The Paleolithic Hackney Brook

Stone Age Mankind in Stoke Newington

Stoke Newington Common is one of the most important Paleolithic sites in Northern Europe. In the 1860s, G. Worthington Smith, a colourful character in a flowing cloak, began to discover a new world under his feet. He was tireless in visiting the area and examining pits, cellars and basements being dug for new houses, railway cuttings, and the freshly dug graves in Abney Park Cemetery. At this time the whole area was being covered in houses. Cellars were then cut by hand, giving clean sections through the layers of humus, Brickearth, Gravels and Clays.

In the Brickearth he found a thin layer containing sharp flint instruments. The layer was of sub-angular ochreous gravel 1-6" (25-150 mm) thick. This was the 'floor' of 200,000 years ago, and was generally 4-6 ft (1.5-2metres) below the modern surface. The Brickearth was laid before and after the 'floor' was laid. The 'floor' contained, besides the flints, a few broken bones, antlers and some driftwood. Probably there are so few bones and teeth because the acid conditions have destroyed them. Worthington Smith found traces of the floor from Stamford Hill to Highbury, in Blackstock Rd and elsewhere. In 1894 he wrote a book called 'Man, The Primeval Savage', summing up his years of investigation, from which this information comes.




Modern Surface
Palaeolitic river bed
G Humus
F Contorted drift
E Fine sand, statified and
Palaeolithic Hackney Brook;
Black line - London clay and sand;
Fine line - deep red sand from red gravel at D
Implementiferous gravels and
sands. The older tools are in the
lower gravels.

The cross section shows the various strata clearly.

Gravels A, B and C are roughly horizontal and the brook has cut the curved shape H through them. They were laid down before the Hackney Brook and J. E. Greenhhill, a colleage of G. W. Smithy, used this to show that the Hackney Brook was cut after the Thames had cut its present valley (Thames 3).

Above H are the level layers of sand E laid down gradually by the brook.

F shows where the contorted drift ploughed through the river bed in two places.

Point J is the lowest part of Bayston Road today. At this point the London Clay is about 27ft (8.25m) from the surface


Ice or extreme cold - Artic Tundras
Arctic dwarf birch (now typical of Finland)
Reindeer, horse, bison, musk-ox, mammoth, woolly rhinosceros

Interglacials predominating Warmer - like today Mixed forests, oak predominating Straight-tusked elephant, red deer, wild ox, wild boar

Much warmer     Brown and grizzly bears, elephants, hippopotami. The backbone of a crocodile uncovered below the Hackney Road

The Ice Ages and Interglacials

There were four major 'Glaciations' in Britain separated by three warmer 'Interglacials' when the ice sheet retreated. About 300,000 years ago, the ice probably reached North London. In the final glaciation, it probably reached York.

During the interglacials, it probably became as warm as today, causing the ice to melt, releasing quantities of water which temporarily made Britain an island. It produced very wide, marshy borders to the Thames and Lea. Paleolithic men then captured animals by driving them into the swamps.

The earliest definite evidence for human occupation in Britain dates from the Second Interglacial, which began a quarter of a million years ago, but it is possible that the first humans arrived during a warmer phase of the preceding Glaciation.

A Block Map of the Lea Valley

Sand-pit Sections

Updated: January 1, 2013