Lost Landscapes of Worcestershire

Explore our Ice Age story

Discovering Ice Age Worcestershire

The 19th century was not only a time of radical new concepts, but an era of discovery. We owe a lot to these early discoveries for proving there is still evidence out there of Worcestershire’s long lost landscapes:

As earth’s deep history and the evolution of species began to be debated and slowly accepted, researchers within Worcestershire started to investigate the particular history and geology of this region.

Some of the first to do so were Hugh and Catherine Strickland. During the mid-19th century, they discovered the remains of ancient animals, including mammoth, hippopotamus and elephant, around the River Avon and further afield. Inspired in part by the Stricklands, leading geologist Rev. William Symonds conducted fossil-hunting expeditions along the River Severn, wrote a guide for young naturalists and set up Malvern Naturalists’ Field Club and the Woolhope Club of Herefordshire.

Many of the earliest stone tools to arrive in Worcester’s collections came from key sites in France that were excavated in the mid-19th century: St Acheul, Le Moustier, and Aurignac. These tools were found in cave deposits containing the remains of extinct creatures, proving that humans had lived alongside Ice Age animals.

Despite earlier discoveries of ancient animals, by the Stricklands and others, it was not until the early 20th century that the first traces of Ice Age humans in Worcestershire were identified. In January 1915, news of the first Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) artefacts discovered in Worcestershire was announced in a lecture by W. H. Edwards.

Display board of six worked flints
Contemporary image of worked flints found by William Bruton, displayed on W.H. Edwards’ handwritten board

They were found – not by professors or learned gentlemen – but by a tailor from St Johns, Worcester, called William Bruton. Many of his finds were made close to his home in St Johns, in the soils of the extensive plant nurseries. Others came from further afield:  Bruton recognised the significance of Bredon Hill to early humans, and made a number of discoveries around Conderton.

Continue reading on Explore the Past.

Ideas That Changed the World

Earth is 4.5 billion years old. We, Homo sapiens, have been around for at least 200,000 years. But how do we know this? Our blog below explores how earth’s deep history began to be contemplated and explored:

The turn of the nineteenth century was an important point in our recognition and understanding of the Ice Age. The whole of the earth’s history had been understood to fit within the few thousand years described in the bible, but this was about to change.

Eighteenth century scientists wrestled with problematic discoveries of elephant-like bones found far from the tropical areas they usually live in. It was thought they’d been washed into Britain by a great flood thousands of years before. A discovery in Siberia would change everything. A hunting party discovered the frozen body of a mammoth that had died thousands of years before. It was brought back for display in St Petersburg and, importantly, it proved that the mammoth was a different species to the elephant and had lived in a much colder climate.

Two mammoths in Worcestershire

Antiquarians began considering the use and age of stone objects we now know were tools. At the end of the 18th century John Frere of Norfolk wrote that these stones, found 12 feet below the ground alongside the bones of strange animals, must belong to a very remote time ago indeed.

A few years later, an engineer called William Smith began mapping the layers of rock he found in Britain and the fossils found within them. Smith and geologists like him realised that each layer of rock belonged to a different time and provided a record of the plants and animals that lived within that time.

William Smith's geology map

Ideas about the world were changing: the earth was ancient, much more ancient than the few thousand years previously thought. The climate had been far colder and large extinct animals had lived alongside humans who had made strange stone tools that had survived for millennia.

It took the persistent dedication though of a French customers inspector, Jacques Boucher de Perthes, for the antiquity of humanity to finally be accepted within academic circles. Working in gravel quarries along the Somme river, Boucher de Perthes began collecting stone tools from geological layers containing extinct animal remains.  His 1841 publication was not well received, but a few were prepared to contemplate his discoveries and travelled to see the gravel pits first-hand.

In 1859, a flint handaxe embedded in an ancient gravel deposit was also observed and recorded by two English academics. Before the month was out, the Royal Society in London had been informed and views began to change: research slowly turned from proving the concept of a ‘prehistory’ to discovering more about it.

Originally posted on Explore the Past.

Conserving the Clifton Mammoth Tusk

You can see this incredible discovery, and a specially commissioned replica, at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum and the County Museum at Hartlebury.

Research Worcestershire

a large curved tuskThe excavation of a woolly mammoth tusk by Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at Clifton Quarry, just south of Worcester in March 2016, has led to conservation work to ensure its long-term protection.

Specialist conservation work on the mammoth tusk was very generously funded by Tarmac who own and work Clifton Quarry. The tusk was waterlogged when found so it was dampened and covered in plastic to ensure that it dried out slowly, reducing the chances of splitting and delamination which can occur in waterlogged specimens.

Once it had dried, the surfaces of the tusk were gently cleaned and strengthened. A second phase of conservation work was required a few weeks later as the tusk adapted to the environmental conditions at Worcester Art Gallery and Museum.

Between 2017 and 2018, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service (WAAS) in partnership with Museums Worcestershire will…

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Discovering Lost Landscapes – William Smith Geology Map

In 1815 William Smith produced ‘the map that changed the world’ – the first geological map of Great Britain. Years of surveying were behind the incredible detail of this pioneering map, as well as Smith’s theory of stratigraphy that matched areas of non-continuous geology through fossils assemblages. Emma Hancox, Sam Wilson and John France explain more:

This summer, as part of the Lost Landscapes project, we are exhibiting a copy of the first geology map of Great Britain, produced in 1815 by William Smith. A private donor is kindly lending us his copy of this rare map for the Ice Age exhibition in the Art Gallery and Museum. We also have a giant print of the map in The Hive as part of the Origins of Us exhibition.

Known as “the map that changed the world”, the giant print forms the centre-piece of Origins of Us. This exhibition explores how we came to understand our human story.  Set against the back drop of Darwin’s Origin of Species and the emergence of our understanding of the antiquity of the earth, the story of how 19th century scholars and collectors came to revelations about the age of the rocks, fossils and human-made artefacts around us, which spoke of distant aeons, is the story of how we understand what it means to be human. […]

Excerpt of Smith's 1815 geology map
A section of William Smith’s map showing Worcestershire/Warwickshire

Read more at Discovering Lost Landscapes – The William Smith Geology Map

Mammal Bones Conservation

Having been out of the ground for almost 200 years, and suffering from the effects of 19th century conservation work, conservator Nigel Larkin has been restoring some of our Ice Age specimens to their former glory:

Research Worcestershire

Over the next year, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and Museums Worcestershire are working on a Heritage Lottery funded project to celebrate Worcestershire’s Ice Age past through exhibitions, events, blogs and workshops.

As part of the project, conservation work is being carried out on some of the earliest items that came into the Worcester City collection.

No.128 Bos / bison skull and horn cores from Bricklehampton.

Ice-age conservation

This specimen was in several pieces (see image below). It had clearly been put together in the past with glue and plaster of paris, with a wooden dowel inserted into the left side of the skull and into the left horn core, held with plaster. The plaster had given way.

The edges of breaks were consolidated with Paraloid B72 consolidant and then pieces were glued back together with Paraloid B72 adhesive. The wooden dowel was re-used as support is required for the large, heavy…

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