Hampshire Archaeology

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Buried in time – Tom Walls’ flints

RAF pilot Tom Walls was stationed in Hampshire during World War II, flying from  airfields such as Middle Wallop. He had a keen interest in Stone Age archaeology and when airborne sought out gravel pits which he could later visit on the ground. One was Goodwilley’s Pit at Yew Hill, Kings Somborne and another was Marshall’s Pit in Harewood Forest. In later years he investigated a number of sites in Surrey with the Surrey Archaeological Society, and this connection led to Jon Cotton arranging for the Hampshire finds to be returned, via the Kings Somborne Society, following Tom Walls’ death in the early 1990s.

Pages from Tom Wall's notebook describing his 'summer 1944' investigations at Goodwilley's Pit.

Pages from Tom Wall’s notebook describing his ‘summer 1944’ investigations at Goodwilley’s Pit.

Goodwilley’s Pit boasted a rich seam of material which, although geologically ‘haphazard’, contained many Palaeolithic tools. Tom Walls paid the quarrymen 6d (2½p) for each one they discovered and made notes about the circumstances and location of their finds. An eagle-eyed Mr Day, of Moss Lane, aided by his son, found the majority, many of which they rescued from the conveyor belt between the hopper and the grinder.

Three fine ovates

Three fine ovates

In all, Tom Walls obtained about sixty implements from Goodwilley’s Pit. The most common types were flint handaxes. There are a variety of tool sizes and shapes which would have had different purposes such as cutting, scraping and hammering. It is even thought that some of these ubiquitous objects may have had a symbolic function. In southern Britain handaxes date from at least 500,000 years ago (although the ‘starting date’ is constantly under review) but they are scarce between 400,000 and 60,000 years ago, possibly due to the severity of the Ice Age climate affecting the human population (Stringer. 2006).

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Between 60,000 and 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals were living in southern Britain and there may be evidence for this at Goodwilley’s Pit. Neanderthals produced a distinctive type of handaxe – the bout coupe – a slender ‘rounded triangle’ shape, with the cutting edge all the way round, and there is a possible candidate in the collection.

Pointed handaxes, with cortex retained to provide a more comfortable grip.

Pointed handaxes, with cortex retained to provide a more comfortable grip.

Many of the remaining handaxes are not flaked all over, leaving some of the original surface (cortex) to fit comfortably in the hand and improve the grip. These multi-purpose pointed tools may have been used to dig up edible roots, as borers and awls, or as weapons.

The Marshall's Pit 'cleaver'.

The Marshall’s Pit ‘cleaver’.

One of the most intriguing flints in Tom Walls collection is a remarkably large example from Marshall’s Pit in Harewood Forest, to the east of Andover. It measures 280 mm in length but is comparatively slender, and weighs 1.25 kg. A handaxe from Furze Platt, Maidenhead, measuring 306 mm, but weighing 2.8 kg, is generally considered to be ‘too large for practical purposes…perhaps (having) a symbolic meaning.’ The Marshall’s Pit tool might just have made an effective (two-handed) cleaver!

Another distinctive item found in the river bed at Yew Hill is made of greenstone. It is a pestle mace-head which dates to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age (c 4,000 years ago). This example is polished with tapering sides and a perforation for a handle. There is some debate regarding the use of these beautifully-crafted artefacts. It is possible that they too had no practical function and were a symbol of an individual’s status in the community.

The pestle mace-head.

The pestle mace-head.

The Tom Walls’ collection was donated to the Hampshire County Museums Service in 1994 and is now in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Accession number A1994.18.

References:

Allen D. 1994. Fifty Years Ago – Squadron Leader Tom Walls. Hants Field Club & Arch Soc Newsletter 22 pp 14-15

Stringer C. 2006. Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain. Penguin:London.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

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1 Comment

  1. […] handaxes – and a few other tool types – are generally discovered ‘re-deposited’ in […]

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