Researchers at the UCL Institute of Archaeology have discovered some of the largest early prehistoric stone tools in Britain.
The excavations, which took place in Kent and were commissioned in advance of development of the Maritime Academy School in Frindsbury, revealed prehistoric artefacts in deep Ice Age sediments preserved on a hillside above the Medway Valley.
The researchers, from UCL Archaeology South-East, discovered 800 stone artefacts thought to be over 300,000 years old, buried in sediments which filled a sinkhole and ancient river channel, outlined in their research, published in Internet Archaeology.
Amongst the unearthed artefacts were two extremely large flint knives described as “giant handaxes”. Handaxes are stone artefacts which have been chipped, or “knapped,” on both sides to produce a symmetrical shape with a long cutting edge. Researchers believe this type of tool was usually held in the hand and may have been used for butchering animals and cutting meat. The two largest handaxes found at the Maritime site have a distinctive shape with a long and finely worked pointed tip, and a much thicker base.
Senior archaeologist Letty Ingrey (UCL Institute of Archaeology), said: “We describe these tools as ‘giants’ when they are over 22cm long and we have two in this size range. The biggest, a colossal 29.5cm in length, is one of the longest ever found in Britain. ‘Giant handaxes’ like this are usually found in the Thames and Medway regions and date from over 300,000 years ago.
“These handaxes are so big it’s difficult to imagine how they could have been easily held and used. Perhaps they fulfilled a less practical or more symbolic function than other tools, a clear demonstration of strength and skill. While right now, we aren’t sure why such large tools were being made, or which species of early human were making them, this site offers a chance to answer these exciting questions.”