Archaeology is the study of the human past through material remains. This includes objects made by people in the past – such as tools, weapons, jewellery and pottery – and traces in the landscape of settlements, burial grounds, ritual and military sites.
In Warwickshire there is evidence of human occupation spanning the last half-million years. Click on the titles below to find out more.
Old Stone Age
People first arrived in Warwickshire half a million years ago during the Old Stone Age when small family groups roamed a thickly wooded landscape in search of food. They used simple stone tools such as hand-axes and scrapers. The total population of the area in those days may have been as low as 40. There is evidence of a temporary camp site at Waverley Wood Farm Pit near Leamington. Elsewhere, particularly in north Warwickshire, large numbers of hand-axes have been found suggesting repeated visits. This early phase came to an end with the onset of the Ice Age, an immensely long period during which there is no evidence of a human presence in Warwickshire.
A hand-axe is a general purpose tool, used mainly for cutting and scraping. The sharp point would have been used to pierce the hide of an animal before it was skinned with the cutting edge. Modern experiments have shown that a hand-axe could be made in about twenty minutes. Flint was the most popular rock for tool-making, but this was very scarce in Warwickshire where quartzite was used instead. Three hand-axes from Waverley Wood Farm Pit are of a more unusual rock – andesitic tuff.
In 2004 another very fine hand-axe made of porphyritic andesite was found close to the site of the original discovery. It was found along with other hand tools and debris as well as the bones of straight-tusked elephants. The axes are on display at the Warwickshire Museum.
Middle Stone Age
Human groups returned to our area around 10,500 years ago at the beginning of the Middle Stone Age or Mesolithic period. As the climate became warmer and the ice sheets retreated, the habitat changed as the forest was re-established.
These people were hunter-gatherers who used bows and arrows and had domesticated dogs to help them in the chase. Vegetable foods such as nuts, roots and berries would also have formed an important part of their diet.
This period is characterised by the use of microliths; small delicately-worked points set into arrow shafts. Other flint tools were used for working wood and bone and for cleaning skins. Some 20 sites are known in Warwickshire of which the most important is Blacklow Hill, near Warwick.
Excavations here have revealed a substantial tool-making site. Other sites are known in the Avon valley, although these are poorly understood. By contrast, intensive fieldwork around Nuneaton has produced a large number of finds and evidence of several settlement sites.
New Stone Age
Around 6,000 years ago the hunter-gatherer way of life was being gradually replaced by a simple farming economy, further modifying their habitat.
These New Stone Age people raised sheep, pigs and cattle, and grew cereal crops. They used fire and stone axes to make clearings in the woodland where they could build farms and lay out fields.
The Bronze Age was a time of change. The scattered farming communities were coming together into tribal groups with powerful leaders. Metal was now in use and objects were being made out of copper and bronze.
There are a number of weapons such as swords and spearheads cast in bronze found in Warwickshire. Also, we have evidence of people taking care of their appearance. Two bronze razors have been recorded recently in South Warwickshire.
Warwickshire was a rich agricultural area. Farming continued to expand and by 1500 BC much of the woodland had been cleared and settled.
During the Iron Age, Warwickshire was dotted with small farmsteads such as the settlement which has been excavated at Wasperton, near Warwick.
The main building at this site was a thatched round house where the family and some of the livestock lived. Around it were workshops, storehouses and stock pens.
The whole settlement was surrounded by a deep ditch which kept out wild animals. During times of trouble the population may have taken refuge in one of a number of hillforts such as Meon Hill near Stratford or Oldbury near Nuneaton.
Many of the archaeological sites visible in the modern landscape are associated with settlement and land use throughout the medieval period (approx 1066 AD – 1500 AD).
A number of towns and villages in Warwickshire are medieval in origin. Traces of these settlements survive in the form of earthworks (undulations in the ground surface), historic boundary and street patterns and occasionally as standing buildings.
Some of the County’s more dramatic structures are medieval in date. These include a number of castles, churches, houses and bridges.
In many areas evidence of medieval agricultural cultivation survives as distinctive ridge and furrow earthworks.
The earthworks and buildings of medieval Warwickshire form a distinctive link to the County’s past.
New Archaeological Objects
Warwickshire Museum has recently acquired these objects for the county’s collections. Some were donated by the finders and owners, others were acquired with the help of grants and visitor donations.
An Anglo-Saxon gold and niello ‘bobble’ found at Bidford on Avon.
We think this bobble is one of King Alfred’s aestals. It would have had a wooden or ivory pointer held in the socket with a tiny gold rivet. These pointers were sent out by Alfred with religious books to monasteries around England. The most famous aestal is the Alfred Jewel on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
This object was acquired with the help of grants from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the National Art Collections Fund.
This may not look like the small change in your pocket, but it is a coin. It was made over 2000 years ago and was used by the Iron Age people who lived in Warwickshire before the Romans came to Britain in AD 43.
The image of the horse is frequently used on Iron Age coins. There is a flower image on the other side, which is more rare.
Amazing finds don’t have to be in gold. This black glass bead decorated with white wavy lines was found in a garden at Lillington. The bead was thought to be Victorian, but it was identified at Warwickshire Museum as dating from Anglo-Saxon times.
Beads like this were probably made in Germany in the 5th-6th century AD. This one found its way to Warwickshire as part of someone’s personal jewellery.
Finds from the Bronze Age (2200 – 700BC) are quite unusual, especially when, like this object, they are only 1.5cm in size. This penannular ring has a bronze core which is covered by gold sheet. We don’t know what it was used for, but two have now been found in the Bidford on Avon area.
New Prehistoric Archaeology Objects
Warwickshire Museum has recently acquired these objects for the county’s archaeological collections. They are now on display at the Market Hall Museum.
Some were donated by finders and owners, others were acquired with the help of grants and visitors’ donations. They are some of the most important objects found in recent times in Warwickshire.
This shield stands only 10cm high. It is believed to be an exact copy in miniature of the shields used by Iron Age ‘Celtic’ warriors in this part of the Midlands over 2000 years ago. The decoration is made up of incised lines and punched dots around the edge and the boss in the centre. The shape of the shield and the style of decoration is very similar to the Battersea Shield in the British Museum.
A shield like this may have been used for rituals or ceremonies to do with warfare. It is one of several new finds in Warwickshire from the Iron Age which show us that people of high status lived here. This adds to the evidence we have for farming communities like that discovered at Wasperton.
The shield was found near Alcester and was acquired for Warwickshire Museum’s collections with the assistance of the V & A Purchase Grant Fund.
We don’t know much about what people wore in Prehistoric times. Materials like wool, cloth and leather very rarely survive. Objects like brooches, buckles and buttons can give us clues, but loom-weights like this one tell us that Bronze Age people were weaving cloth.
This example was found near Brailes about 3 miles (5 km) east of Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire, England.
Even further back in time this object dates from the Neolithic period and is an arrowhead, but not the usual type with a pointed end.
The wedge-shaped blade (top part of object) of this hunting weapon would have been the widest part and would fell an animal very quickly, saving the hunters valuable energy chasing after wounded prey.
This find is the first to be recorded in Warwickshire and was found near Wolston.