Lower Palaeolithic handaxe, Lavenham

handaxe photographed multiple sides

This month’s featured find is a complete Lower Palaeolithic flint handaxe found near Lavenham, dating to c. 533,000-300,000 BC.

Recovered by chance by a local metal detector user in 2016, this Palaeolithic handaxe represents one of the earliest types of artefacts found in Suffolk. Made from flint, the handaxe is ‘bifacially worked’, meaning it has been shaped on both sides producing sharp edges. While the term ‘handaxe’ suggests that such objects were hand-held and used for chopping wood, they likely served a variety of functions including butchery.

This example is part of a stone tool technology known as the ‘Acheulean handaxe tradition’. Some Acheulean handaxes often resemble teardrop shapes, with broad butts at one end and pointed tips at the other. The Acheulean industry developed in Africa around 1.65 million years ago and spread throughout Europe. In Britain, Acheulean handaxes are associated with Homo heidelbergensis, an extinct hominin.

black and while illustration of handaxe
illustration of the hand axe found near Lavenham in 2016 (illustrated by Donna Wreathall)

Suffolk plays an important role in understanding of the Palaeolithic period. In 1797, John Frere wrote to the Society of Antiquaries of London describing two handaxes recovered from Hoxne, proposing that they were very ancient human-made tools. Though ridiculed at the time, Frere was later vindicated when similar axes were recovered from gravel pits near Saint Acheul, France in 1858, giving a name to the industry. Later, excavations in Hoxne would reveal an important Palaeolithic site including Acheulean technology (HXN 001).

View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database: SF-0862D6

Thank you to the finder for allowing this object to be featured.

This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Find out more about Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Suffolk

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