An Ice Age site and Palaeolithic find-spot in the Little Ouse valley.
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Broomhill Pit is a wooded dell on the northern slopes of the Little Ouse valley. It is sometimes known as the Railway Pit. It began life as a gravel quarry dug to supply ballast when the nearby railway line was built in about 1845. Many flint handaxes were found here in the 19th century, making this site one of an important cluster of local Palaeolithic sites.
The pit was once over 9 m (30 ft) deep. There is some geology visible today, particularly where trail bikers have made scars around its edge - these show a chalky gravel. 19th century records state that the pit once reached as far down as Chalk bedrock. A layer of gravel containing flint boulders lay above that, an outwash deposit of the Anglian glaciation, about 440,000 years ago. A thick layer of chalky gravel was seen above this, probably deposited by the ancestral Little Ouse in one or more later cold periods.
Chalky gravels exposed in a scar at the quarry’s edge.
Glacial deposit containing flint boulders.
Broomhill was one of the sites investigated by pioneering archaeologists JW Flower and JG Evans in the 1860s, when looking for evidence of the earliest human occupation of Britain. This site has yielded a rich assemblage of over 80 Palaeolithic handaxes; these were found in the gravels, and are therefore older than this deposit. They are stained brown and most are in a water-worn, rolled condition, suggesting a period of river transport from an eroded site further up the valley. Many of them are of pointed type, similar to those found at other local sites. At an informed guess, they were made about 400,000 years ago, during the Hoxnian Interglacial period, probably by Homo heidelbergensis.
A handaxe of pointed type from Broomhill. [Image: ‘Ancient Stone Implements’ by JG Evans (1897)]
A handaxe from Broomhill, now in the Sedgwick Museum. [Image: Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, D.759.]
Archaeologists JW Flower and JG Evans. [Image courtesy Beverly Curl]
The site is on is public access land north of the railway line, near a kink in a forest track - see Ordnance Survey Explorer map no.229 ‘Thetford Forest in The Brecks’ (c. TL 801 877). It is best reached from the Harling Drove trackway.