a Lower Palaeolithic flint handaxe from Happisburgh. Film. 1:1.
<S4>Article in Serial: Gurney, D. (ed.). 2001. Archaeological Finds in Norfolk 2000. Norfolk Archaeology. XLIII Pt IV pp 694-707. p 695.
<S5>Article in Serial: Robins, P., Wymer, J. J. and Parfitt, S. 2008. Handaxe Finds on the Norfolk Beaches. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XLV Pt III pp 412-415. p 415.
<S6>Publication: Hobbs, R. 2003. Treasure: finding our past. pp 99-100 Fig 68.
<S7>Unpublished Document: Wymer, J. J. Journal. Vol 8. pp 33-38; 44-45.
<S8>Unpublished Document: Larkin, N.. 2002. Notes for meeting at NHM, January 2002 regarding Happisburgh.
<S9>Unpublished Document: The prehistoric site on the NE Norfolk Coast.
<S10>Illustration: Rye, P. 2002. Reconstruction of Happisburgh.
<S11>Article in Serial: 2002. Report of Field Trip at Happisburgh, 7th September. Newsletter of the Geological Society of Norfolk. No 55 p 4.
<S12>Unpublished Document: Lee, J. 2002. Geological Society of Norfolk Field Excursion - Happisburgh.
<S13>Article in Serial: Keys, D. 2001. The old country: Britain's first humans go a long way back. New Scientist. December 22.
<S14>Newspaper Article: The Times. 2002. 'Anglia Man' becomes earliest Ancient Briton. 4 June.
<S15>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2002. 'Exciting' look at human history. 5 June.
<S16>Newspaper Article: East Anglian Daily Times. 2002. East Anglian site yields earliest human finds. 5 June.
<S17>Newspaper Article: The Independent. 2002. Flint axe rewrites history of ancient Britain. 5 June.
<S18>Article in Serial: Keys, D. 2002. The first Britons. Focus. September pp 35-43. pp 36-37.
<S19>Illustration: Wymer, J. J. 2000. Drawing of a Palaeolithic flint thinning flake from Happisburgh. Paper. 1:1.
<S30>Article in Serial: Parfitt, S. et al. 2005. The earliest record of human activity in northern Europe. Nature. Vol 438 No 7071 pp 1008-1012.
<S33>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2006. Precious artefacts may be lost to sea. 6 September.
<S40>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Artefacts help trace history of England. 18 January.
<S41>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. The object is to celebrate our rich history. 13 February.
<S42>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2012. Handaxe is a top treasure. 23 July.
<S44>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2014. Coastal finds go centre stage at national show. 17/01/2014.
<S50>Illustration: Gibbons, J. 2012. Drawing of a ?Middle Palaeolithic miniature flint handaxe from Happisburgh. Film. 1:1.
<S51>Illustration: Gibbons, J.. 2012. Drawing of a Lower Palaeolithic crude, unfinished flint handaxe from Happisburgh. Film. 1:1.

Related records - none

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