The Early Prehistory of Ipswich


The Palaeolithic period covers the longest period of human a prehistory, through multiple glacial periods, the most recent ending c. 12 ka Before present (BP). In the east of England hominins were present from 800 ka BP (Happisburgh, Pakefield) preceding the comparatively brief Mesolithic period lasting from 10 to 5.5 ka.. The varied geological deposits within Ipswich has yielded a wealth of Palaeolithic material. The positioning of Ipswich within a valley at the edge of the Doggerland plain (the name for the North Sea in periods when sea level was lower), presents a varied landscape with topography that may have provided aid to Palaeolithic hunter gatherer of human and pre-modern human species. Generally, Palaeolithic material is found in isolated unstratified find spots. There are a small number of stratified sites and some nationally important assemblages mostly found during mineral extraction in the early 20th century.

Key Sites and Finds

Foxhall road deposits lie within a shallow dry valley within which dry lake deposits of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11 age (c.416-434 ka BP) and contain several stone tool assemblages, the most important included a full (albeit spatially reorganised) handaxe chaîne opératoire (tool creation sequence).

The “Stoke Bone Bed” of MIS7 age, (c200 ka BP) has yielded large quantities of faunal remains and c. 20 items of tools including Levallois technology (IPS 163, IPS 072 and IPS 468).

The main site of Devensian (Middle to Upper Palaeolithic age, Neandertals and Modern Humans) finds was the pit operated by Messrs Warren Livingstone ltd in the early 20th century, (IPS 018). There is a large collection of handaxes of varying condition, including the so-called bout coupé as well as several hundred flakes, Levallois products and several Upper Palaeolithic types including Early Upper Palaeolithic leaf points, the Gravettian Font-Robert point, and a Late Glacial bruised blade, most of which are very sparsely represented in Britain. There are other sites along the Gipping/Orwell Devensian terrace yielding implements (often middle and Upper Palaeolithic types together) and fauna, (e.g., IPS 137, IPS 623 and 928 148, 149, 150), showing the richness of deposits close to the river.

Post glacial Late Upper Palaeolithic finds, such as “long blades” are represented from Ipswich, (IPS 1004) and Devil’s wood pit, just outside the borough (SPT 001)

Mesolithic occupation is sparser that Palaeolithic and even less well recorded, being made up of finds either unstratified or residual. Finds of tranchet axes have been reported from the shore of the River Orwell (IPS 001) and elsewhere (IPS 005, IPS 105) and various cores and implements (e.g. IPS 1008) are found throughout the borough.

Hannah Cutler, 2017

All Known Palaeolithic sites and find-spots in the borough of Ipswich. (Image: SCCAS).



All Known Mesolithic sites and find-spots in the borough of Ipswich. (Image: SCCAS).



Lower Palaeolithic Handaxe, Found at Foxhall Road 2007. (Image: Allen et al 2007)


Nina Layard and the excavations at Foxhall Road 193-1904. (Image: Suffolk Records Office).

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