The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99
Length: 12.000 cm
Width: 7.400 cm
On loan from Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service .
Stone Age, about 550,000 years
Found in north-east Norfolk, England in 2000
Britain's oldest human-made artefact?
Mike Chambers discovered this handaxe while walking his dog in February 2000. He had been walking along the same beaches for many years and often collected the things he found, from fossils to parts of a Second World War aircraft. After discovering this axe, he reported it to Norfolk Museums Service.
Like thousands of other flint tools, the axe was made by chipping off parts of a large flint pebble to make sharp edges, but leaving a blunt end to hold. It could then have been used like a knife for a range of purposes, such as cutting up an animal carcass perhaps to cut up an animal.
But what is really exciting about this apparently humble find is its age. It is probably the oldest object made by humans ever found in Britain, or even in north-west Europe. We do not yet know exactly how old it is, but experts currently date it to between 550,000 and 700,000 years old. Archaeologists previously thought that the first Europeans arrived in this part of the world 500,000 years ago. This discovery shows that humans have been living here much longer. While walking his dog, therefore, Mike Chambers may have rewritten the history of Europe.
From the collection of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service
Richard Hobbs, Treasure: Finding our past (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)