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The Submerged Palaeo-Yare: a review of Pleistocene landscapes and environments in the southern North SeaOpen Data

Lowri Roberts and Andrea Hamel, with contributions from Andrew Shaw, Claire Mellett and Euan McNeill

Cite this as: Roberts, L. and Hamel, A. (with contributions from A. Shaw, C. Mellett and E. McNeill) 2023 The Submerged Palaeo-Yare: a review of Pleistocene landscapes and environments in the southern North Sea, Internet Archaeology 61.


Face and reverse photo of small dark flint cordate handaxe
Handaxe from Area 240. A small cordate handaxe (Wessex Archaeology 2021) © Wessex Archaeology

The southern North Sea preserves an internationally significant early Middle Palaeolithic finds assemblage that was discovered through aggregate dredging in marine aggregate Licence Area 240 off the coast of Norfolk. Area 240 is part of a regional block of licence areas that have been worked since the 1970s. Significant discoveries from the assemblage in 2007/2008 sparked further investigations. Through geophysical and geoarchaeological assessment the cultural material was found to be associated with a floodplain deposit of the now submerged Palaeo-Yare river system. The Palaeo-Yare catchment extended beyond Area 240 and was present in adjacent aggregate areas, which led to the development of a regional monitoring programme at aggregate wharves to manage and assimilate all new archaeological data. This was supported by a geological review of any new marine geophysical or geotechnical surveys to test hypotheses about context. This process has been ongoing for almost 20 years and here we present a review of all development-led (grey literature) works. The stratigraphic, chronological and landscape context of the important Palaeolithic finds from aggregate licence areas in the southern North Sea are considered in relation to taphonomy and patterns of inhabitation.

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  • Keywords: southern North Sea, Palaeo-Yare, early Middle Palaeolithic, archaeology, geophysics, geoarchaeology, handaxe, faunal remains, minerals planning, aggregates
  • Accepted: 11 May 2023. Published: 21 June 2023
  • Funding: The production of this article was funded by BMAPA. The project work that was undertaken for this article was funded by BMAPA, The Crown Estate, Historic England (and, formerly, English Heritage), CEMEX and HAML.
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Corresponding author: Andrea HamelORCID logo
Wessex Archaeology

Lowri Roberts
Wessex Archaeology

Andrew Shaw
Wessex Archaeology

Claire Mellett
Wessex Archaeology

Euan McNeill
Wessex Archaeology

Full text

Figure 1: Aggregate Licence Areas in the Palaeo-Yare. Contains data © Wessex Archaeology, © Crown Copyright and database right 2023, and made with Natural Earth. Free vector and raster map data

Figure 2: Awareness Visit at Tarmac's Marchwood Wharf © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 3: Operational Sampling at Dagenham Wharf – archaeologists walking over gravel © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 4: Palaeo-Yare catchment, with sedimentary units and finds locations © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 5: Scale of dredging lanes and accuracy of trackplot, for archaeological material recovered from Area 240 in November 2019 © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 6: Handaxe from Area 240. This is a small cordate handaxe in relatively sharp condition that carries extensive traces of impact in the form of incipient points of percussion (Wessex Archaeology 2021) © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 7: Levallois flake from Area 240. It is typical of the style and is in generally good condition, only slightly dulled by rolling (Wessex Archaeology 2021) © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 8: Large mammoth tooth © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 9: Woolly rhinoceros scapula with evidence of hyena gnaw marks © Wessex Archaeology

Figure 10: Horse bone with evidence of hyena chew marks © Wessex Archaeology

Table 1: Sediment units present in Area 240

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