The site lies in the middle of the village of Claston, 2 miles east of Uppingham, in Rutland. The site was a farmyard but the landowner, Capt Robert Boyle, had decided to sell the land for re-development. During the 1940s an area adjacent to the farmyard had been quarried for sand and the remains of a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery, as well as Bronze Age cremations, had been revealed and hastily recorded. Thus under PPC 16, the farmyard had to be excavated: no Saxon burials were found, but a very good sequence of the Medieval village from the 10th to the 14th centuries - the largest excavation of a medieval village so far in Rutland.
The discovery of the Palaeolithic remains changed everything. The landowner had clearly fulfiled his obligation to the archaeology under PPC 16, but he nevertheless kindly agreed to fund a further week'sevaluation which successfully demonstrated that there was indeed a major open-air Palaeolithic site. English Heritage took over the funding for three further months of work, with specialist support from the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The flint blade was tentatively identified as a 'leaf point' by our resident flint specialist, Lynden Cooper. This was later confirmed by Dr. Roger Jacobi, at the British Museum, who suggested that it belonged to an interstadial or warm spell within the last Ice Age, a suggestion soon confirmed by the analysis of the bonesThe last Ice Age began around 74,000 years ago and ended quite suddenly around 10,000 years ago. For most of this time Britain had a cool climate, but there were two distinctly cold spells which brought about major changes in the fauna.
Right. Andy Currant, of the Natural History Museum, explains why this is a bone of the woolly rhinoceros, to be dated around 30,000 BP, and not that of a narrow-nosed rhino which would be dated around 100,000 BP.
Below. The hyaena den. The rafts of sandstone are now concealed entirely beneath the surface. However, in the Palaeolithic they may have projected a metre or more above the surface, and the hyaenas may have made their den in the lee of the rocks.
The first ice maximum lasted from 74,000 to 60,000 years ago, while the second ice maximum can be dated much more precisely between 22,000 and 13,000 BP. The latter period was so cold that there were almost certainly no humans in Britain and probably few large mammals either. Between these two periods of intense cold, that is between 60,000 and 22,000 BP, there was a series of interstadials, and the Claston site probably belongs towards the end of this series, that is around 40,000 to 30,000 BP.
During this period the sea levels were some 40 to 100 metres lower than today and Britain was joined to the Continent by a land bridge enabling people and animals to travel great distances. The climate was dry and perhaps a few degrees cooler than today allowing rich grasslands, known as 'mammoth steppe', which supported a diverse range of fauna including wild horse, Irish giant deer, bison, woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, reindeer and their predators, lions, bears, wolves, spotted hyaenas and a small number of hominids.
The dating of the site, or rather its positioning within the interstadial, depends largely on the different types of fauna. A crucial distinction is between elephants and mammoths. Before the first ice maximum around 74,000 BP, straight tusked elephants are found, and mammoths are rare. However after 60,000 BP, mammoths become common, and last until near the end of the Ice Age. It is important too to distinguish between the rhinos. Down to 74,000 BP, the narrow nosed rhino is predominant, but from 60,000 to 22,000 the woolly rhino is common, and it is the woolly rhino whose bones are found in profusion at Claston. Then there are horses. Now horses are not found in Britain in the previous interglacial and only make their
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