Historic Environment Record images

MSO7889 - Hawkcombe Head and Ven Combe Mesolithic flint working sites

ENPHER Number:MSO7889
Name:Hawkcombe Head and Ven Combe Mesolithic flint working sites
Type of Record:Monument
Grid Reference:SS 8441 4571

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Hawkcombe Head and Ven Combe Mesolithic flint working sites have produced a large collection of finds. A spindlewhorl and part of a whetstone of uncertain date have also been recovered.


Digital reconstruction drawing of Hawkcombe.  © Peter Lorimer

Digital reconstruction drawing of Hawkcombe. © Peter Lorimer

Monument Types

Designated Status: none recorded


Area: SS 8443 4572. [1]

There is a Mesolithic flint working site at Hawkcombe Head, producing typical microlithic forms including triangular points, a few micro-burins and cores and one hour-glass perforated stone pendant found by AL Wedlake. [2]

Further implements were collected from Hawkcombe Head by LG Perry, including part of a sandstone sharpening stone of uncertain date. These were all presented to the County Museum, Taunton. [3,4]

A. D. Hallam donated to the museum a chert microlith, 3 flint scrapers, core-flakes etc., from the same site together with some flint core trimmings from a nearby site. [5]

The siting, a small area, was confirmed by Mr Wedlake and Mr Hallam. The former has in his collection several hundred cores, flakes, points etc., from this area. One microlith and a dozen flakes were found during investigation. All have been found where wheel ruts and water channels have cut into the old land surface which is otherwise overlaid by four inches of topsoil and heather. [6]

In RE Ames' collection are 20 Mesolithic blades or flakes, one microlith and one micro-burin from the accurate siting SS 844 457. In the AL Wedlake collection from Hawkcombe Head are c. 160 cores, c. 100 blades or flakes, 48 scrapers, 5 gravers, c. 50 other implements, 56 microliths and 27 micro-burins. [7]

SS 845 456. A spindle whorl of red sandstone with hour-glass perforation, measuring 46mm x 42mm and 14mm thick and weighing 35g, was found on this known Mesolithic site at Hawkcombe Head by Frank Hawtin in 1977. It was retained by the finder. [8]
SS 845 457. A large collection of flint and chert material found here was given to Somerset County Museum, Accession Number 78.AA.291, by Mrs DS Evans in 1978. The majority of the collection consists of the waste from flint working but does include a number of cores, scrapers and microliths. [9]

The Hawkcombe Head profiles were dated to approximately 6000-7000BP from pollen and lithic evidence. Specifically Fagus, indicating at least 3000BP, and Alnus, common around 7000BP. Flints recovered from a depth of 30 centimetres were dated to 6000-10000BP. A sudden decrease in tree pollen coupled with an increase in charcoal species (Poacaea and Rubiaceae) is interpreted as evidence for anthropogenic activity, specifically clearance by fire. Where charcoal is absent manual clearance is inferred. Clearance for arable use is considered unlikely and sheep farming is suggested. [15]

A pollen sample, undated, was obtained from a deposit overlying flints dated to c. 8000 BC. [16]

Analysis of peat samples from two locations at Hawcombe Head supplied radiocarbon dates, of 240-430 calibrated AD and 650-1960 calibrated AD. It was thought the recent date, acquired from a 2.25 metre deep deposit, might indicate sample contamination or recent and rapid peat accumulation due to hydrological change or a barrier in the valley. Later analysis of pollen from the same sample supported the latter interpretation. [18,19]

The University of Bristol and Exmoor National Park Authority carried out geophysical survey and two seasons of excavation at Hawkcombe Head and Ven Combe, in 2002 and 2003. In addition to numerous lithic finds, excavation identified features including a posthole, hearth and a clay surface surrounded by further postholes, possibly indicating a temporary structure. Charcoal samples were collected for Radiocarbon dating from the posthole, heath and clay surface. [21-23]

The heather charcoal samples from the clay surface [trench 3] at Venn Combe, which produced an anomalous Radiocarbon date of 1660-1960 calibrated AD (described above; [18,19]), are thought to be due to contamination by modern intrusion. The charcoal sample from the hearth feature (trench 14) returned a date of 6390-6210 calibrated BC. [24]

