The West Tofts handaxe shows that ancient toolmakers enjoyed the aesthetics of their work.

There’s no doubt about it. This remarkable Acheulean handaxe was carefully shaped to have a fossil shell right in the middle of it.

Discovered at West Tofts, in Norfolk, the tool was made around 250,000 years ago – long before homo sapiens had reached the British Isles.

Acheulean stone tools are characterised by their distinctive oval and pear-shaped forms, and were made during the Lower Palaeolithic period by Homo erectus, as well as other human species including Homo heidelbergensis and, much later, Neanderthals.

The West Tofts handaxe is not the only example where the stone has been selected, at least in part, for its aesthetic qualities. This 400,000 year old axe from Swanscombe in Kent has an urchin in the middle:

It’s remarkable to think that even then, toolmakers blended form and function, utility and aesthetics.

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Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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