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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.

 

A postcard from the Hoxnian Interglacial! The oldest man made objects so far found in Cheshire.
by
Mark Olly

 
Ice Ages
 
It has long been assumed that our region of north Cheshire spent the vast majority of the Ice Ages under the ice. I say 'Ice Ages' (plural) as the prevailing opinion of our day is that there were several long breaks in 'The Ice Age' during which our climate improved sufficiently to allow for human habitation and that a single 'Ice Age' did not occur as such. The gap from 380 000 to 400 000 BC is known as the 'Hoxnian Interglacial' and now represents the oldest recorded visit of 'Homo Erectus' or very early Stone Age man to north Cheshire.
 
Millington Finds

On the 29th September 1998 myself and photographer Lesley Lowery were surveying a ploughed field, looking for pottery fragments behind Tudor Denfield Farm, Millington, when Leslie picked up a medium-sized flint pebble which had obviously been shaped to form a primitive tool.
 

 

 
Finds displayed at Knutsford Heritage Centre's 'On The Celtic Road' 2000 exhibibition

 

Further investigations revealed a scatter of seven other flint pebbles within a radius of about 60 feet (19m) of this first find, three of which resemble small tools. The remaining four resemble 'pot boilers' which were heated in a fire and then put into water in order to heat it - there were no heat-resistant containers in this period of prehistory which could be put over a fire.
 
Hoxnian Interglacial
 
Research has revealed that these finds come from the 'Hoxnian Interglacial' dating them to between 380 000 and 400 000 years BC. These are the oldest site finds in Cheshire and raise some important questions for local and national archaeology. It has always been thought that the Mersey Valley spent most of the Ice Ages under the ice, but the pebble-tool and associated flints indicate the location of at least one tool-making hunter here during this period. However, these finds are now known not to be isolated examples.
 
Tear Drop Axe
 
A large 'tear drop' hand axe was found twenty-five years earlier in 1973 by Jennifer Ritchie (then Jennifer Cule, aged 7) in a garden in Mobberly Road, Knutsford, and was handed in to Tatton Park who sent it to the British Museum. They gave it a similar date to the Millington axe at 250 000 to 350 000 BC, and observed that it had been rolled arround in river gravel for some time before ending up in the top soil of Knutsford.
 
Tatton Find
 
On the 4th March 2000 I was walking in Tatton Park. In a hollow opposite the wood by the lake at the Knutsford gate end I found another tool in the soil of a mole hill dating from the 250 000 to 350 000 BC period, a small 'tear drop' finger-and-thumb tool used for boring holes. Again it is very water-worn but shows distinct signs of having been re-sharpened, possibly during the Mesolithic period. This brings the total number of very early Stone Age tools found along the north-south line of Tatton Park to 10. Evidently the north Cheshire ridge must have overlooked a much flooded Mersey valley as the ice sheets retreated north.
 

 

 

 

 
 
 

Finds displayed at Knutsford Heritage Centre's 'On The Celtic Road' 2000 exhibibition
 
Two distinct types of 'axe' tool were in use during the Hoxnian period and are regarded as the oldest definitive identifiable tools of early man. Type 1 is thought to be the older hand-sized 'chopping tool' which does not appear again after the Hoxnian period and of which we found a fine example at Denfield Farm.
Type 2 is the larger 'pear-shaped' or 'tear-drop' hand axe found in 1973 by Jenny and the smaller example found by myself in March 2000.
 
Hunters
 
Tools of this kind are common in the South especially on the Downlands, Suffolk, Kent and Essex, like the site at Clacton-on-Sea where they have been found in the gravels underlying the golf course there. All of these sites are waterside settlements and no Hoxnian cave sites are known. These camps are virtually unheard of north of Oxfordshire and The Wash on the East Coast, the most famous recent example being that at Centre Parks featured on an episode of the 'Time Team' television programme. Flint is also not a material native to Cheshire so must have been brought here by the hunters. I have this distinct impression of a skin-clad hunter wearing his antlered head piece, standing on a grassy tundra ridge, gazing across a rushing torrent in the floor of the Mersey Valley and outlined against a huge wall of glacial ice just to the north. This sheet is about to return for 'Wolstonian 1'. The climate changed and the animal species and the hunter culture that hunted them died out.
 

 
ARTICLE ADAPTED FROM: CELTIC WARRINGTON & OTHER MYSTERIES -
VOLUME TWO: EAST TO SOUTH. MARK OLLY. CHURNET VALLEY BOOKS,
43 Bath Street, Leek, Staffs. (01538) 399033.

 
 
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