Holly charcoal from the posthole feature (trench 12) has been dated to 6760-6500 calibrated BC. The Hawkcombe Head site might have been the focus of repeated visits during the Mesolithic period, used for a variety of activities including, but not limited to, the manufacture of microliths and other tools. However, the site was not chosen as a source of raw materials which are thought to have been brought to site probably from Croyde Bay or Baggy Point further to the west, but may have held a special significance as a locale within the landscape. [25]

The 2003 excavation concentrated on Ven Combe and Hawkcombe head with over 1000 pieces of flint being uncovered during the season. [30]

Excavation in 2011 took place along the course of a pending underground electrical main. The excavation focused on geophysical anomalies from a survey undertaken to inform the excavation, in an area where mesolithic finds had previously been made. Only Trench 1 (a long linear trench adjacent to Ven Combe produced any archaeological finds. 154 flints were uncovered during the excavation and were largely of Late Mesolithic date. Amongst the finds was a stout burin mase on a board blade which is a diagnostic marker of the Early Mesolithic period.
The main anomaly in trench (?) has been interpreted as an occupation surface, either a small working area or settlement site. The area produced a high density of chipped flint tools and debitage. A flotation sample of the occupation surface produced a fragment of hazelnut shell which has been radiocarbon dated to 5311-5073BC. This does not overlap with other radiocarbon dates from the site suggesting the site was a foci for a substantial period. [31, 36]

The spring from Hawkcombe Head cuts a natural routeway from the moorland to Porlock Beach and the spring at Ven Combe cuts a routeway to Lynton. This would allow the mesolithic community to exploit the foreshore and the now submerged woodland, as well as using the moorland for hunting. This location would allow the community to exploit a variety of resources within a few square kilometres. [32]

Concentrations of Mesolithic flints are often located on hill top locations and usually found as unstratified flint scatters. High points in the landscape would have been used a vantage points and due to rapid sea level change these high points have become cliff top locations overlooking the sea. Hawkcombe is a significant example of these sorts of sites. [33]

Gradiometer and earth resistance survey showed a number of anomalies in the area of the flint working site which may represent post-holes, hearths and clay floors. Archaeological investigation to establish the nature of the anomalies is recommended. [35]

Dig Porlock undertook gradiometer and earth resistance survey of two areas within the area of this monument in April 2013. [37]

A digital reconstruction drawing was created in 2013 by Peter Lorimer. [38]

The Ven Combe site was fieldwalked in 2013. A range of flints were recovered, mostly thought to date to the Mesolithic period but with finds dating to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods also recovered. Several hammer stones were also found. [39]

<1> Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Map Collection Reference , Corr. 6 inch (AL Wedlake, 1953) (Map). SMO5303.

<2> The archaeological news letter vol 1(1948) - 7(1965) , Volume 3 (1951), 126 (Serial). SMO5333.

<3> Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, 1851-, Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, Volume 96 (1951), 19 (Serial). SMO4109.

<4> Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, 1851-, Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, Volume 97 (1952), 32 (Serial). SMO4109.

<5> Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, 1851-, Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, Volume 99 (1954), 7 (Serial). SMO4109.

<6> Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Field Investigators Comments, J Palmer, 13 July 1965 (Unpublished document). SMO5103.

<7> Wymer, J.J. + Bonsall, C.J. (Editors), 1977, Gazetteer of Mesolithic Sites in England and Wales, with a Gazetteer of Upper Palaeolithic Sites in England and Wales, 248 (Monograph). SMO5219.

<8> Aston, M. A. + Murless, B.J., 1977/1978, Somerset Archaeology 1977, 119-120 (Article in serial). SEM7084.

<9> Minnitt, S. + Murless, B.J., 1978/1979, Somerset Archaeology 1978, 83-104 (Article in serial). SEM7085.

<10> Rankine, W.F., 1956, The Mesolithic of Southern England, Research Papers of the Surrey Archaeological Society
Surrey Archaeological Society, 44
(Monograph). SEM7086.

<11> Palmer, S., 1970, The Stone Age Industries of the Isle of Portland, Dorset and the Utilisation of Portland Chert as Artifact Material in Southern England, 111 (Article in serial). SEM7087.

