Eartham Pit, Boxgrove

  (Redirected from Boxgrove Quarry)

Eartham Pit is an internationally important archaeological site north-east of Boxgrove in West Sussex with findings that date to the Lower Palaeolithic. The oldest human remains in Britain have been discovered on the site, fossils of Homo heidelbergensis dating to 500,000 years ago.[2] Boxgrove is also one of the oldest sites with direct evidence of hunting and butchering by humans. The site is a 9.8-hectare (24-acre) geological Site of Special Scientific Interest,[1][3] as well as a Geological Conservation Review site.[4]

Eartham Pit, Boxgrove
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Eartham Pit, Boxgrove.JPG
Area of SearchWest Sussex
Grid referenceSU 923 086[1]
Area9.8 hectares (24 acres)[1]
Location mapMagic Map

Other key Palaeolithic sites in the UK include Swanscombe, Pontnewydd, Kents Cavern, Paviland, and Gough's Cave.

The site is close to a fossil shoreline that has interglacial mammal fauna in intertidal sediments.[5] Parts of the site complex were excavated between 1982 and 1996 by a team led by Mark Roberts of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. The site is situated in an area that features a buried chalk cliff that overlooked a flat beach (which contained a waterhole) stretching approximately half a mile (1 km) south to the sea.


The site is important for many reasons, including the degree of preservation of ancient land surfaces, the impressive total extent of the palaeo-landscape beyond the quarries (over 26 km wide), its huge quantity of well-preserved animal bones, its numerous flint artifacts, and its hominin fossils that are among some of the most ancient found yet in Europe. Several of the animal bones are the oldest found specimens of their species, such as the wing bone of the great auk found at the site in 1989. The combination of bones, stone artifacts, and the geology of the landscape gives a very complete picture of the coastal plain as it existed half a million years ago.[6]

The tibia from Boxgrove
One of hundreds of handaxes found at the site
Tray of Boxgrove flints (not on display) at the British Museum

Numerous Acheulean flint tools and remains of animals dating to approximately 500,000 years ago were found at the site.[7] Some of the bones were found to display cut marks, and some of the tools bear use wear traces indicative of cutting meat, indicating that the site was used for butchery by some of the earliest occupants of the British Isles. They shared the area with a wide variety of animals whose bones have been found there, including lion, bear, rhinoceros, and giant deer, as well as numerous smaller animals such as frog, vole, and birds.[2] Comparison with ethnographic and experimental examples of stone-tool-assisted butchery has shown that game animals at Boxgrove were butchered expertly, and it is likely that the variety of animal life in the area attracted human hunters.

Evidence for hunting is, however, tentative, consisting primarily of a horse shoulder blade with a semicircular hole that has been interpreted as the mark of a projectile impact. Given that wooden spears decay very quickly, it is no surprise that no hunting equipment has been found on the site. As well, it is a fact that wooden spears do not generally cause great damage to the bony areas of impact such as the pelvis. Thus, the horse shoulder blade mark is a rare piece of evidence of hunting activity.

Remains of Homo heidelbergensis were first found on the site in 1993, comprising the partial tibia of a human who probably stood 1.8m high and weighed approximately 80 kg.[8][9] Significantly, this is the only postcranial element of Homo Heidelbergensis to have been found in northern Europe (postcranial indicates bones coming from anywhere other than the skull, considered the top or leading bone of the body). The tibia is extremely robust for its size and may be an indication of high running activity, presumably in tracking an animal after it has been speared. Cold adaptation is another possible reason for the robust quality. Both ends of the bone show signs of gnawing, possibly by a wolf, suggesting that perhaps the Boxgrove hominids were sometimes prey to other animals. In 1995 two incisor teeth from another individual hominid were found. These show evidence of severe periodontal disease and they also show tool cut marks, which are thought to have been caused by use of flint tools near the mouth rather than indicating cannibalism.

