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Hoxnian Interglacial

Hoxne handaxe. Photo by the British Museum

Q: At the edge of our village (Hoxne in Suffolk) there is a site of special scientific interest. There was a major archaeological dig here some 20 years ago (at the time of the Reagan presidency in the USA - his wife came to visit the site) and some interesting finds were made. Subsequently this period was given another name, leaving out the reference to Hoxne. Who would have renamed the period? Was Hoxonian interglacial a geological classification or a geological one? Perhaps the former as it is only some 370 thousand years ago.

From Mr Alastair Forsyth (April 2011)

Reply by Dr Jan Zalasiewicz (University of Leicester)

The Hoxnian (rather than Hoxonian) is alive and well. It is the name given to the warm interglacial phase, a little over 400 000 years ago, that followed Britain's largest ice advance (when an ice sheet reached north London). The name indeed derives from Hoxne, where ancient, fossil-bearing lake deposits dating from that interglacial phase are present, and can be used to characterise the climate and environment of that time. Early humans lived in the vicinity then, as you suggested, and the British museum has a fine hand-axe from Hoxne:

To technicalities: Hoxnian is the name used for this time interval in Britain; on the continent the equivalent term is Holsteinian, while globally it relates to a time unit called 'Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 11', which represents the sixth major warm phase (not quite the same as a full interglacial phase) from the present one.

The Hoxnian is a fascinating interval of time - probably it achieved temperatures fractionally warmer than today, with sea level a little - perhaps ten metres - higher. It lasted some thirty thousand years.