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Giant stone artifacts found on rare Ice Age site in Kent

Researchers at the UCL Institute of Archaeology have made a remarkable discovery in Kent, uncovering some of the largest early prehistoric stone tools ever found in Britain. The excavation took place at the site of the Maritime Academy School in Frindsbury and revealed a treasure trove of prehistoric artifacts preserved in deep Ice Age sediments on a hillside above the Medway Valley.

The team from UCL Archaeology South-East unearthed approximately 800 stone artifacts, estimated to be over 300,000 years old. The artifacts were buried in sediments that filled a sinkhole and an ancient river channel. The findings, published in Internet Archaeology, shed new light on the prehistoric past.

Among the discoveries were two incredibly large flint knives referred to as “giant handaxes.” Handaxes are stone tools crafted on both sides to form a symmetrical shape with a long cutting edge. These tools were likely held in the hand and used for activities such as butchering animals and cutting meat. The two largest handaxes found at the Maritime site have a distinct shape, featuring a long, finely worked pointed tip and a thicker base.

Senior Archaeologist Letty Ingrey from the UCL Institute of Archaeology described these tools as “giants” due to their size, with some measuring over 22cm long. The largest handaxe, an impressive 29.5cm in length, is one of the longest ever discovered in Britain. These “giant handaxes” are typically found in the Thames and Medway regions and are believed to date back over 300,000 years.

The size of these handaxes presents a puzzle, as it is difficult to imagine how they could have been easily held and utilized. It is possible that they served a less practical function and held symbolic significance, demonstrating strength and skill. The purpose of creating such large tools and which early human species crafted them are questions that researchers hope to answer through further study.

The site is thought to belong to a period in early prehistoric Britain when Neanderthal people and their cultures were emerging, possibly coexisting with other early human species. The Medway Valley during this time was a wild landscape of wooded hills and river valleys, home to red deer, horses, and now-extinct animals such as the straight-tusked elephant and lion.

While archaeological finds of similar age, including another remarkable “giant” handaxe, have been discovered in the Medway Valley before, this large-scale excavation provides a unique opportunity to gain deeper insights into the lives of the toolmakers.

Dr. Matt Pope from the UCL Institute of Archaeology emphasized the significance of the excavations, stating that they offer valuable insights into how an entire Ice Age landscape developed over a quarter of a million years ago. The recovered stone artifacts, including the “giant handaxes,” will undergo scientific analysis involving specialists from UCL and other UK institutions to understand their importance to ancient people and how they helped them adapt to the challenges of Ice Age environments.

In addition to the Ice Age artifacts, the research team made another significant find at the site – a Roman cemetery dating to a much later period, at least 250,000 years after the Ice Age activity. The cemetery is believed to be the burial ground for individuals from the first to fourth centuries AD, potentially connected to a nearby suspected villa located around 850 meters to the south. The remains of 25 individuals were discovered, including cremated remains and individuals buried with personal items such as bracelets. The presence of pottery and animal bones in the vicinity suggests that feasting rituals accompanied the burials. This discovery provides valuable insights into Roman burial customs and traditions in both the villa and the nearby town of Rochester.

Jody Murphy, Director of Education at the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, expressed gratitude for being part of thisThe recent archaeological excavation at the Maritime Academy School in Frindsbury, Kent has yielded a remarkable discovery. Researchers from the UCL Institute of Archaeology have uncovered some of the largest early prehistoric stone tools ever found in Britain. These findings shed new light on the ancient history of the region.

The excavation revealed approximately 800 stone artifacts, estimated to be over 300,000 years old. These artifacts were buried in deep Ice Age sediments on a hillside above the Medway Valley. Among the discoveries were two enormous flint knives, described as “giant handaxes.” Handaxes are stone tools that have been shaped on both sides to form a symmetrical cutting edge. These tools were likely used for butchering animals and cutting meat. The largest handaxe found at the Maritime site measures a colossal 29.5cm in length, making it one of the longest ever found in Britain.

Senior Archaeologist Letty Ingrey from the UCL Institute of Archaeology described these handaxes as “giants,” with some measuring over 22cm long. The size and craftsmanship of these tools raise intriguing questions about their purpose and the early human species responsible for their creation. While it is challenging to imagine how such large tools were used practically, they may have held symbolic significance, representing strength and skill.

The site is believed to date back to a period when Neanderthal people and their cultures were emerging in prehistoric Britain. The Medway Valley during this time was a diverse landscape of wooded hills and river valleys, inhabited by animals such as red deer, horses, and now-extinct species like the straight-tusked elephant and lion.

The excavation provides a unique opportunity to understand the lives of the toolmakers and gain insights into their prehistoric activities. The researchers plan to conduct further analysis of the recovered artifacts to unravel the mysteries surrounding their creation and use.

In addition to the Ice Age artifacts, the excavation also revealed a Roman cemetery dating to a much later period, between the first and fourth centuries AD. This cemetery may have been associated with a nearby villa located approximately 850 meters south of the site. The remains of 25 individuals were discovered, including cremated remains and individuals buried with personal items such as bracelets. The presence of pottery and animal bones suggests that feasting rituals accompanied these burials. This discovery provides valuable insights into the burial customs and traditions of both the Romans in the villa and the nearby town of Rochester.

The ongoing research at the Maritime Academy site holds immense historical significance. It offers a glimpse into the ancient past, allowing us to better understand the lives of our ancestors and the rich cultural heritage of the region.




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