Dr Francis Wenban-Smith PhD, MA, BA

Principal Enterprise Fellow, Director of the Centre for Applied Human Origins Research

(023) 8059 6864

I am a Principal Enterprise Fellow in the Department of Archaeology, with a long-standing association with CAHO (having completed my PhD in the Department way back in 1996). My position is focused on contributing to pre-development archaeological investigations as a Palaeolithic and Pleistocene geo-archaeological specialist. This is a fast-growing and fascinating area, working with planning authorities and the UK’s largest archaeological organisations, providing information at an early stage of the planning process to flag up if a development is likely to affect any archaeological remains. And if so, my work often then requires designing and carrying out suitable investigations, followed by analysis and reporting of what we discover. It is always a pleasure to share the results within the CAHO community, and my work provides opportunities for students and others to learn more about this aspect of archaeology, and to become involved.

Current projects

Lower Thames Crossing (between Kent and Essex)

Working directly with the project delivery team within Highways England, I have provided an overview of potentially important areas for the Palaeolithic that might be affected by the project, and I am currently designing investigation strategies for them (https://highwaysengland.co.uk/our-work/lower-thames-crossing/).

London Resort (Swanscombe, Kent)

Working with Wessex Archaeology, I am providing information to support the planning consent process for this major new development proposal (https://londonresort.info/).

Ebbsfleet Green residential development (Ebbsfleet, Kent)

Working with Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), I am in the final stages of reporting on the results of investigations carried out between 2010 and 2015, including new discoveries of Palaeolithic sites ranging from early in the British Palaeolithic (more than 400,000 years old, again!) to very late (maybe “only” 12,000 years old) (Figures 1a and 1b).

Previous projects

HS1 in the Ebbsfleet valley (Kent)

Working with Oxford Wessex Archaeology, I designed and led investigations in the Ebbsfleet valley, one of the UK’s key Palaeolithic areas. Amongst numerous important discoveries, we found the undisturbed remains of an elephant butchery site more than 400,000 years old (Figure 2) (Available at: https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/the-ebbsfleet-elephant.htm [Download: https://library.thehumanjourney.net/2732/).

Figure 2: Ebbsfleet elephant flint core amongst the skeletal material
M25 improvement (J2 link-roads; and Belhus Park cutting)

Working with Oxford Archaeology, we found rare evidence of early Neanderthal occupation at J2 with the A2 in Kent, and (at the Belhus Park cutting, in Essex) we found a deep sequence rich in various plant, mollusc and mammalian remains, from a notably warm interglacial episode approximately 340,000 years ago – and with associated flint artefacts indicating contemporary human presence.

Harnham by-pass (Wiltshire). Working with Pre-Construct Archaeology, we found part of a preserved undisturbed landscape – billed as “the Lost Valley” – from a period of cool climate roughly 250,000 years ago, with evidence of intensive Palaeolithic activity on the spot, making handaxes from flint nodules found in the river bank.

Medway Valley Palaeolithic Project

This was a research project, funded by English Heritage. It took the Medway basin area in central Kent, and identified areas of high Palaeolithic potential, supported by field investigation at key sites. Amongst other results, we found Britain’s second longest handaxe, a magnificently-made ficron 308mm from tip to base (Figures 3a and 3b).

Selected recent publications

Wenban-Smith FF, 2021b. The essential elephant: northwest European hominin adaptations through the Middle-Late Pleistocene and Neanderthal extinction. In (GE Konidaris, R Barkai, V Tourloukis, K Harvati, eds) Human-elephant Interactions: from Past to Present: 145-175. Tübingen Palaeoanthropology Book Series – Contributions in Palaeoanthropology 1, Tübingen University Press, Tübingen.

Wenban-Smith FF, 2021a. Review of: The Horse Butchery Site: A High-resolution Record of Lower Palaeolithic Hominin Behaviour at Boxgrove, UK (MI Pope, SA Parfitt and MB Roberts eds), Prehistoric Society Book Reviews, On-line.

Wenban-Smith FF, Stafford E, Bates MR, Parfitt SA (eds), 2020. Prehistoric Ebbsfleet: Excavations and Research in Advance of High Speed 1 and South Thameside Development Route 4. Oxford Wessex Archaeology Monograph 7 (High Speed 1 series).

Wenban-Smith FF. 2014. Ebbsfleet Green, newly revealed Middle Pleistocene deposits to the west of the Southfleet Road elephant site (NGR 561060 173310). In (DR Bridgland, P Allen & T White, ed’s) The Quaternary of the Lower Thames and Eastern Essex: Field Guide: 199-204. Quaternary Research Association, London.

Bates MR, Wenban-Smith FF, Bello SM, Bridgland DR, Buck LT, Collins MJ, Keen DH, Leary J, Parfitt SA, Penkman K., Rhodes EJ, Ryssaert C & Whittaker J. 2014. Late persistence of the Acheulian in southern Britain in an MIS 8 interstadial: evidence from Harnham, Wiltshire. Quaternary Science Reviews 101: 159-176.

Wenban-Smith FF.  2013. The Ebbsfleet Elephant: Excavations at Southfleet Road, Swanscombe in Advance of High Speed 1, 2003-4. Oxford Archaeology Monograph No. 20. Oxford Archaeology, Oxford. https://library.thehumanjourney.net/2732/

Wenban-Smith FF, Bates MR, Schwenninger J-L. 2010. Early Devensian (MIS 5d-5b) occupation at Dartford, southeast England. Journal of Quaternary Science 25 (8): 1193-1199.

Further links and downloads

London ResortInformationhttps://londonresort.info/
Lower Thames CrossingInformationhttps://highwaysengland.co.uk/our-work/lower-thames-crossing/
Ebbsfleet elephant butchery siteDownload volumehttps://library.thehumanjourney.net/2732/  
Boxgrove Horse-butchery reviewAccess paperpage-link temporarily broken due to web-site migration, but I’m waiting to confirm it when it is up again
Volkswagen Symposium, Human-Elephant interactionsDownload full volumehttp://dx.doi.org/10.15496/publikation-55604