Human Evolution @ UCL


Antiquarian Collections of British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic artefacts are assessed for their value to research

4 February 2019

The British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic record makes an important contribution to understanding the early occupation of northern Europe, in particular, through the detailed, systematic and multidisciplinary excavations of key sites.

British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic sites However, it is the historic collections, amassed by a large number of collectors over a 100-year period from the 1860s to the 1960s, that contribute the majority of the artefact record accounting for almost 80% of the handaxes and over 85% of finds locations. Although much of this material lacks the contextual details of excavated assemblages, it still forms an important and large body of data for the British early Palaeolithic. This paper explores the collecting practices of the individuals responsible for the majority of the old collections and demonstrates that through a study of collection history, from discovery to museum curation, the material provides a dataset that can be used in a critical way to address broad-scale questions concerning changes in material culture, demography and landscape use. Such studies also have implications for the interpretation of the Palaeolithic record, beyond the sharp focus of modern excavation.

From Site to Museum: a Critical Assessment of Collection History on the Formation and Interpretation of the British Early Palaeolithic Record

Claire R. E. Harris, Nick Ashton, Simon G. Lewis

DOI: 10.1007/s41982-018-0019-5