Pointed flint handaxe

Pointed flint handaxe

Length: 16.500 cm

Sloane Collection

P&EE Sl. 246

The apothecary John Conyers (1633-94) recorded that this handaxe was found in London with the remains of an elephant in 1679. At this time, educated Europeans thought that humans had appeared on earth relatively recently, so it was a puzzle that the axe had been found with the remains of an animal that had been extinct in Europe for a long time.

After Conyers' death, his discovery was published by John Bagford (1650-1715). Rejecting the idea that the gravel, handaxe and elephant bones had been laid down by Noah's flood, he explained the find in historical terms. Bagford thought it more likely that the elephant had been brought to Britain during the Roman invasion of AD 43 and that the native Britons had tried to repel the beast with stone weapons.

Conyers' handaxe is now understood to be about 350,000 years old. At this time, elephants lived in Britain, in a period during the Ice Ages when the climate was similar to that of today.

The Gray's Inn Road handaxe, as it is now known, was acquired by Sir Hans Sloane and was among the first Palaeolithic stone tools in the collections of the British Museum.

On display: Enlightenment: Archaeology