OpenCampus Lifelong Learning & Public Engagement

History@Hull Culture Café Spring 2017

City of Culture Series

'From Mammoths to Mosaics'

Talk - 11th February 2017

Nunburnholme Iron Age Complex


“From Mammoths to Mosaics - an introduction to Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology”

Saturday 11th February 2017 11am -1pm

Dr Peter Halkon, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology in the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures

Dr Halkon presented his illustrated talk to a fascinated audience of over 250, as part of the University’s ‘History@Hull’s Culture Cafe Talks for the City of Culture year. 

Before, during and after Peter's talk attendees got the opportunity to view and handle genuine artefacts from the Hull and East Riding region under the helpful guidance of History Archaeology students and members of the East Riding Archaeological society, who were also present and had a very productive day recruiting new members to their society. 

Attendees were also able to explore an exhibition relating to Dr Halkon's current research -Exploring a Yorkshire Wolds Village – Nunburnholme Community Heritage project . This project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund  and Ferens Education Trust.

Additional information relating to the talk

Celebrating internationally important archaeology in our region during the City of Culture

Much of the focus of Hull’s City of Culture activities has been based on the arts, both visual and performing. Its rich recent history was reflected in January’s amazing light and sound shows in the City centre and Old Town. The earlier cultural heritage of the region, however, must not be forgotten. The East Yorkshire region contains archaeology of international importance from the earliest human activity in these islands onwards, yet this is still not fully appreciated within the region itself. Many finds are housed in the Hull and East Riding Museum, the Treasure House in Beverley and the Sewerby Hall Museum. Visitors to Hull and East Yorkshire should not miss out on the opportunity to view these amazing collections.

Earliest human activity

The earliest evidence for human presence in the region is a hand axe found on the Yorkshire Wolds above Hotham, now housed in the Hull and East Riding Museum, lost somewhere between 400,000 and 200,000 BC probably by an early Neanderthal. The find spot overlooks the Foulness Valley where a large river ran down from the Yorkshire Wolds between Church Hill, Holme on Spalding Moor and the ridge that gives its name to North and South Cliffe. In warmer climes than today, this area was the home to straight tusked elephants, much larger than the present species, rhinoceros and other animals more familiar in an African setting.

When Hippopotami, Rhinos and Elephants roamed in East Yorkshire

As time went on, dramatic cooling in climate led to Siberian conditions interrupted by a number of warmer phases, including the so-called Ipswichian interglacial between 150,000 and 110,000 BC. Britain was cut off from Europe, Hull and Holderness would have been under the North Sea and the buried cliff of this ancient coastline, exposed at Sewerby, ran down as far as the Humber Bridge. It is rather bizarre to consider that hippopotamus, rhino and elephant once roamed here. A rapid cooling in climate led to another ice age and once again Britain was linked directly by land to the European continent. The vast plains and hills which became the Dogger Banks became home to mammoths and other cold loving animals. Mammoth remains have been found recently in the Foulness Valley and around Spurn point, and an impressive life-size model of one of these huge hairy beasts greets visitors as they enter the galleries of the Hull and East Riding Museum.

Eden-like Conditions for Early Hunters

Rapid global warming around 10,000 BC created what some experts regard as Eden-like conditions for the anatomically modern humans who exploited hunting and foraging opportunities offered in this changed landscape. This period is known as the Mesolithic and the flint tools of these early hunters have been found at locations across the region including Weel, near Beverley, in the Foulness Valley and at a number of locations on the Yorkshire Wolds. The most famous site from this period is Star Carr just to the west of Scarborough which remains iconic in British archaeology with its well preserved timber structures, antler headdresses and remains of the oldest house in the region.

The First East Yorkshire Farmers  - a ritual landscape to rival the Stonehenge region

Excavations at Easington and elsewhere in the East Riding show that by around 4000 BC a new way of life, farming, makes an appearance in the Neolithic period. Flint and stone technology changed and beautifully made polished axe blades enabled areas of woodland to be cleared for the growing of crops. Pottery appears for the first time and new species were introduced including sheep. There is much debate as to the extent to which the people living in this region were migrants or indigenous people adopting new life-ways, or a combination of both. Populations grew and their settlements became more permanent. Neolithic houses have been found at Easington, Driffield and Sewerby.  New burial practices appeared, the dead were exposed, the de-fleshed bones collected and placed within timber and earth structures known as long barrows, which unlike their stone counterparts elsewhere in Britain were then set on fire. Other ritual monuments were constructed, such as the cursuses of the Great Wold valley, the largest concentration in Britain.  These long ceremonial ways consist of banks and ditches, some almost 3km in length, at the centre of which stands Britain’s tallest standing stone, the Rudston monolith. These along with the great round barrows Duggleby Howe and Willy Howe and numerous other monuments make the Great Wold valley a Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual landscape to rival the Stonehenge region. Unlike Salisbury plain, however, the Yorkshire Wolds has been subject to intensive agriculture and so the monuments don’t appear as spectacular on the ground today.

