Archaeologists Excited By 500,000-Year-Old Axe Find In Quarry

By David Prudames | 16 December 2004
Shows a composite image of a Stone Age axe head photographed from four different angles.

This image shows the axe head from different angles. Photo: Graham Norrie, University of Birmingham Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity.

A Stone Age hand axe dating back 500,000 years has been discovered at a quarry in Warwickshire.

The tool was found at the Smiths Concrete Bubbenhall Quarry at Waverley Wood Farm, near Coventry, which has already produced evidence of some of the earliest known human occupants of the UK.

It was uncovered in gravel by quarry manager John Green who took it to be identified by archaeologists at the University of Birmingham.

"We are very excited about this discovery," enthused Professor David Keen of the university's Archaeology Field Unit.

"Lower Palaeolithic artefacts are comparatively rare in the West Midlands compared to the south and east of England so this is a real find for us."

Despite being half and million years old the tool is very well-preserved and will eventually go on show at Warwickshire Museum.

Amongst other things, the hand axe would have been used for butchering animals, but what is perhaps most intriguing about it is that it is made of a type of volcanic rock called andesite.

Shows a photograph of a Stone Age hand axe.

Photo: Graham Norrie, University of Birmingham Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity.

Andesite bedrock only occurs in the Lake District or North Wales and this is only the ninth andesite hand axe to be found in the midlands in over a century. Archaeologists are now trying to figure out how the tool might have got there.

Although it is possible the rock was transported to the midlands by glacial ice from the north west there is as yet no evidence for it, which suggests humans might have brought it into the area.

The lack of material for good quality hand axes in the midlands would probably have been known to our ancestors, therefore these tools could have been brought in ready made.

It may also be significant that all previous andesite hand axe finds have been made in deposits of the Bytham River, a now lost river system that crossed England from the Cotswolds via the West Midlands and Leicester to the North Sea.

This valley was destroyed in a later glaciation and seems to have provided a route into the midlands for Palaeolithic hunters.

Half a million years ago the area was at the edge of the human world, linked to Europe along the Bytham valley and across a land-bridge existing before the cutting of the Straits of Dover.

In addition to the hand axe the Smiths Concrete Bubbenhall Quarry has produced 18 other Palaeolithic tools, currently under investigation by the team at Birmingham Archaeology.

Other finds in the area include bones and teeth from a straight-tusked elephant, which are also set to be displayed at Warwickshire Museum.

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