Foraging at a Prehistoric Bedfordshire River Channel

Palaeochannel Slot
Excavation of depressions at the base of the palaeochannel

Palaeoenvironmental evidence has revealed a vibrant woodland landscape which was being exploited by our prehistoric ancestors. Centered around a former river channel (c.30m across at its widest) which flowed into the River Great Ouse we uncovered a wealth of waterlogged material which would have been utilised by local people.

Charcoal fragments, as well as tree litter in the form of wood fragments, some in excess of 20cm thick, attest to the presence of a well-developed deciduous woodland dominated by Hazel (Corylus avellana) and Alder (Alnus glutinosa). Alder formed an excellent natural resource which could be cut down and used for timber in the construction of houses. Similarly, smaller branches could be turned into hafts for tools such as handaxes.

Hazelnut shell showing gnaw marks (right)
Dogwood seeds
Sloe stones

The undergrowth surrounding the trees consisted largely of dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) interspersed with other species which would have been ideal for people looking to supplement their diet. Elderberries, sloe stones, crab apple seeds, blackberry seeds and hazelnuts would have been foraged as a food resource for both animals and humans.

One hazelnut shell still shows the gnaw marks left by a small mammal whilst attempting to reach the nut inside. Similarly, an Early-Middle Bronze Age pit contained the remains of charred hazelnuts. As part of the interior nut was also charred it suggests that they were being roasted whole. Though no evidence for fish or animals were found within the palaeochannel itself other than a single piece of antler, this area would undoubtedly have been used by local humans for fishing and fowling.

Beyond a few fragments of charcoal no archaeological material has been found directly within the palaeochannel and we cannot be certain exactly when this river channel fell out of use. However, features dating to the Early Medieval Period were constructed through the footprint of the former river channel indicating that it was no longer in use during this period. It seems likely, therefore, that it had finally silted up at some point during the Iron Age or Roman period before being rediscovered by our team during excavations.

Archaeological Research Services Ltd