Bronze Age arrowheads, axeheads and the earliest planked boats in Europe

Dotted around the landscape are hundreds of Bronze Age round barrows containing burials, many of which were accompanied by pottery vessels known as beakers and archery kit. Some of the dead were accompanied by spectacular jet necklaces. Many barrows were excavated by John Robert Mortimer and his finds form the core of the internationally significant prehistoric collections of the Hull and East Riding Museum.  Hoards of copper alloy axeheads have also been found in the region. Evidence for potentially seagoing trade was discovered in the form of the Ferriby boats, one of which, dating from 2030-1780 BC, is the oldest planked boat in Europe.

Rising sea-levels, the Iron Age and Chariot Burials

Worsening climatic conditions and raised sea levels may have led to the deposition in watery places of copper alloy swords and other items including a remarkable Roos Carr images, naked male wooden figures with shields in what might be an animal-headed boat, as some kind of votive offering.  A major marine transgression in the Humber estuary sometime between 800 and 500 BC created a tidal inlet between Faxfleet and Brough into which sank Britain’s largest surviving logboat found at Hasholme by Peter Halkon and Martin Millett during archaeological survey in 1984, which is now on display in the Hull and East Riding Museum.  Felled from a massive oak 321-277 BC, this boat and a similar one found near Newport, now lost, were contemporary with an Iron Age iron industry in the Foulness Valley, one of the most extensive in Britain.   Along with recently discovered smelting sites in the Hull Valley, these may have provided metal for the iron tyres contained in chariot burials, resembling those discovered in northern France and Belgium.  Of the twenty two or so known in Britain, all but two were found in Eastern Yorkshire. Finds from the Garton and Wetwang chariot burials are also held by the Hull and East Riding Museum.

The Romans arrive!

Evidence of the great skill of Iron Age blacksmiths and metal workers can be seen in the remarkable cache of five swords in decorated sheaths with a bundle of 33 iron spearheads found at South Cave, buried at the time of the Roman invasion of eastern Yorkshire around AD 70, on display in the Treasure House, Beverley.  Roman forts appeared at Brough, Hayton and Malton and eventually a road network was established. Brough became tribal capital of the Parisi and the Hull and East Riding Museum contains the only inscription referring to a Roman theatre in Britain found there, along with many other artefacts. At Shiptonthorpe and Hayton, settlements developed along the major Roman road which ran between Brough and the Roman capital of northern Britain, York. Finds from the excavations at these two sites include leather shoes, writing tablets, and a unique piece of Roman decorated furniture. The most attractive and impressive Roman galleries of the Hull and East Riding Museum also contain the biggest collection of Roman mosaics in northern England from Rudston and Brantingham in East Yorkshire and Horkstow to the south of the River Humber. Although apparently crude in appearance, the Venus mosaic from Rudston has affinities with those of North Africa, as does the much better quality mosaic with the central panel showing a victorious charioteer.

Celebrate our Medieval Museum Exhibits too in this City of Culture year !

Although the focus here is on prehistoric and Roman remains, Hull and East Riding Museum has important medieval exhibits including the Viking sword from Skerne, leather shoes and scabbards from Hull’s medieval Town and the timber frame of a large medieval house. All in all these museums, are must for anyone coming to East Yorkshire in this City of Culture year. They will not be disappointed and it is about time the region was recognised more widely for the wealth of its archaeological remains celebrating cultures past.   


Dr Peter Halkon’s Profile Page

Click here to visit Peter’s University of Hull Academic Profile Page.


Recent publications

Hayton, East Yorkshire: Archaeological Studies of the Iron Age and Roman Landscapes (2. Vols - Complete)

Halkon, Peter; Millett, Martin and Woodhouse, Helen (Eds)

Published by Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Leeds, U.K, 2015


5 * Book Reviews for Dr Halkon’s recent book 

‘The Parisi: Britains and Romans in Eastern Yorkshire: Britons and Romans in East Yorkshire’ – 1 Oct 2013


“Exploring a Yorkshire Wolds Village – Nunburnholme Community Heritage project”(Heritage Lottery Funding)

Pocklington Post Article January 2016


Contact details: Ian Calvert and Jackie McAndrew,,

01482 462192 & 01482 466585

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