Lower Palaeolithic Biface. Acheulean Industry.

Kent. Southern United Kingdom Approx. 300,000BP

 

This Acheulean biface found in Kent, is a classic Mode 2 implement fashioned from flint that has deeply yellowed through mineral absorption after deposition.

 The Acheulean or Mode 2 industry from the lower Palaeolithic spans a time of roughly 500,000 – 200,000 BP and represents an advancement over the overlapping more primitive Mode 1 Clactonian tool type production as fashioned by Homo heidelbergensis in Britain some 400,000 years ago. Examples of the Acheulean industry can be found from southern Africa to Northern Europe and Asia, with the biface or ‘hand axe’ being the characteristic multipurpose tool of that period.

This example originates from deposits approximately 300,000 years old and is considered to have been the work of Homo heidelbergensis, a forefather to both Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.

 At the time that heidelbergensis sat chipping this biface, in the lower Palaeolithic period, global sea levels were much lower than they are today and Britain was still a peninsula jutting out from North West Europe, with warmer more Mediterranean-like climate.  Lions, Hyena, Rhino, Hippopotamus and Elephant shared the Pleistocene landscape and at several Lower Palaeolithic sites in the United Kingdom, most notably Boxgrove and Swanscombe, flint bifaces and associated manufacturing ‘scatter’ have been found in large quantities, the tools being produced in situ presumably for despatching animals and butchering meat.

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Hunting Reindeer
Magdalenian Culture. Upper Palaeolithic Europe 13,000 years BP.

The Magdalenian culture, which is recognised as existing in Western Europe between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago, is often referred to by archaeologists as the bone age, due to the propensity of its inhabitants to work in bone, ivory and other perishable materials rather than flint and stone.

It was also an epoch of considerable creative endeavour.  Many of the famous painted caves were created at this time, and beautiful carvings of reindeer in mammoth ivory have been recovered.  Indeed, it was during the Magdalenian epoch that the mammoth became extinct in Europe, and reindeer played a major part in this culture's survival.

In this illustration I have depicted hunters crossing a frozen river, their passage thwarted by fallen birch trees, their reindeer quarry swimming across a break in the ice.  One of the hunters carries a hare, possibly caught by the dog they have brought to assist them, with evidence existing to suggest it was at about this time that dogs were first domesticated. Long spears would have been useful in testing the depth of the snow.

The men wear reindeer skin tunics, the fur turned inward.  They might well have lined their shoes with grass, and worn ponchos of the same material to keep dry.  This is purely conjecture, as none of these materials come down to us from so remote a time in prehistory.  However, the chance discovery of an early Bronze Age traveller mummified in a glacier some several thousand years later, indicates these practices in the mountains, and the inhabitants of Ice Age Europe would have recognised every potential survival strategy to promote their lives.
Acrylic painting

Iron Age Sword. La Tene II Culture? Circa 150B.C – 50A.D


Preceded by the Bronze Age and followed by the Dark Ages, the Iron Age was the last age of Britain’s prehistoric past; Britain's prehistory effectively coming to an end in AD 43 with the arrival of the Romans.


This Britannic sword fragment found in Yorkshire, is of the early Iron Age La Tene II type, so named after the artistic style of the La Tene culture in Switzerland, and was either lost or deliberately broken and deposited as an offering to one of the many Iron Age gods.

Typical of a Celtic ‘slashing sword’ as described by the Romans, the blade is made of soft iron; the hilt of bronze gilt, the weapon similar to others found in the Humberside area and fashioned between 150B.C - 50 A.D

Without the context of deposition, it is impossible to say for certain how this sword made its way into the ground.  It was clearly broken at some point in antiquity, whether by accident or perhaps deliberately; the practice of ritually ‘killing’ precious objects and gifting them to water already long standing since the Bronze Age.

It is interesting to note that at the time this sword was in use, the tribe closely associated with area were it was found were the Parisi; a formerly continental peoples, migrated in the first century BC to Britain from Gaul. Evidence exists that they peacefully integrated with the local cultures yet retained distinctive rites and burial practices still dominant well into the later Iron Age.

Stippled Ink drawings.

For further reading please see:-
I.M Stead British Iron Age Swords and Scabbards 



Late Neolithic Age Semi-Polished Flint Axe


Throughout the entire evolution of humankind, from the first instance of tool use some 1.8 million years ago, stone has been by far the most widely utilised material fashioned by man.  It was only with the ability to extract copper, as recently as 7,000 years ago, that the slow transition from the use of stone implements to those of metal began, a transition that may well have witnessed the continued use of lithic tools contemporaneously throughout the Bronze age and possibly even into the early Iron age, around 500BC.

The Neolithic, or new stone age, was the shortest and final phase of the stone age and bore witness to perhaps the greatest revolution in human history, that of farming and permanent settlement on the land.

It is during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods that we see the first field boundaries appear, and more significantly the raising of impressive megalithic structures across Briton and Europe such as the enigmatic stones at Callanish on Lewis, the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, Avebury in Wiltshire and of course Stonehenge, considered by some scholars as amongst other things, a manifestation of the community and the ability of tribal leaders to gather considerable manpower and resources.

Tools such as this semi-polished flint axe head would have been important daily implements for the felling of trees and the clearing of land, and with man’s propensity to make war, augmented by his increasingly sedentary lifestyle, hafted with a long wooden handle, a flint axe such as this, could also have made a dangerous and functional weapon.

