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Essex Field Club
Essex Field Club
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Geology Site Account


Westcliff High School for Girls (games field), WESTCLIFF, Southend District, TQ850875, General geological site

 
 
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Temporary exposure of gravel yielding the earliest evidence of human presence in Essex. Further excavations in the vicinity could yield further evidence.

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Site description

In 2005 excavations on the games fields at Westciff High School for Girls revealed evidence for a very early human occupation of Britain. The evidence came from gravel that underlies the school known as Canewdon Gravel, which was laid down by the River Medway when it flowed north across East Essex about 600,000 years ago. The excavations were carried out by the University of Southampton’s Department of Archaeology as part of the Medway Valley Palaeolithic Project (Wenban-Smith et al. 2007).

The excavations consisted of rectangular test pits dug using a mechanical digger to a depth of up to 5 metres (15 feet). Samples of gravel were taken a various levels and sieved for stone tools and animal bones. A single, worn flint flake was found - discovered by sieving almost a ton of gravel - which had definite evidence of human workmanship. This artefact represents the oldest evidence for human oc-cupation in Essex.

In a very informative article in the school’s newsletter, the leader of the project, Francis Wenban-Smith, described the excavation and speculated about the people that lived here before the Anglian glaciation, 600,000 years ago. These hunter-gatherers would have had no houses or huts, no fire, and probably no clothes, relying instead on their fur and body fat to keep them warm (Wenban-Smith and Marshal 2008).



The 3.8 millimetre long flint flake from Westcliff, which shows clear evidence of human workmanship. This artefact is the earliest record of humans so far found in Essex and may be as much as 600,000 years old. Photo © Francis Wenban-Smith, Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton

 

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Reference: Wenban-Smith & Marshal 2008.

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