<12> Wilson-North, R. + Gardiner, P., 2002, Hawkcombe Head Excavations (Map). SEM6741.

<13> 2002, Hawkcombe Head HH02 (Technical drawing). SEM6743.

<14> Wedlake, A.L., 1985, Hawkcombe Head - A French Connection?, 73-74 (Article in serial). SEM6786.

<15> Jackson, S., 1997, The Analysis of Pollen Diagrams from Hawkcombe Head, Exmoor; With Respect to Both Climatic and Anthropogenic Influences Upon the Local Area Vegetation (Report). SEM6843.

<16> Slade, S., 1997, Pollen Analysis of Hawkcombe Head; A Mesolithic Site on Exmoor (Report). SEM6842.

<17> Dean, R., Gradiometer Surveys, Hawkcombe Head (Technical drawing). SEM6744.

<18> Tinsley, H., 2002, Hawkcombe Head Dates (Unpublished document). SEM6749.

<19> Tinsley, H., 2003, Hawkcombe Head Dates (Unpublished document). SEM6742.

<20> Gale, R., 2003-2004, Hawkcombe Head, Charcoal Samples (Report). SEM6739.

<21> Gardiner, P., 2003, Excavations at Hawkcombe Head 2002-3 (Report). SEM6738.

<22> Gardiner, P., 2003, Interim Report: Excavation at Hawkcombe Head, Exmoor, Somerset 2002-3 (Report). SEM6748.

<23> Gardiner, P. + Wilson-North, R., 2004, Hawkcombe Head, Porlock, Somerset: Project Design (Report). SEM6740.

<24> Gardiner, P., 2003, Mesolithic Activity at Hawkcombe Head, Somerset: An Interim Report on the 2002-3 Excavations (Article in monograph). SEM7040.

<25> Gardiner, P.J., 2009, South-Western Regional Identities: Birdcombe, Totty Pot and Hawkcombe Head, 490-492 (Article in monograph). SEM7088.

<26> Glavine, E.M., 2006, The Mesolithic of Exmoor National Park: An Intra and Inter-Site Analysis of Sites in the Porlock Area, 17-18 (Report). SEM6939.

<27> Webb, C., 2003, Ancient Flint Dug Up on the Moors (Article in serial). SEM6746.

<28> Wilson-North, R., 2009, Hunter Gatherers on Exmoor - Lessons From the Past (Article in serial). SEM6761.

<29> Wilson-North, R., 2011, From Barrows to Burnt Mounds, 85 (Article in serial). SEM7548.

<30> Wilson-North, R., 2003, Digging the Stone Age on Exmoor (Article in serial). SEM7116.

<31> Waddington, C., Gardiner, P. and Mapplethorpe, K., 2011, Archaeological excavation at Hawkcombe Head, Exmoor National Park (Report). SEM7763.

<32> Gardiner, P., 2011, South Western Hunter-Gather Landscapes (Article in monograph). SEM7806.

<33> Fitch, S. & Gaffney, V., 2011, West Coast Palaeolandscapes Survey, 16, 92 (Report). SEM7889.

<34> Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, 2004, Radiocarbon Dating of Charcoal from Hawkcombe Head (Report). SEM6747.

<35> ENPA archaeologist field visit (Survey). SEM1.

<36> Dean, R., 2011, Hawkcombe Head, Exmoor: Archaeological gradiometer and earth resistance survey (Report). SEM7634.

<37> Carey, C., 2013, Hawkcombe Head, Exmoor: Combined earth resistance and gradiometer survey (Report). SEM8001.

<38> Lorimer, P., 2013, Hawkcombe, Exmoor: Digital reconstruction drawing (Artwork). SEM8016.

<39> Gardiner, P., 2013, Ven Combe Fieldwalking (Report). SEM8169.

<40> Williams, B., 2014, Drawings of lithics recovered from the Exmoor area (Technical drawing). SEM8369.

Related Pages

Other References

  • Local List Status (Unassessed)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 84 NW10
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • Pastscape HOBID (was Monarch UID): 35905
  • Somerset SMR PRN (Somerset): 33928
Date Last Edited:Sep 4 2017 9:51PM


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