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Acheulean Industry Large Palaeolithic Handaxe

Lower Palaeolithic
Vallee de Classe near Grand-Pressigny, France
Approx. 400,000 BP.
It is remarkable to consider that throughout the evolution of the human species; some 2.6 million years to present, the Acheulean Mode 2 industry comprises 99% of all human tool making activity.
Originating in Africa and spreading to the Near East, 1.5 million – 800,000 BP and later Europe, 400,000 BP, the Acheulean industry, so named from the site of Saint-Acheul, France, characterises the tool making culture of two of our early human forbears, Homo ergaster/erectus and Homo heidelbergensis.
Acheulean tools are recognisable by their bifacial symmetry and differ from the preceding, primitive Mode 1 ‘pebble stuck’ Oldowan industry and the later Mode 3 Neanderthal, Middle Palaeolithic Mousterian culture, where the removed flakes are the desired implements, in that the core itself is fashioned to become the tool, with flakes removed to create a symmetrical, tear shaped biface.
Acheulean tools are often characteristically quite large, with an average cutting edge of 8 inches and probably represent a robust multi-purpose cutting and scraping instrument used for removing branches or butchering meat.
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Neolithic Perforated Mace heads 4,500-2,500 BP.


Before the discovery of copper and the ability to casts daggers and later, bronze swords, the idea of single, long-bladed weapons was inconceivable to Stone Age peoples. (Mesolithic hunters achieved something of the effect of a long blade by affixing microliths side by side to create a continuous edge.) But without the use of metal technology, axe heads, mace heads, and in the Scandinavian countries, Hammers were fashioned instead, often displaying a great deal of time and care in their preparation.

In the preceding stone age periods, little evidence exists for warfare and flints tools were, it appears made as required, but by the time of the Neolithic, a change from the hunter-gather lifestyle to a sedentary farming lifestyle brought with it opportunities for greater conflict, and what could be seen as the advent of tribal cultures.

Tools not specifically designed for hunting and butchering begin to appear, some highly polished examples clearly requiring many hundreds of hours in their preparations; their functionality as a simple tool, questionable. Almost certainly highly polished axe and mace heads were created to display status, for ceremonial purposes or perhaps trade.

These three examples of mace heads, as illustrated above, are simple stone objects, unpolished, created using flowing water and sand. Nevertheless they would each have required considerable effort to manufacture and consequently were probably retained and prized by their owners. Hafted on a long stick, they were light enough to wield but certainly capable of being used as very effective weapons.

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Iron Age Stone Head
Approx. 100BC – 100AD.

Not an archaeological drawing per se; This illustration of an Iron age stone head found near Couper Angus in Perthshire, Scotland, was drawn for a book cover and I chose to up light it for dramatic effect rather than follow traditional archaeological drawing conventions.

Although it is difficult to date stone precisely, this rather ‘crude’ effigy agrees well with Iron Age head representations found elsewhere in the United Kingdom and was probably created somewhere between the 1st Century BC and first Century AD and is thought to personify one of the many hundreds of Iron Age deities.

Unlike the Romans and Greeks, who sought to portray their gods with stunning, lifelike detail in marble; the ‘Celtic’ Keltoi peoples of Europe, did not choose to represent their gods in the same way, indeed, their pantheon of deities is so complex, contradictory and enigmatic that scholars still struggle to categorise them today. Several key gods seem to be universal to most ‘Celtic’ cultures however, the Matres or sacred mothers, Lugus, Cernunnos, Bel, Taranis and Teutates, while for the most part the vast majority are limited to specific geographical locations, Sulis in Bath, Cocidius in Cumbria, Antenociticus at Benwell, or have a particular tribal significance Cuda for the Dobunni, Brigantia for the Brigantes.

To the Iron Age mind, the gods were not ‘super beings’ inhabiting the  heavens or the tops of mountains, rather they were the spirits, the Genius Loci’ of nature; dark, capricious forces of everyday places; woods, streams, rivers and hills. The gods were to be placated, not worshiped, for much depended on their bounty, and two methods of doing this were blood sacrifice, including human sacrifice, and the ritualistic ‘killing’ of precious objects and placing them into water.

The cult of the head is well attested to by the people who encountered the ‘Celts,’ in particular the Romans who displayed a remarkable loathing for the barbarity of the practice; interesting, given the Romans propensity for cruelty. But the Romans themselves were a highly superstitious peoples and took seriously the beliefs of other cultures even ‘Romanising’ Celtic gods and later adopting them as their own.

I must thank Mark Simmons, senior curator at Perth Museum & Art Gallery for granting me access to their collection to draw this artefact.

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A speculative reconstruction of roundhouses at the foot of Deuchny Hillfort, Perthshire. Late Iron Age
It is estimated that their are some four thousand Iron Age hillforts in Britain, centred predominately in the west of England, Wales and Scotland, speaking of a time when communities took refuge behind vast earthen ramparts, wooden palisades and the geographic difficulties of assaulting elevated fortifications.

Undoubtedly some of this is true and historical accounts, particularly from the Romans, the siege of Alesia, the siege of Masada support the use of hillforts as places of defence. But there is also a great deal of evidence supporting the creation of hillforts as status symbols, demonstrating a tribe’s wealth and authority; not least as many hillforts are built at the edges of a tribal territory rather than at its heart.

There is probably no singular reason but a combination of many factors. Certainly at sites such as Maiden Castle in Dorset, post holes of generations of roundhouses support the hillforts use as a village, the local tribe; the Durotriges defending it against the Romans.

Ultimately, however, the peoples of Iron Age Britain were pastoral farmers, relying on wheat, cattle, sheep and ponies for their wealth, the majority living out with the security of fortifications where they could more readily attend to the land.

Stippled ink drawing


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