Westbury Manor Museum at Fareham has just closed its doors for three or four months to allow a redisplay project to take place. The past few weeks have seen the Curators of Art, Archaeology, Hampshire History and Natural Sciences – and the Conservation team – retrieve many items from the displays. Now that the site is secure, dismantling of some of the cases can take place.
165mm in length; weight 750 gm
One of the objects removed from the archaeology ‘time line’ display was this ovate handaxe from the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic). Its Hampshire Cultural Trust number is A1992.25/3 and it belongs with another two axes, a cleaver and a knife, all made of flint. There are no real details of where they were found, but they are from the Fareham area. In this the axe is in good company, as many of these distinctive tools, dating from anything up to 500,000 years ago, have come from Hampshire’s coastal fringe.
The handaxes – and a few other tool types – are generally discovered ‘re-deposited’ in gravel terraces and many have an orange or brown patina, the result of the iron staining produced in that environment. What makes this particular tool stand out is the large natural fossil hole at the centre of the axe. The person who made it must have chosen the flint nodule deliberately and decided to make the hole a feature of the finished article.
Those who study the Palaeolithic, and the activities of the ‘first humans’, marvel at the longevity of the handaxe as a tool-type, and wonder what they were actually used for! They are generally accepted as the Old Stone Age equivalent of the Swiss Army knife. They fit the hand easily, often – as in this case – having some cortex or smooth flint surface to protect the palm. They have a sharp or chisel end and a cutting long edge. But there is a also a theory that they conveyed social signals, and that the best axe-makers would make the best mates!
If this was the case then the manufacturer of this axe has produced something strikingly original, by incorporating the fossil hole. Who knows what sort of reception his (or her) creative talents received!
Modern flint knappers – after years of practice, can produce a handaxe in 15 to 20 minutes.
Further reading: Chris Stringer (2006) Homo Britannicus; The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain.
Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone