The Bytham River has been proposed as an ancient river in Pleistocene Great Britain that has been suggested to have run through the English Midlands until around 450,000 years ago. Its course has been suggested as the route taken by the first humans to visit Britain.
If it existed as a single entity, the river rose in the vicinity of modern-day Stratford-on-Avon and ran through the Midlands for millennia during the first half of the Pleistocene period. It ran north east towards modern day Leicester then may have turned east into East Anglia. At this point it turned south to Bury St Edmunds before turning east again towards Lowestoft and emptying into the southern North Sea.
Much of the river valley was scoured away by the Anglian Stage, but parts were covered and preserved by glacial soil deposits which has enabled geologists and archaeologists to reconstruct its course. It was discovered by a geographer, Professor Jim Rose of the University of London, in the 1980s and named after the Lincolnshire village of Castle Bytham where Rose first identified it.
Its wide sand and gravel banks would have provided an easy route to travel along and the river would have provided water, vegetation and attracted animals making it a useful place for humans to exploit. A concentration of Lower Palaeolithic occupation sites dating to before the Anglian glaciation is known along the river's route including Waverley Wood near Coventry and High Lodge, West Dereham, Feltwell, Brandon, Hengrave, Lakenheath and Warren Hill in East Anglia. This indicates that the river was significant to the first inhabitants of Britain who lived between 700,000 and 500,000 years ago. It would have been the largest river in Britain at the time although the second largest river, which was to become the River Thames, shows no similar indication of pre-Anglian human occupation.
Recent re-evaluation of the evidence in the western Norfolk and Suffolk Fenland margin indicates unequivocally that the localities where the sediments of this river were identified, including High Lodge, West Dereham, Feltwell, Lakenheath and Warren Hill are, in fact, glacial meltwater deltas, dating from a Wolstonian-age glaciation (c. 160 000 years old). They therefore bear no relationship to the 'Bytham river', although they include pebbles derived from a river of East Midlands' source - almost certainly a Middle Pleistocene River Trent. This discovery throws into question the existence of a 'Bytham river' in East Anglia, although there is strong evidence of an Ingham river which was a Thames' tributary. Additionally, this implies that the West Midlands' upstream course of the 'Bytham river' represents a separate, north-eastwards-aligned river.
- Gibbard, P.L., Pasanen, A., West, R. G., Lunkka, J.P., Boreham, S., Cohen, K. M. & Rolfe, C. 2009 Late Middle Pleistocene glaciation in eastern England. Boreas 38, 504–528.
- Rice, R.J. 1981 The Pleistocene deposits of the area around Croft in south Leicestershire. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B293, 385-418.
- Shotton, F.W. 1953 The Pleistocene deposits of the area between Coventry, Rugby and Leamington, and their bearing on the topographic development of the Midlands. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B237, 209-260.
- BBC:Tools unlock secrets of early man
- Bytham River Aggregates by James Rose, Department of Geology, Royal Holloway University of London