Mesolithic and Bronze Age archaeology

And see you marks that show and fade,
Like shadows on the Downs?
O they are the lines the Flint Men made,
To guard their wondrous towns!
Trackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marsh where now is corn;
Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease,
And so was England born!

From Puck of Pook’s Hill, by Rudyard Kipling

The Mesolithic period

The first published picture of a hand axe, drawn by John Frere in 1800

The first record of human presence in Sussex dates back more than half a million years. Not surprisingly, there is very little archaeological evidence from this Paleolithic period but a great deal has survived from the later Mesolithic period that began some 14,000 years ago.

According to Cecil Curwen in The Archaeology of Sussex[1], the sandpit near Selmeston Church is  ‘perhaps the most important and instructive of all the Mesolithic sites in Sussex, for here were found some of the dwelling pits of Mesolithic man’. Excavations of these pits in 1933 [2] yielded over 6,400 flints, including a large number of ‘pot boilers’. These are stones which were made red hot and dropped into water to heat it, or used for cooking food. It  seems that the pit went out of use and was almost filled with drifting sand, when it was reoccupied by some Neolithic people, who left behind a few scraps of pottery of the kind known as Peterborough ware or Neolthic ‘B’.

A further collection of flints from the Selmeston sandpits can be seen in the Barbican House Museum in Lewes.

The Bronze Age period

In 1936, the archaeologists Eliot and Cecil Curwen found fragments in the same area of a Late Bronze Age bucket urn  ‘with finger impressions on a raised band, and a portion of the rim of the same vessel, and with them one large calcined flint’.

In the paper on their findings [3] they speculate that the users of the pottery might also have been responsible for the flints, and that the community might have started in Mesolithic times and lasted as a backwater throughout the subsequent Neolithic and Bronze Ages. They concluded that ‘the evidence as it stands is too slender to allow us to do more than raise the question: a distinct community living in “the bush” seems to be not inherently improbable.’

This is the first known instance of Selmeston being referred to as being ‘in the bush’ or as a ‘backwater’!

[1] The Archaeology of Sussex, by E. Cecil Curwen (Methuen & Co Ltd 1937)

[2] The Antiquaries Journal April 1934 (Vol. XIV, No.2) – A Late Mesolithic Site at Selmeston, Sussex, by J.G.D. Clark MA, PhD, FSA

[3] Sussex Archaeological Collections (Vol. LXXIX) – Late Bronze Age Ditches at Selmeston, by Eliot Curwen, FSA and E. Cecil Curwen, FSA

See also:  

The Antiquaries Journal October 1934 (Vol. XIV, No.4) – A Flint Sickle-flake from Selmeston, Sussex, by Eliot Curwen, FSA and E. Cecil Curwen, FSA

Sussex Archaeological Collections 123 (1985) – Recent Archaeological Research at Selmeston, East Susssex, by David Ruling et al.












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