Discovering the site

Happisburgh, on the north Norfolk coast, has a remarkable concentration of early Stone Age sites, all of which have been discovered since 2000. These sites are buried under thick glacial sediments and are only exposed as a result of coastal erosion.

Since 2005, archaeologists from the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project have been working with local experts to excavate artefacts from an ancient river channel, known as Happisburgh Site 3. This river was the ancestral river Thames, which flowed into the North Sea 150 kilometres north of its present day estuary.

The remarkable preservation of plant and animal remains in these river sediments provides an unparalleled opportunity to reconstruct the climate and environment of early humans during their earliest known foray into northern Europe, close to one million years ago. 

Site 1

Discovered by Mike Chambers in 2000, where his most spectacular find was a flint handaxe, excavated from marsh sediments exposed on the foreshore at low tide. Subsequent excavations have unearthed more artefacts, together with butchered large mammal bones and biological remains indicating human occupation during a cool period, about 500,000 years ago.

Site 2

Simon Parfitt, Natural History Museum, discovered a handaxe at Site 2 in 2004. It was excavated from a shallow gravel-filled channel, sealed beneath a layer of sediment known as the Happisburgh Till. The Happisburgh Till and associated glacial sediments were laid down by the movement of ice known as Anglian ice, about 450,000 years ago.

Site 3

Discovered in 2005, when artefacts were found during exploratory excavations. Between 2005 and 2010, large-scale archaeological excavations at the site have recovered about 80 stone tools.

Site 4

Evidence for a fourth Lower Palaeolithic site comes from a butchered foot bone of a bison, found in the 1930s, somewhere between Ostend and Happisburgh. The bone is complete and unrolled with sediment still attached, suggesting that it was recovered from the Forest Bed. The cut marks were identified by Simon Parfitt at Norwich Castle Museum, where it is held, in 2007.

Site 5

The final site is on the sea-bed, where iron-concreted sediments are the source of a small group of butchered large mammal bones washed-up on the beach.

Happisburgh, aerial photo of the coast line

Happisburgh, aerial photo of the coast line.