Update on research over the last year July 2021- July 2022.

Whilst researching the Palaeolithic flint collection I had to consult the archives and with the assistance of the museum archivist Hazel Beresford we found some archival material that will be able to secure the provenance of the flint tool collection and increase its usefulness in contributions to the understanding of the early human occupation of the region.
Within the archive, I noticed some index cards, which suggested the museum had within its collection a number of Pleistocene fossils from a site in the Stour Valley near Canterbury. There are very few fossils from this period of time and area, so this immediately sounded like it could be an important discovery.
I asked Inbal (the then museum’s head of collections) if she knew the whereabouts of these, she didn’t and doubted she’d find them. However, eventually, Inbal did find them hidden in the depths of the museum basement and brought them up for me to inspect. In total there were six boxes including four Champagne crates! Full of various bones and teeth all wrapped in newspaper from the 1920s.

Fig 1. One of the Champagne crates full of fossil bone still wrapped in c1926 newspaper

I spent a day going through the boxes and unpacking them from their original packaging, a filthy job! I tried to photograph as many as possible at this stage to establish the extent of the collection.
Percy Powell-Cotton was a known collector and hoarder, it is likely that he picked the crates of fossils up from the Canterbury antiquity dealer from where he acquired much of his collection, brought them back and put them straight in the basement, where they have been ever since.

Fig 2. Steppe Mammoth Tooth

We then invited Professor Danielle Shreve from the Centre for Quaternary Research at Royal Holloway University of London to come and give an initial interpretation of the collection. Danielle has spent decades researching the British fossil mammal record from the last 2.6 million years (the Quaternary), she combines elements of biostratigraphy (the use of fossil assemblages as a dating tool) to aid the reconstruction of past environments, with the investigation of palaeobiological aspects such as evolutionary change and the interaction of past mammalian communities with early humans.

Fig 3. Danielle lifting one of the fossils from its crate, possibly for the first time since 1926

The initial assessment of the collection suggest that the assemblage contains fossils of, Bear, Horse, Bison, Musk-Ox, Steppe Mammoth and Deer, all of which together suggest a cold climate in the Middle-Pleistocene. This is an unstudied, and potentially the largest assemblage of large Pleistocene Mammalian fossils from the valley of the east Kent Stour; it will now form an important contribution to my PhD research. It will hopefully tell us more about the environments of east Kent from the period 600 000 to 50 000 year ago and the ancient humans that inhabited this lost world.


For more information about the Council for British Archaeology, Festival of Archaeology, visit their website here