Neolithic life in the Colne Valley

In the last blog post I made comparisons between the landscapes of Orkney and the landscapes of the Colne Valley during the Early Neolithic.  The practices of daily life for those people were, as they still are, fundamentally interconnected with the environment they inhabited, and around the Colne Valley these would have been significantly influenced by the river and surrounding terraces.

Early humans often inhabited the floodplains around major river valleys and while the river itself would have provided a means of navigation as well as water for drinking or attracting animals, gravels were also utilised and provided raw materials for one of the most prevalent human artefacts in human history, the flint tool.  During the Neolithic flints continued in use and were often reworked from earlier pieces found along the riverbanks.  All over the Colne Valley evidence of flint procurement and knapping can be found, and from the tools themselves we can gain insight into the types of activity people were engaged in.

Figure 1:
Polished axe from Harmondsworth
Adkins, R. and Jackson, R. (1978) Neolithic stone and flint axes from the River Thames: an illustrated corpus London: British Museum Department of Prehistoric and Romano-British Antiquities

For example, in the Rickmansworth area, the northernmost section of the Colne Valley, surface finds recorded in the local historic environment records (LHER’s) include quantities of worked flints, bladelets and a knife, plus the flakes created through the process of flint knapping.  People would not have had to travel far to procure these river flints or to find pieces left by earlier generations in the surface of the gravels.  When flint flakes or chips are found in numbers it suggests that manufacturing was being carried out locally and it is likely that some tools were being worked or reworked close to their sources around this part of the river.  Flakes themselves could be used as scrapers or for cutting and scoring, while bladelets and knives could be used for similar purposes.  The location of these tools points to the fact that people were resourcing materials locally and using them to manufacture implements which could be used for butchery and cleaning animal skins or even as tools for woodworking.

A little further south, and right next door to the Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre, more tools from the Neolithic have been uncovered through archaeological investigation. Buckinghamshire County Council records fieldwalking at Denham Court golf course (now Buckinghamshire golf course) in 1984, where large densities of prehistoric flints were uncovered in the surface gravels.  Flakes, cores and scrapers were found, including retouched pieces, blades, borers, knives and even two types of arrowhead; leaf and oblique, evidence for hunting spanning both 3rd and 4th millenniums BC.  These tools suggest that the Colne was an important artery for life over the transitional Neolithic in the Thames Valley; people were setting up camps along the length of the river, and it was here they went about their daily activities of hunting, preparing food, cooking, making tools and marking out the landscape for future generations.

Figure 2: Colne Valley landscape in the Middle Thames Valley

Written by Samantha Brummage

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