These are some of the Palaeolithic tools that I make for museum displays, archaeologists or private collectors. I try to make certain tools on request, but this depends on my flint stock and the difficulty of the tool. Many of the tools are made from flint blocks extracted from different chalk and gravel quarries in the Suffolk region. Most of these tools can be found in Britain, however there are some cultures/ types of tool that may never have been in use in Britain - these tools will be labelled as "non-British".


Ovate Handaxes:

Ovate handaxes were made particularly famous in Britain after the discovery of the middle Pleistocene butchery site at Boxgrove near Chichester, the site dated to 500,000 BP but an ovate handaxe from Happisburgh dated as far back as 700,000 BP! The ovate handaxe represents some of the earliest complex tool manufacture in the world as it is a step above the earlier core and flake culture of the Olduwan. A process of bifacial knapping in a progression of stages would determine the size and thickness of the handaxe, the ones shown in the picture are exceedingly thin for any handaxe (only 1cm at most).

The purpose of the handaxe has often been considered multi-purpose however evidence from Boxgrove suggests they were made with a particular task in mind, in the case of Boxgrove it was butchery. Handaxes from Boxgrove displayed no evidence of heavy use-wear suggesting they were not used for smashing bones to obtain marrow which was contrary to the belief of many. The size of an ovate handaxe can vary hugely, some ovate handaxes have been found that can be well over 25cm long whereas other can be as small as 8cm which may not necessarily be an indicator of culture or knapping skill.

 

Pointed or "Butted" Handaxe:

The pointed handaxe is probably the most common tool artefact of the Palaeolithic across the world as it can occur at one site in the quantity of thousands. At Swanscombe (Kent) over 100,000 pointed handaxes were found that dated as far back as 400,000 BP. It was thought the pointed handaxe was the predecessor of the ovate handaxe until the the discovery at Boxgrove which proved this was not the case.

It was the pointed handaxe that alerted John Frere (1740–1807) and Sir John Evans (1823-1908) to the fact that strange pointed rocks that were found in some quarries were in fact manufactured by man. Their function is likely to be very similar to the ovate handaxe but it is clear that the exact way they were used and held to carry out tasks were different. The reason they are sometimes known as 'butted' handaxes is because the base of the handaxe sometimes is left with cortex on, or has no cutting edge, this is probably because this is where the handaxe was held (so that it did not cut back into the hand of the user). The handaxe in the bottom left of the picture was made from a flint cobble or "sea flint" like the handaxes from Swanscombe. The handaxe in the top right is made from a chert pebble from Dorset. The other three handaxes are made from nodular flint from a sand and gravel system in Suffolk.

 

 

 

The handaxe in the lower image is a copy of one found at Swanscombe and would be classed as a "ficron". This term generally applies to handaxes that are concaved on either side and have a thin, elongated tip that is finely worked. This finely worked tip would be the "working" part of the handaxe so would require the most care in production.

There are many different theories on the exact way pointed handaxes were held but unfortunately it is very unlikely we will never truly known, it is worth noting that because we do not know; it is likely it was held in different ways depending on the task.

Pointed Handaxes:

These handaxes are also pointed but they do not have the 'butt' or untouched end for easier holding, these handaxes may have represented the merge of the pointed and ovate handaxe. However it is difficult to be sure if this was evidence of "progression" or simply a variation by a certain group or culture. This type of handaxe can be found across most of the world and can date from the lower Palaeolithic to the early Mesolithic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The handaxes in the upper image are relatively thin an have a fairly consistent thickness through their entire profile. The three handaxes in the middle image have a varying thickness; The handaxe on the right gets thinner from base end to tip, the handaxe in the middle has a thicker bulb at the base and the handaxe on the right is thickest in the middle but also has a distinct spine that runs from tip near to base end. These different characteristics appear in many different regions and periods in the Palaeolithic.

 

 

Non-flint Handaxes:

In some parts of the world there is no flint present, so people living there must rely on other silica materials such as chert or mudstone.

The handaxe on the right and left are made from chert which can widely vary in silica content which changes the difficulty of knapping and colours that can be present in the chert, the chert used here is from near Exeter.

The handaxe in the middle is made of mudstone which came from the beach at Robin Hood's Bay (Yorkshire). These handaxes are in slightly different shapes which can be influenced by the way the material reacts when it is being flaked.

Levellois Flake:

Levellois flake are fairly unique and are associated with Neanderthal tool manufacture. The flakes produced from a prepared core (sometimes known as "tortoise core technique") would be razor sharp all the way round apart from the striking platform this made them useful cutting tools instantly. However this was a very wasteful process as the core was made of far more flint than the flake and although the flake was razor sharp it lost it's cutting edge much quicker than the more created edge of bifacially worked handaxes.

(José-Manuel Benito Álvarez - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license)

The Levellois technique was often employed to produce points for spears as well as handaxe tools, the result flake depended on the way the core had been worked. Many Levellois flakes have been retouched but this may have been to to correct the curve of the flake.

Cleaver Handaxe:

Cleaver handaxes are distinctive by the shape of the working edge, the image of the cleaver (one cleaver showing both sides) has a straight but angles end which would have been used for heavier jobs such as severing animal tendons or hacking at wood. The working edge can be flat rather than angled but the shape of the edge is always near straight.

The cleaver could be considered the early axe but handaxes would not have been hafted despite the many theories that handaxes would be hafted; they were clearly not manufactured with hafting in mind.

Cleavers appear in the lower Palaeolithic and can be found in most regions along with ovate or pointed handaxes but are often not as common or well known as pointed or ovate handaxes which sometimes causes them to be misinterpreted.

Ostrich Egg Water Container & Holder:

Replica of a prehistoric 60,000BP Ostrich egg water container decorated with three hatched bands (e.g. railway tracks) and dusted with ochre.

More than 270 Ostrich eggshell fragments (from at least 25 separate eggs) were found by Pierre-Jean Texier and his team from University of Bordeaux during research at the Diepkloof Rock Shelter in the Western Cape of South Africa. Patterns were etched into the side of the eggs and included a hatched band, parallel lines, intersecting lines and cross-hatching. Decorations appear to change throughout time, with parallel lines being the intital style, followed later by hatched bands. It has been suggested that the repetition of certain motifs by early humans show some form of communication. 

Although there remains no archaeology evidence of a carrier/holder for the water container, my holder is simply made from two thin bands if pig hide, bound together with plaited/braided grass. The top is finished with a shaped wooden stopper. These materials would have been easily available to the ancient people.

Todays hunter-gatherers from the Kalahari still collect ostrich eggs and fill them with an average of 1 ltr of water.

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