This week we’re travelling through the database to the county of Bedfordshire. The fertile land around the River Great Ouse has been inhabited since the Lower Palaeolithic. This period dates from around the earliest evidence of human habitation in Britain 950,000 years ago, to the beginning of the Middle Palaeolithic period approximately 300,000 years ago.
The village of Caddington is a significant Lower Palaeolithic site. Used as a campsite and for flit knapping, stone tools like this pointed flint handaxe (LON-140D75) have been found around Caddington. Flint-knapping is the process of creating stone tools, by striking a flint core with a strong stone or antler, to strategically remove flakes. Handaxes have extremely sharp edges as a result – particularly useful for butchering animal carcasses.
Bedfordshire was also a site of activity during the Neolithic period. By 6500 BC the land bridge connecting Britain to Europe had been inundated, creating the island we know today. From around 4000 BC farming was introduced to Britain, likely by ancient Europeans who traversed the channel. The Neolithic period in Britain is commonly associated with the construction of henges and circles. Sacred Neolithic landscapes often retained significance and were reappropriated by locals over time.
The Neolithic mounds at Five Knolls, near Dunstable, were used as a burial site for thousands of years. A particularly significant find was unearthed in 1928; the crouched skeleton of a woman was found with a Neolithic knife at her shoulder. Take a look at some of these Neolithic tools and weapons found in the area, including this finely wrought knife (NARC-D8C86C) and arrowhead (BH-94ABD4).
The discovery of approximately 30 Early Anglo-Saxon skeletons shows how Five Knolls continued to be used as a burial place. If you’re interested in Anglo-Saxon life, check out some impressive archaeology at the Stockwood Discovery Centre, home to objects from the iconic 7th century cemetery at Chamberlain’s Barn.
In the Medieval period, gallows were erected on the northernmost barrow as a place for execution and burial. This history resonated through the ages; during the 1600s, the Knolls were associated with magic and witchcraft. In 1667, Elizabeth Pratt was arrested for meeting three other women on the Knolls and accused of bewitching children.
What would have it been like to live near the Knolls? Personal objects offer a window into the past and allow us to empathise with those who owned them. Here are some interesting finds from Anglo-Saxon to Post-Medieval Bedfordshire.
There’s so much more to see on our database. A particular highlight from the PAS – now on display at the Wardown House Museum – is this fantastic Iron Age mirror PAS-38F120. If you’re in the area and have a find to report, you can contact our friendly Finds Liaison Officer for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, Matthew Fittock. email@example.com.