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Early Humans in Britain: Cultural Adaptations from Coastal to Inland Occupation

Project Description

This project will examine the technologies and habitats of the first human occupants of northern Europe between over 800,000 to 500,000 years ago primarily through existing stone tool collections. Due to recently discovered sites on the coast of East Anglia (dating to over 800,000 years ago) two key questions have emerged:
• Was initial colonisation dependent on the more oceanic climates and wider, collectable food resources (e.g. shellfish) found in coastal areas?
• Was inland occupation dependent on more advanced technologies (e.g. clothing, shelter, fire), better food acquisition techniques (e.g. hunting), and implicitly improved social cooperation?

The questions can be addressed by examining the age of the earliest inland sites, and by determining whether they are associated with a simple core and flake technology (as found on coastal sites) or correspond with the introduction of handaxes. The latter have been argued to reflect not only a suite of new technological systems, but also more complex social behaviours.

To address the questions, the student will study the area between Reading and Beaconsfield that contains former courses of the River Thames, from which there are good museum collections of stone artefacts. The former river courses date to over 500,000 years ago and can be placed in stratigraphic order, providing an ideal location to examine the stratigraphic context and age of the earliest collections and identify the introduction of handaxe technology.

The project will use four main methods:
• Record and study existing museum artefact collections from the older river courses.
• Examine archives and historic mapping to improve the contextual information for the artefact collections.
• Use existing geological borehole data to reassess the mapping of the older river courses.
• Excavate sections in the older river courses and establish artefact presence/absence and if present, type(s) of technology.

The project will be managed by a strong supervisory team, all of whom have worked together on past projects, including a successful CDA collaboration (2 PhDs) between the University of Reading, the BM and Queen Mary University of London (The Solent Palaeolithic Project). The methods that were used on the Solent project have been tried and tested, and are ideal for the proposed research.

An important aspect of the proposal is the career development of the student. Skills will be developed in: lithic analysis; borehole data and mapping; field recording and sampling techniques; laboratory analyses as well as the use of software packages such as GIS and Rockworks. These will be complemented by broader training programmes organised for doctoral students at the University of Reading and the BM, including developing written and verbal communication to both specialist and non-specialist audiences through conference and poster presentations and outreach programmes.

As part of the project the student will have a choice of placements, which could include 3 months at the BM to organise, digitally record and curate the Wymer archive of British Palaeolithic sites. The second 3 months could be at the BM and QMUL and train the student in the skills involved in planning and implementation, participation and post-excavation stages of a large-scale excavation. The overall aim is to produce a well-balanced individual who has a multiple set of skills that could be used in a wide variety of work situations, including academia, museums, other heritage and environment sectors, commercial archaeology or jobs requiring project management skills.

Please note that the studentship is 45 months funded with the option to extend for 3 months according to student development opportunities. It can be studied either full-time or part-time.

Informal enquiries should be addressed to Rob Hosfield () and Prof. Nick Ashton ().

Funding Notes

AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Project.

UG degree in Archaeology or related subject (1st class or 2.1 honours); Masters degree in Palaeolithic archaeology or Quaternary Science (Distinction or Merit), or relevant experience.

Related Subjects

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