The Site’s Age and Environment


The Age

The fossiliferous sediments at Norton Subcourse date back to early in the Pleistocene, the period popularly known as the Ice Ages. These deposits date to somewhere between 500 and 700 thousand years. It is hoped that dig at Norton Subcourse will help us to get a better understanding of the exact age of the sediments and the fossils they contain as well as the nature of the climate and environment of the time.

The Environment

The sediments at Norton Subcourse represent a sequence from shalow marine gravels at the base, (Photo 2,c) through fluvial clays and silts, (Photo 2,b), a woody peat representing an alder carr, (Photo 2,a) organic silts (with most of the large mammal fossils), followed by fast flowing river sands and gravels and finally a series of sediments deposited by a very large ice sheet.

The period represented by the sediments with hippos is a part of the ice ages, which was warm (an interglacial), as opposed to a cold period (glacial), and temperatures were probably broadly the same as today. The vegetation would have looked much the same as Britain today without agriculture. Most of the plants and animals were identical to those living in East Anglia today but with a few very obvious exceptions (hippos, elephants, hyaenas, lions, bears, saber-toothed cats, rhinos). The invertebrates were also mostly similar to those found in Northern Europe today.

Picture an East Anglian lowland river at dawn, slow flowing water, reeds growing on the shallow bank. But then you spy a hippo all but submerged in the depths, and watching this scene with you on the opposing bank is a hyaena ever alert for prey or carrion. Now take away the two animals and the picture below, (Photo 1), is what you may have seen several hundred thousand years ago at Norton Subcourse.

Photo 1



The sediments at Norton Subcourse and the environments represented:

Norton Sediments




Norton Subcourse Section (Photo 2)


Environments represented

a) Black stoney organic deposit = Alder Carr next to a channel (Photo 3)

b)Grey clays = Phragmites reed bed next to open water (Photo 4)

c)Orange sands and gravels = Shallow marine offshore or beach deposit (Photo 5)








The excavation was funded by English Nature and the Aggregrates Levy Sustainability Fund. The Natural Environment Research Council, Quaternary Research Association and Royal Society have also funded this work.