Scientists have discovered a 300,000-year-old “giant” ax at a rare Ice Age site

Letty Angry measures the largest giant axe

Several flint axes, some round and some pointed, and of different sizes, are placed on a table. ASE’s chief archaeologist, Letty Ingri, measures the largest giant ax using wide spring calipers. Credit: Southeast Archeology/UCL

Archaeologists from UCLA’s Institute of Archeology have unearthed some of Britain’s largest prehistoric stone tools.

Excavations, carried out in Kent prior to the building of the Naval Academy School in Friendsbury, have discovered ancient artifacts embedded in deep Pleistocene deposits preserved on a hill above the Medway Valley.

Researchers, from UCL University of Southeastern Archeology, discovered 800 stone artifacts believed to be more than 300,000 years old, buried in sediments that filled an ancient river pit and channel, as described in their paper, published in 2018. Archeology Online.

Giant Handax

Picture of the largest giant ax taken from four different angles. It is roughly teardrop shaped with a point at one end and a flat curve at the other. It is made of orange and yellow stone. Credit: Southeast Archeology/UCL

Among the artifacts discovered were large flint knives described as “giant axes”. Hand axes are stone relics that have been chipped or “chipped” on both sides to produce a symmetrical shape with a long cutting edge. Researchers believe that this type of tool was usually held in the hand and may have been used for slaughtering animals and cutting meat. The two largest axes found at the marine site have a distinctive shape with a long, finely crafted pointed tip, and a thicker base.

“We describe these tools as ‘giant’ when they are more than 22 cm long, and we have two in that size,” said archaeologist Letty Ingri (UCLA Archeology Institute). The largest is 29.5cm long, one of the longest ever recorded in Britain. Such “giant axes” are usually found in the Thames and Medway regions and date back to over 300,000 years ago.

Letty Ingrey holds one of the pickaxes at the site

ASE’s chief archaeologist, Leti Ingri, holds one of the hand axes at the site. Credit: Southeast Archeology/UCL

“These axes are so large that it is hard to imagine how easy they could be carried and used. They may have served a less practical or more symbolic function than other tools, and are an obvious display of strength and skill. While at present we are not sure why such large tools were made, or what Of which classify From the first humans were making them, this site provides an opportunity to answer these exciting questions.

The site is thought to date back to the early prehistory of Britain when Neanderthal people and cultures were just beginning to emerge and may have shared the landscape with other early human species. The Medway Valley was then a wild landscape of wooded hills and river valleys, populated by red deer and horses, as well as lesser-known mammals such as the elephant and the now-extinct straight-tusked lion.

Archaeologists excavate the Naval Academy School site in Frindsbury

Archaeologists excavate the Naval Academy School site in Frindsbury. Credit: Southeast Archeology/UCL

While archaeological finds from this era, including another stunning “giant” axe, have been found in the Medway Valley before, this is the first time they have been found as part of a large-scale excavation, providing the opportunity for more. of insights into the lives of its makers.

Dr. Matt Pope (University of California, Los Angeles Archaeological Institute) said: “The Naval Academy excavations have given us a very valuable opportunity to study how the entire Ice Age landscape evolved more than a quarter of a million years ago. The Scientific Analysis Program, which includes specialists from London College, will now help us. University and other institutions in the UK, to understand why the site was important to ancient people and how stone artefacts, including ‘giant axes’, helped them adapt to the challenges of ice age environments.”

The research team is now working to identify and study the recovered artifacts to better understand who created them and what they were used for.

One of the pickaxes at the site's discovery point

One of the hand axes at the site’s discovery point. Credit: Southeast Archeology/UCL

Senior archaeologist Giles Dukes (UCLA Institute of Archeology) is leading work on a second important find from the site – a Roman cemetery, dating back at least a quarter of a million years after Ice Age activity. It is possible that the people buried here between the 1st and 4th centuries AD are suspected residents of a nearby villa that may have been located about 850 meters to the south.

The team found the remains of 25 people, 13 of whom had been cremated. Nine of the individuals buried were found with goods or personal items including bracelets, and four were buried in wooden coffins. The collections of pottery and animal bones found nearby are likely related to the ritual banquets at the time of the burial. Although Roman buildings and structures have been extensively excavated, tombs have historically been of less interest to archaeologists, and the discovery of this site offers potential new insights into the burial customs and traditions of both the Romans who lived in the villa and those who lived in the neighboring villa. Rochester.

Judy Murphy, Director of Education at Thinking Schools Academy Trust, said: “We, at Maritime Academy and Thinking Schools Academy Trust, feel very fortunate to be a part of this tremendous discovery. We take great pride in our connection to our local community and region, as much of our school’s identity is linked to the history of Medway. We look forward to taking advantage of this unique opportunity to teach our youth about these discoveries, and to create a lasting legacy for those who came before us.

Reference: “On the Discovery of a Late ‘Giant’ Acheulean Axe from the Naval Academy, Frindsbury, Kent” by Letty Ingri, Sarah M Duffy, Martin Bates, Andrew Shaw and Matt Pope, 6 Jul 2023, Available here. Archeology Online.
DOI: 10.11141/ia.61.6

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