Chantal Conneller, University of Manchester and Rob Dinnis, Oxford University
The nature of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition, marked by the appearance of Homo sapiens in Europe and the extinction of Neanderthals, is one of the major issues in archaeology; however understanding of this period in Britain is hampered through the nature of the dataset. Very few sites from the period are known and most were excavated more than a century ago. Lithic material was often overlooked through poor excavation practice or selectively collected by excavators more interested in demonstrating human presence than the nature of human activity. This project aims to enhance understanding of this period through fieldwork at Ffynnon Beuno Cave, Denbighshire, one of only five sites across Europe where both the LRJ (industries believed by most to be made by the last Neanderthals) and the Aurignacian (the signature of the first H. sapiens) has been recovered.
Test excavations in 2011 and 2013 demonstrated the presence of a large Victorian spoilheap outside the cave, generated during excavations in the 1880s by Dr Henry Hicks. This was found to contain large quantities of Pleistocene fauna as well as lithic material dating to the Aurignacian, missed or discarded by the original excavators. We have also undertaken small-scale excavations inside the cave, as part of a conservation assessment for CADW.
Funding for this project has been provided by AHOB and the British Cave Research Association.