The Ipswichian Interglacial is the name used in Britain for the second to latest interglacial period of the last ice age. Although different sources disagree on the approximate dates, the most commonly held belief is that the Ipswichian started between 135,000 & 130,000, & finished about 110,000 years ago. (Other sources give a start date as far back as 150,000, or an end as recent as 73,000 years ago)
The Ipswichian Interglacial falls within the Pleistocene geological epoch of the Quaternary period, & is so named in Britain because some of the first deposits were found in 1953 during excavation work in the Bobbits Lane area of southwest Ipswich, England. The period is also known as the Eemian in Northern Europe, the Riss-Würm in the Alps, the Mikulino in Eastern Europe & Russia, the Valdivia in Chile & the Sangamonian Stage in North America. It is thought that the period was on average 2-3 degrees centigrade warmer than today, with sea levels up to 20 ft higher. These warmer interludes that occurred during the ice age are thought to be due to changes in the Earth’s orbital parameters around the sun (known as Milankovitch cycles) which produce greater obliquity and orbital eccentricity.
Bobbits Lane - Part of Belstead Brook Park
At the start of the Ipswichian Interglacial, birch & pine forests predominated, with oak, maple, hazel & elm later becoming common. Later in the period, hornbeam became dominant, before the deciduous forests gave way to pine & birch as the climate once again became colder.
Animals that occurred during the Ipswichian include hippopotamus, woolly mammoth, straight-tusked elephant, Merck’s rhinoceros, narrow-nosed rhinoceros, brown bear, steppe bison, lion, spotted hyaena & auroch, together with some species still with us today such as horse, red deer & fallow deer.
Archaeologically, the Ipswichian Interglacial corresponds with the later part of the Middle Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age, a period during which various stone tools have been discovered at various sites throughout Europe, North Africa & the Near East. Referred to by archaeologists as Mousterian (after Le Moustier, a rock shelter in the Dordogne region of France), these artifacts are associated primarily with Neanderthal man (Homo neanderthalensis), a now extinct species in the genus Homo, closely related to modern humans. These finds include axes, knives & scraping tools, some of which show evidence of what is known as the Levallois technique; a distinctive type of stone knapping involving the striking of flakes from a prepared core.
Thought to be 210,000 years old, & therefore predating the Ipswichian Interglacial Period, are the remains of at least two woolly mammoths discovered when Stoke High School in Maidenhall Approach was being built in 1975. Some of the bones are on display in Ipswich Museum, together with a life size replica mammoth (see below). (photos - Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service)
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