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Totternhoe in The Stone Age

Flint implement found at Shirrell Spring [X325/146/125]
Flint implement found at Shirrell Spring [X325/146/125]

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record is the basis for this article.The Old Stone Age, or Palaeolithic, lasted from the appearance of modern humans, around 500,000 BC, to somewhere around to about 10,000 BC and was succeeded by the Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic. At this remote time, humans began to make stone tools and began to domesticate animals in agriculture. No definite record of any stone tools from this epoch exists for Totternhoe.

The Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic, lasted from about 8000 BC to about 3500 BC and was succeeded by the New Stone Age, or Neolithic. At this time, families of hunter gatherers roamed across the country, making brief stops before moving on. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER 15829] notes that finds were recovered from a field walking site to the south-east of Totternhoe dating from the Mesolithic to Medieval periods. The Mesolithic flints were mainly blades and cores, in one area a flaked axe fragment was recovered.

The New Stone Age, or Neolithic, lasted from about 3500 BC to about 1600 BC. It was preceded by the Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic and was succeeded by the Bronze Age. At this time families began to settle in areas and farm cereal crops as well as keeping livestock. This development in places such as Mesopotamia and Egypt marks the beginnings of what is commonly thought of as civilization. The photograph at the head of the page shows a piece of worked flint, then known as a "celt" found at Shirrell Spring either in 1913 or 1920 [X325/146/125].

Pascombe Pit lies near the border with Dunstable on the slopes of the Downs just west of Whipsnade Road [Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record 983]. The area was used as a rifle range from 1859 onwards and contained evidence of prehistoric activity. It was described as a hollow in the early 19th century, and was then thought to be of Roman date. However, traces of prehistoric structures were said to be visible in the sides. At the base of the slope below the hollow was a round flat platform, and this was the area used as a rifle range. When new platforms for the rifle range were constructed in 1902, wooden piles were found fixed into the underlying chalk. Flint blades and a scraper were retrieved, along with part of a quern for grinding corn.

A number of finds of Neolithic or Early Bronze Age flint tools have been made in Totternhoe. Flint tools continued to be used well into the Bronze Age as they were easier to make and, in an area like Totternhoe, the raw material was very easy to find. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record records that part of a polished flint axe head was found in Totternhoe in 1956 [HER 1408], part of a Neolithic polished axe, having been found in 1890 at the foot of Dunstable Downs [HER 1915].

In 1954 a flint scraper made from a modified flake was found on the surface of a newly ploughed field [HER 1963]. A concentration of worked flints was found at "The Arrow" near the Icknield Way [HER 15827], itself a prehistoric trackway dating back to at least the Iron Age, probably indicating occupation or activity sites. Some of the flints were re-used earlier flakes but generally the assemblage was noticeable for its amount of arrowheads, normally barbed and tanged. The other flints were: scrapers, cutting flakes, piercers, blades and hammer stones. The assemblage is similar to the nearby sites of Well Head and Maiden Bower, just in Houghton Regis and suggests a common industry and period of use of a late Neolithic to early Bronze Age date. As noted, another area of flints [HER 15828] was found north-west of the wellhead (which is in Eaton Bray, though the find spot was just in Totternhoe). The assemblage mainly contained barbed and tanged arrow heads, scrapers, cutting flakes, piercers, blades and hammer stones. It was probably the site of an industry common with the Maiden Bower and The Arrow sites. This site and The Arrow are well suited to observe The Five Knolls barrows on the Dunstable Downs.

Finds were recovered from a field walking site south-east of Totternhoe [HER 15829] dating from the Mesolithic to Medieval periods. Finds from a Neolithic to Bronze Age date included fire fractured flint scatters probably used as pot boilers (these were depressions in which water was externally heated to produce steam or a heated stone was used in cooking) along side worked flints. It is thought that this suggests domestic activity in this period. A few flint gritted sherds of Neolithic pottery were also associated with the fire fractured flints.

Late Neolithic or early Bronze Age flints were recovered in field walking north-east of the village [HER 17170] as were late Neolithic flakes from the north-east of the Recreation Ground [HER 17171].