Pointed handaxe from Hoxne, Suffolk

Here is an example of a part of the Society’s collection which symbolises crucial changes in our understanding of the world and what we can learn from the antiquity of the earth. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the question of human antiquity was centred on biblical sources. However, increases of geological exploration during the nineteenth century saw a new understanding of the chronology of the earth emerge. Identified by antiquary John Frere, a collection of worked flint tools such as this one were recognised as intentionally fabricated weapons from a period even before the use of metals. It is inferences such as this that challenged the pre-determined notions of man-made tools being naturally formed meteorites or thunderbolts. The drawing was commissioned to illustrate a letter sent by Frere to the Society, published in Archeologia in 1800, that consolidated and popularised such arguments.

Title: Drawing of pointed handaxe from Hoxne, Suffolk
Artist/Maker: Thomas Richard Underwood (1772-1835)
Date: 1797
Material/Technique: Watercolour on paper, 22.2 x 29.2 cm

Lower Palaeolithic c. 400,000 BP
Burlington House