Amblecote Early Man Header


Early Humans The oldest artefact ever to be discovered in the Stourbridge area is a stone hand axe that has been dated to around 700,000 years ago – well before the last ice age, and a remnant of our humanoid ancestors whose existence can be reckoned as being within ‘geological time’. At this time the Stour valley simply didn’t exist, the landscape being that created by previous geological events, with a large river running west/east out into what is now the bed of the North Sea. Nevertheless humans, albeit unlike ourselves, were present and this precious axe provides a remarkable link with their existence.
The last ice ages created the Stour valley although in a form we would not recognise today. As the deep ice – in places over a mile thick - retreated it deposited great banks of sand that in effect dammed the watercourses, creating considerable lakes.  The Stour valley may well have been a one of these with Amblecote, Lye and Wollaston underwater. As the climate improved so the land surrounding the lake would have come to resemble the African savannah of today, with exotic animals such as lions, hippos and hyenas as well as the proto-human who hunted them. Eventually the lake would have worn away its sand dam, and the water level dropped to form the Stour valley as we understand it.  The temperature also dropped once more and, although the ice sheet never again extended as far as Amblecote, the savannah and its animals retreated south to be replaced by a cold steppe of permafrost. Humans nevertheless lived here in the shape of the enigmatic Neanderthals who were probably responsible for a collection of Palaeolithic scrapers found at nearby Lutley. Unfortunately for the local Neanderthals they were no match for ‘modern man’, Homo sapiens sapiens, who moved into the area when things once again warmed around 10,000 years ago. As a ‘niche species’, climate change and apparently quicker thinking opposition, saw the Neanderthals off, and the long occupation of the Stour Valley by modern humans began. A vast number of Mesolithic flints (many thousands) found at Lutley attest to their presence in the area.

The Importance of Lutley
Lutley stands on fairly high ground, yet with standing water, and this area would have served as an ideal meeting place for different groups. ‘Social’ gatherings would have formed an important part of Mesolithic life for, although early modern man was probably no less prone to rivalry between ‘tribes’ than we are today, the absolute requirement of small communities to exchange genes would have driven the cultural need to ‘greet and meet’.Further proof of the nature of these small wandering groups is illustrated by the diversity of stone tool finds, many mere ‘microliths’ tiny slivers of flint, some with dual purposes, and indicative of a nomadic hunting based society whose possessions had to be both durable and portable. It is therefore doubly interesting that some flints in the same area are rather large, being ‘cores’ from which other tools would have been split. That there is no naturally occurring flint in the Stour valley, combined with the fact that these cores had plenty of working life left in them when they were discarded, indicates that raw materials were commonly carried to the Lutley site; suggesting yet again that this was a place of meeting and trade.

The Neolithic Period

Artefacts have also been found from the Neolithic period, or ‘New Stone-Age’, when humans first began to settle and farm. A more static lifestyle encouraged a diversity of manufactured goods, and the Neolithic farmers of the Stour valley would have possessed houses, woven cloth and pottery as well as a wide range of stone and wooden tools. This was the period of the great megalithic monuments such as Stonehenge, and  it seems likely that standing stones would have once been an important feature of the Stour Valley landscape, although sadly we now have only a hint of these in place names containing the word ‘stone’. Unfortunately for archaeology any traces of Neolithic habitations would have been ‘ploughed out’ very early on by subsequent farmers with better equipment.  The more settled nature of society from this time is reflected in a predominance of pottery over stone tools, with decorated ceramics having been found in the area. Rope designs are common, making it obvious that this material was well known to Stone Age people.

Bronze & Iron

As the Stone Age merged into the Bronze Age so the population of the Stour Valley would have continued to rise and it is during this period that thWychbury Mape huge, possibly Bronze Age, certainly Iron Age, hill ‘fort’ on Wychbury Hill, just to the south of Amblecote was constructed. Unfortunately the earthwork is nowadays hidden by a dense wood. It purpose may well have been a corral for cattle rather than a defensive work. Indeed, counter intuitively (for a fort) the gentler side of the hill is less well defended than the steeper side, an error that wily bronze/iron age man would not have made. Thus  Wychbury may well have been a ‘customs post’ watching over the important road coming out of the Severn valley and extracting ‘dues’ in the shape of cattle from travelling tribesmen. The heights of Amblecote are so obviously in the line of site of Wychbury that even the merest hints of early occupation (which there are) makes it almost unthinkable that Amblecote did not begin life as a bronze/iron age outpost under the eye of whosoever held Wychbury Hill. Sadly any hard evidence would have been destroyed during the open-cast mining that utterly altered the high ground of Amblecote thirty years ago.

The Romans

Whilst the Stour Valley was certainly Roman territory it was highly unlikely that, apart from the initial conquest period, most local Britains would have ever seen a Roman. Nevertheless, those indigenous peoples who lived there would have become ‘Romanised’ , adopting Roman ways, using Roman goods and of course contributing to the trade and wealth of the Roman Empire. Once again it is pottery that reveals the presence of people living in the Stour valley at this time, with shards of both British (Coarse Ware) and imported fine goods (Simian Ware) being found in the locality. One interesting point about the former is that examples have been found from both the manufacturing centres of the Thames and the Trent valleys – inferring once again that the Stour valley and its surrounding heights were a major crossroads for travel and trade.

The Angles
When the Romans left, the Britains were, after three hundred years of Roman rule, unable to defend themselves from incoming Germanic invaders. Indeed the Romans had quite deliberately ‘de-militarised’ their subject nations in order to prevent sedition; and as a consequence left them unable to resist even modest force. The invaders of the Stour Valley would have been Angles, eventually creating Angle-land or England, divided initially into its several Kingdoms and later to emerge as the great Anglo-Saxon state of the eleventh century. It is just possible that the seventh century King Penda gave his name to Pedmore.

The Norman Invasion
The Anglo-Saxons of course gave way in turn to the Normans who, under William the Conqueror, invaded England in 1066. Much of the Stour Valley was ultimately acquired by a Norman Baron named William Fitz-Ansculf and by the time of Domesday vast swathes of the west midlands centred around the castle of Dudley belonged to his son, also William.

By Nick Baker, with thanks to John Hemmingway, Dudley Borough Archaeologist.