Key Research Questions

The project has identified seven principal research aims that focus on each episode of this period, and together form a coherent chronological framework for understanding the human occupation of Britain. The key issues and associated research questions that we identify are:

700,000 - 500,000 years: The nature and timing of the first occupation of Britain

The question of the earliest occupation of Europe has formed the focus of heated debate over the past five years. Far from just being a case of simply finding the earliest humans outside Africa or in a particular region this question also has significance for wider research programmes that focus on human dispersal patterns, habitat preferences, technological evolution and social organisation. The timing of hominid dispersals into Britain, their geological and environmental context and the range of variation of lithic technologies over

both time and space are of special importance to answering the above questions and contributing meaningfully to wider debates. Key questions include:

· When did humans first reach Britain?
· To what environments were humans adapted?
· What is the nature of the lithic record?

400,000 years: The Hoxnian Interglacial

This period contains the richest Palaeolithic record in Britain. Furthermore, we contend that the British record is amongst the best preserved anywhere in the world, presenting the possibility of very fine-grained reconstructions. The density of sites in some areas also provides scope for understanding human landscape use, with only a minimum of time-averaging. Questions include:

· What environments did humans target and in what environments are they absent? Can we reconstruct a generalised habitat preference?
· How are humans using the landscape and its resources?
· How did humans make a living (for example what animals are they exploiting and how are they obtaining these animals; what plant resources might have been available)?
· What can these sites tell us of human landscape use?
· Are there any chronological or spatial patterns evident in the lithic records of this period? If s, what do these mean and with what might they correlate?

300,000 - 180,000 years: The Lower-Middle Palaeolithic transition

This period marks the first appearance of new technologies - collectively termed Levallois, or prepared core technologies. These mark the first evident technological changes in over one million years, over which time humans left their African homelands and colonised new areas of both Europe and Asia. Hominid dispersal was conducted with no new (visible) technological advance. However, recently, it has been proposed that Levallois technology was introduced into Europe from Africa, by the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans and therefore could not have been used by older European or British populations. The major question is whether this technology developed in Europe or is intrusive. The association of the Swanscombe hominid, which appears to have Neanderthal features, with a non-Levallois technology suggests flaws in the African model. Artefactual evidence from Botany Pit (Purfleet) also suggests local development of Levallois technology. The key questions we aim to address include:

· How old are the first Levallois technologies in Britain?
· Can the appearance of Levallois be linked to any external environmental or habitat changes?
· Are these technologies intrusive, or, as the evidence from Purfleet would suggest, can we demonstrate an in situ evolution from preexisting technologies?
· What do these technologies indicate in terms of cognition and organisation?
· Given that in the Late Middle Palaeolithic (70-35,000 years ago) of SW France, Levallois technology seems to be more highly transported and curated and made on further travelled flint, do the earliest Levallois technologies herald new behavioural or economic repertoires, or is it just a technological shift?

180,000 - 60,000 years: Middle Palaeolithic population collapse

At present there is little evidence of human occupation of Britain for the period 180,000 t60,000 years ago, an absence of almost 120,000 years. Ongoing work by members of the project has identified that during the period 500,000 t200,000 there appears to have been a gradual decline in population, each major period of settlement being characterised by a less dense archaeological signal than its predecessor, culminating in complete absence. We aim to expand upon this work, drawing on the data collected in the first three questions above, to examine the causes of this decline and ultimately, what caused an apparently major hiatus between 200-60,000 years ago Key issues include:

· Is the apparent absence of humans real or due to differential preservation?
· What environmental and landscape changes may have led to Britain's depopulation?

60,000 - 22,000 years: Repopulation at the end of the Middle Palaeolithic and transition to the Early Upper Palaeolithic

The archaeological record from this period confirms human recolonisation of Britain but the nature of the lithic evidence and the chronology of the period are still poorly understood. The known pattern of global climatic change, particularly that recorded in deep-sea and ice-core records, is not currently reflected in the environmental and archaeological records because of poor resolution. We aim to establish this link with new methodologies, in particular isotopic analysis. Human presence at this time appears to be punctuated and we seek to understand the environmental parameters that may have determined this pattern. Of particular importance is how the archaeological record compares to that in neighbouring parts of western Europe and how changes in technology relate to the influx of fully modern humans into Europe Key questions include:

· What is the dating of re-colonisation and was it continuous or sporadic?
· Was recolonisation driven by population expansion in Europe or biogeographic or climatic change?
· What is the nature of the late Neanderthal settlement, in terms of habitats, lithic technology, landscape use and environments?
· When did the first fully modern humans arrive in Britain and with what technology are they associated?

22,000 - 13,000 years: Human absence: The Dimlington Stadial faunal interzone

This is the period of maximum ice-advance during the last cold stage and it has often been suggested that for much of this time polar desert conditions may have precluded human habitation. Certainly, directly dated fauna seems to be at its rarest, although there are hints that the mammoth-steppe fauna of the Pin Hole mammal assemblage-zone (MAZ), including humans, may have survived into OIS 2 - up to and beyond the last glacial maximum. Whether this is the case needs to be directly tested. Key questions include:

· Were humans present in Britain between 22,000 - 13,000 years ago?
· What is the terminal date for the Pin Hole MAZ in Britain?
· Was there a faunal interzone - a period in which there is genuinely no vertebrate fossil record - and, if s, what was its duration?

13,000 - 8,800 years: Recolonisation after the last glacial maximum

Much progress has been recently made by project members in understanding the chronology and subdivisions of the Late-Glacial recolonisation which may have been a punctuated rather than a continuous process. Radiocarbon dating shows an earliest human presence shortly after 13,000 years ago during a period of rapidly ameliorating climate that has been likened to a false start to the Holocene Interglacial. During a climatic downturn between 10,800 t10,000 years ago, which saw local glacial readvance in Scotland and Wales, there is dated evidence of a human presence in Britain. This is in marked contrast to adjacent areas of north-west Europe where the conclusion has been that humans were wholly absent in this brief cold phase.

The human settlement of Britain during the Holocene is now better understood but there are still major geographical gaps in the documented archaeological record. At this point in time the absence of large mammalian herbivores capable of maintaining more open environments allowed the establishment of forest vegetation. This appears to have had an impact on the distribution of later Mesolithic populations but the pattern for the earliest Mesolithic remains to be established. The key questions are:

· What drove the Late-Glacial recolonisation of Britain and into which habitats did humans move?
· What evidence is there for regionality in the archaeological and faunal record for this period and how were humans moving within the landscape?
· Can seasonal patterns of movement be recognized?
· What is the distribution of the Early Mesolithic record in England and Wales?

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