Palaeolithic Huntingdonshire

Early Human, Palaeolithic, occupation in the County of Huntingdonshire in England


The Palaeolithic was the time of the Old Stone Age people who lived by hunting, knowing nothing of agriculture, domestic animals or pottery making. Their only weapons that have survived to us in Huntingdonshire were made from stone, which was chipped into the required shape.

The sub-divisions of this age which are represented in Huntingdonshire are:

  1. Chellean-Abbevillian; period of prehistoric culture denoted by early, crudely made, stone hand-axes 
  2. Acheulean; later period of prehistoric culture denoted by stone hand-tools of a much improved quality. 
  3. Mousterian-Clactonian; late period of prehistoric culture denoted by the use of sharp stone flakes to make hand-tools of high quality.


No Upper Palaeolithic industries – i.e., those of the cave periods in France, have been found.

The existence of humans in the county during these early Palaeolithic periods is proved by the finding of artificially chipped flints and a few pieces of animal bones and antler, which appear to have been split or broken by human agency, in river drift gravels. These gravels are stratified and are deposited on the banks or sides of the valleys of the present or former rivers. A few implements and flakes have been found on the land surface, but these are usually on a gravel out-crop, and presumable the implements are derived from the underlying gravel beds. But whereas the late Acheulean and early Mousterian implements, flakes and bones are found on an old land surface in the stratified gravel deposits, the remaining Lower Palaeolithic- - i.e., Chellean and Early Acheulean – tools, etc., are found scattered indiscriminately in the water-rolled gravels and are frequently much abraded and patinated. No human bones have been recorded.


Fig. 2.

Palaeolithic Implements found in Huntingdonshire

Palaeolithic Implements found in Huntingdonshire


1, 2, 3 and 7. Acheulean Coups-de-Poing and Ovate from Woodstone.

4. Rolled late Chellean Coups-de-Poing from Woodstone.

5 and 6. Mousterian scraper and point from Woodstone. Note the facetted butt (6a).

8. Probably Achelean Coups-de-Poing from Orton. Note the peculiar butt (8a)


(Items 1-7. G W Abbott Collection. Item 8 Peterborough Museum)


The climatic conditions appear to have been Arctic (as may be seen from the mammalian and conchological discoveries1 associated with the remains left by man), but to have become gradually more temperate2.

A typical section of the Nene gravels may be seen at Woodstone, near Peterborough, where implements of Chellean, Acheulean and Mousterian ages have been found (fig. 2). Here there is a well-defined layer of sandy clay from 4in. in thickness underlying 9ft. of stratified gravel and sand and overlying 4-5 ft. of stratified gravel. The clay-band contains many unabraded and unpatinated late Acheulean or Mousterian implements, together with numbers of smaller tools, such as borers, scrapers, knives, etc. In one instance two chips of flint struck off the same core where found. Associated with the implements are bones of animals, representing a cold fauna and comprising mammoth, cave-bear, ox, horse, reindeer, etc. With these are split animal bones and fragments of deer horn, which appear to have been broken by human agency.

The clay, though probably of Wurmian age,3 appears to be a “wash” rather than a true boulder clay as the underlying and overlying gravels are not contorted; but at times, just above the clay-band, large corn-brash slabs occur which appear to have been ice-carried, possibly by floating ground ice. The clay-band itself contains in places quantities of land and fresh water shells which have been classified by Kendall.1 The gravels have yielded a number of the Lower Palaeolithic tools, which are found both above and below the clay-band. They show all stages of patination between much-rolled ochreous and unabraded black lustrous- these latter being more frequently found on the lowest level. Probably all have been to certain extent derived.

In Old Fletton flakes have been found north of the Peterborough-Fletton Road, and Orton Longueville and Orton Waterville are other sites on the present Nene valley system gravels that have yielded Lower Palaeolithic tools and flakes. The gravel pits to the north of Orton Waterville Church have also provided late Acheulean or early Mousterian implements, and a similar clay-band to that already described with conchological remains has been recorded.4 Water Newton is another locality where Lower Palaeolithic flakes are found in the gravels, together with bones of mammoth, etc., but no clay-band has been identified.

Abbots Ripton, 3.5 miles north of Huntingdon, but in the Nene basin, connected with the old course of the river (see fig.1), has yielded a well-shaped ochreous implant 5in. long.5 In all probability Lower and Middle Palaeolithic implements could be found throughout in the gravels of the Nene valley.

The buried channel and tributary at Peterborough (see above) have yielded a few Palaeolithic flakes and one crude implement of cherty flint, also many mammalian bones, including heads of rhinoceros (British Museum), tusks of mammoth and bones of horse, ox, pig, deer, etc.

Of the two river systems the Nene has proved more fruitful in finds, but this is very probably owing to the fact that far more attention has been paid to possible sites along its banks than is the case with the Ouse. From the Ouse valley the following finds have been noted 6 :-

  1. A black lustrous implement of Acheulean type, 3 in. long, from a gravel pit at Little Paxton.
  2. An unabraded, patinated, pointed flake of dull grey flint – possibly Mousterian – also from Little Paxton.
  3. A rolled ochreous Lower Palaeolithic flake from St Neots
  4. An unabraded flake with worked edges (possibly late Acheulean), also from a gravel pit at St Neots.
  5. An unabraded flake of lustrous grey flint of late Acheulean type from gravel at Hartford.


From a geological point of view the lower level gravels should be Upper Palaeolithic in age, the earlier gravels being at a higher level on the slopes of the river valleys.



  1. rev. C. E. Y. Kendall, Journal of Conchology, 1913, p. 83.

  2. No gravels have been found in Huntingdonshire containing tropical fauna, like the gravels at Fengate, Peterborough, just outside the county.

  3. i.e., the last glaciation of the Great Ice age, proved, on the Continent, to be contemporary with the Mousterian culture of Western Europe.

  4. Dr. Porter, Geology of Peterborough.

  5. J. Evans, Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain, 2nd Ed., p.538

  6. Items (1), (2), (3) and (4) are in the possession of Mr C F Tubbutt; (5) is in the possession of Dr J R Garrood.


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