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Lecture Report – The Chilterns Landscape and Archaeology

The popular speaker Dr Jill Eyers, geologist and archaeologist, gave on 6th June on the Chiltern Landscape and Archaeology. Residents and visitors to the area appreciate the beauty of the Chilterns, although not all realise the sequence of natural and human activity which led to their current form.

The first geological levels contributing to the Chilterns’ present character are chalks, which began to be laid down some 95 million years ago. The upper layers of this chalk contain high quality flints. This chalk became covered with a layer of flinty clay which in turn was overlaid by sand and later by soil. These levels are associated with ‘sarsen’ stones – either pure sandstone or the pebbly pudding stones – which gave rise to many legends. Meanwhile, the effect of the weather further altered the form of the landscape, especially through river erosion.

Human activity was a relatively minor contributor to the present form of the area. The first people arriving here found the flints useful for tools. Later people found the clay was suited for making pots and the stones for grinding grain. They left structures too, especially burial mounds – such as at Whiteleaf Hill, Monks Risborough (pictured), and in the Iron Age, hill top settlements which led to a flattening of some hills. And then of course there came the roads and buildings of more recent times.