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Carrow Road Upper Palaeolithic Site

Picture of the excavation at Carrow road

In 2003 NAU Archaeology undertook an excavation at Carrow Road in Norwich, the home of Norwich City Football Club. Redevelopment of the South Stand at the ground provided the opportunity to excavate some 2,400 square metres of a site where prehistoric worked flints had previously been found. These flints lay on sand and gravel bars within the river valley.

The most important finding of the excavation was the discovery of in-situ flint scatters dating from the Upper Palaeolithic period. A large proportion of the c.300 pieces of flint retrieved are the waste generated from flint knapping, but a small number of cores and distinctive ‘Bruised Blades’ were also present. Such sites are typically believed to date from c.10,000 BP (Before Present).

The artefacts from Carrow Road therefore date from a time when Britain had a landbridge to mainland Europe and was part of the expansive North European Plain, with cold, arid conditions prevailing. Reindeer and Horse were part of the contemporary fauna and the butchered bones of these animals have been recorded from other sites. Unfortunately, no such remains survived at Carrow Road.

Bruised blades are so called because of the crushed appearance of their lateral edges, resulting from use and not deliberate retouch. The function of such blades is not well understood at present, with suggested causes for this bruising ranging from using the blades to work antler to shaping hammer stones, the objects used to strike flints into a desired form. Particularly important at the Carrow Road site was that many of the flint artefacts remained unmoved since they were dropped thousands of years ago. The good condition of the flint from Carrow Road means that wear analysis, examining the flint in a highly detailed way to see the minute scratches or polishing from use on, for example bone or animal skins, can be used to attempt to understand how these distinctive blades were used.

Of the approximately fifty such sites known from Britain, only a few have been dated and an aim of the project at Carrow Road is to provide the first absolute dates for such a site in East Anglia. This will be achieved by the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating of deposits associated with the flint work. In addition, analysis of soil micromorphology will assist in understanding the processes that shaped the contemporary environment.

The site at Carrow Road represents an exiting opportunity to examine a fascinating period of human existence from a time when transient populations survived the harsh conditions of the North European Plain. In addition the site demonstrates that even in urban areas, such ephemeral remains can survive to inform us about a distant past.

David Adams