A remote brick pit in the forest, the findspot for a massive Palaeolithic handaxe.
Zoom in to the Google Map to find the points of interest.
A mile’s trek through Thetford Forest brings you to a remote place named Botany Bay. It is a Victorian brick-making site, and includes a wooded brickearth pit, a dilapidated kiln structure with scatters of broken bricks, and the forlorn remains of Bromehill Cottage. Apart from being a reminder of local industrial history, Botany Bay is also interesting as a historic site of Palaeolithic archaeological research.
Scattered debris shows that both red and white bricks were made at Botany Bay. Iron-rich brickearth makes reds, while chalk-rich brickearth makes whites. There also strange, dark, vitrified bricks with a fused fabric showing evidence of intense heat, and some show evidence of distortion. Collapsed remains of the kiln suggest it had a rectangular design, and may have been of updraught Scotch type; these were difficult to regulate, and over-firing sometimes occurred.
Remains of the kiln.
A vitrified kiln waster.
Victorian workmen found Palaeolithic handaxes and scrapers in the brickearth. They belong to the Acheulian tradition, and were probably made between 280,000 and 420,000 years ago by Homo heidelbergensis (the ancestor of ourselves and the Neanderthals). Similar palaeoliths have been found in the Thetford and Brandon area, for example Broomhill (Trail site 5) and St Helen’s Well (Trail site 8), and it is likely that people found the beds of high-quality flint exposed along the Little Ouse valley were ideal for tool-making.
The broken tip of a massive handaxe, now in the Sedgwick Museum. [Image: Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, D.661.]
Homo heidelbergensis was an ancestor species for ourselves and the Neanderthals. [Image courtesy Stephanie Hartick]
Ice Age deposits of a sandy clay suitable for brick-making (i.e. a brickearth) were dug herein the 19th century. They were found in a hollow over 7 m (23 ft) deep this may have formed through solution and collapse of the underlying Chalk bedrock which lies close to the surface in this area. As the hollow deepened over thousands of years, sands, gravels and clays were washed into it, along with a variety of flint tools discarded on the local land surface.
Flint tools (marked X) were found in the sandy clay layer. [Image from ‘The Geology of Southwest Norfolk & Northern Cambridgeshire’ by W. Whitaker and others, 1893]
The site is on public access land and marked ‘Bromehill Cottage’ on Ordnance Survey Explorer map no.229 ‘Thetford Forest in The Brecks’ (c.TL 805 890). Take special care at the A1065 if approaching the site from the west, as it is a fast, busy road.