In 2003 English Heritage announced it would buy the western quarry (known as Quarry 1) to ensure the preservation of the site complex.[10]

In August 2020 archaeologists said they had discovered the earliest bone tools ever found in Europe at the site.[11] They said that it provides further evidence that early human populations at Boxgrove were cognitively, socially, and culturally sophisticated.[12][13]


"Boxgrove is simply one of the great Early Palaeolithic/Middle Pleistocene sites in the world, this statement has nothing to do with ego or anything else personal to myself - it just is. The quality of preservation, the range and depth of its myriad lines of multidisciplinary evidence are beyond nearly all other sites."

Mark Roberts (2011)[14]

Roberts became the site director of the Boxgrove project.

In 2011, Roberts told interviewers from the student-produced archaeological magazine Artifact that Boxgrove was "a fickle mistress indeed" and that whilst he wouldn't change his experience in investigating the site, the excavations "extracted a very heavy price" from him, "a price that I am only just at the point of paying the final instalment on". For this reason he found that he often hummed The Specials' 1979 song "Too Much Too Young" to himself when thinking about the project.[15]


In 1998, Roberts co-wrote a book about the site with prehistoric archaeologist Mike Pitts that is entitled Fairweather Eden: Life in Britain half a million years ago as revealed by the excavations at Boxgrove. Published by Arrow Books, Fairweather Eden was designed for a popular audience.

A butchered rhinoceros bone found at the site
Selection of stone tools from Boxgrove exhibited at the Natural History Museum

The English Heritage monograph: Boxgrove: A Middle Pleistocene hominid site at Eartham Quarry, Boxgrove, West Sussex is now available through the Archaeology Data Service.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Designated Sites View: Eartham Pit, Boxgrove". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b "500000 BC - Boxgrove". Current Archaeology. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Map of Eartham Pit, Boxgrove". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  4. ^ "Eartham Pit, Boxgrove (Quaternary of South Central England)". Geological Conservation Review. Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  5. ^ "Eartham Pit, Boxgrove citation" (PDF). Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  6. ^ Pitts, M. & Roberts, M. "Fairweather Eden". Fromm International: New York, 1997. ISBN 0-88064-247-5
  7. ^ Stout, Dietrich; Apel, Jan; Commander, Julia; Roberts, Mark (2014-01-01). "Late Acheulean technology and cognition at Boxgrove, UK". Journal of Archaeological Science. 41: 576–590. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.10.001. ISSN 0305-4403.
  8. ^ "BBC - Science & Nature - The evolution of man". Retrieved 2018-01-30.
  9. ^ "ARCHAEOLOGY: Boxgrove Man reveals his Stone Age-old secrets". The Independent. 1994-06-22. Retrieved 2018-01-30.
  10. ^ "Research and Conservation framework for the British palaeolithic" (PDF). English Heritage: 9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 1 November 2010. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Fox, Alex, Europe’s Oldest Bone Tools Hint at Early Hominin Sophistication, Smithsonian, August 14, 2020
  12. ^ Europe's earliest bone tools found in Britain,
  13. ^ M Pope, S Parfitt, M Roberts, The Horse Butchery Site,Spoilheap Publications, ISBN 978-1912331154
  14. ^ Kontonicolas, Ali and Roberts 2011. p. 13.
  15. ^ Kontonicolas, Ali and Roberts 2011. pp. 12-13.
  16. ^ Parfitt, S., Roberts, M. (1999) "Boxgrove: A Middle Pleistocene hominid site at Eartham Quarry, Boxgrove, West Sussex" English Heritage
  • Pitts, Michael and Roberts, Mark (1998). Fairweather Eden: Life in Britain half a million years ago as revealed by the excavations at Boxgrove. London: Arrow. ISBN 978-0-09-964491-0.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Kontonicolas, MaryAnn; Ali, Irrum (2011). "Disco in Boxgrove". Artifact Magazine. 01: 12–13.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 50°52′12″N 0°41′24″W / 50.870°N 0.690°W / 50.870; -0.690