A site of pioneering Victorian investigation.
Zoom in to the Google Map to find the points of interest.
Rampart Field is an area of heathland and scrub woodland including Town Pit (see map), a disused gravel pit last worked in the 1950s. It has a special place in the history of science, as one of the first sites ever investigated for evidence for Palaeolithic human settlement in Britain. It is now part of the West Stow Heath Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated for its wildlife value.
Rampart Field is an attractive mixture of grassy heathland and scrub.
Pioneering researchers Joseph Prestwich (geologist) and John Evans (archaeologist) visited here in 1860, looking for evidence that flint implements were definitely associated with extinct ‘antediluvian’ animals. A year earlier Darwin had published his ‘Origin of Species’, and the finds at Rampart Field would help demonstrate the great antiquity of human kind. Several artefacts were found, although mammal fossils proved frustratingly scarce, just elephant bones and a reindeer antler.
An Acheulean handaxe from Town Pit. [Image from ‘Ancient Stone Implements’ by JG Evans (1897)]
Researchers re-investigated Rampart Field in 1993, trying to discover more about the geological history of the Lark valley. They found chalk rubble underlying gravelly deposits containing a flint scraper tool. The gravels may have been deposited by meltwaters from an ice sheet occupying Fenland about 160,000 years ago. They contain a distinctive assemblage of quartz-rich pebbles that were brought to the area by a powerful but now-vanished river about ½ million years ago. Known as the Bytham River, it eroded and transported quartz and quartzite pebbles from 200 million year-old Permo-Triassic rocks in the Midlands.
Investigating the Rampart Hill gravels, 1993.
Elements of a lost landscape: the Bytham and Proto-Thames rivers were destroyed by the advancing Anglian ice sheets, some 450,000 years ago. [Image courtesy Stephanie Hartick]
A brown quartzite boulder at the northern end of the site (see map) is likely to be a glacial ‘erratic’, transported to the area by the Anglian ice sheet about 450,000 years ago. It is probably a form of silcrete (silica cemented sandstone) outcropping in the Kings Lynn area.
An example of a glacial ‘erratic’ boulder.
The site is public access land managed for its heathland wildlife value. It is marked on Ordnance Survey Explorer map no.229 ‘Thetford Forest in The Brecks’ (c.TL 788 716).