Stone Age `factory' is found in East Anglia

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ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered remarkable evidence of early human industrial activity in East Anglia - dating back 400,000 years.

They claim the discovery is of international significance and will help scholars understand the lifestyle and technological abilities of Britain's earliest human inhabitants. It is only the second site of such antiquity and preservation to be found in this country

The excavation team from the British Museum, working at Elveden, near Thetford in Norfolk, has so far uncovered 20 square metres of a perfectly preserved work area where prehistoric people made stone tools. In one part of the site, they have even determined exactly where an individual toolmaker sat while working.

Archaeologists estimate that up to five people produced several dozen tools - mainly small cutting implements, some dual-purpose chopping and cutting tools (known as hand axes) and a few animal-skin cleaners (known as scrapers).

They are able to estimate roughly how many tools were made by finding and painstakingly reassembling the hundreds of flint fragments discarded during manufacture. "It's like putting together a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle and then working out what is missing," said excavation director Nick Ashton.

The excavation team has also found two completed scrapers and, interestingly, two semi-finished hand axes on which work was abandoned, apparently because of flaws in the flint.

By analysing the clays and other natural sediments associated with the site and its surroundings, the team's geologist, Dr Simon Lewis, has discovered that the early humans were making their tools while sitting on a river bank. Their raw flint came from a now-long-vanished 10m-high (33ft) chalk cliff about 15m behind them.

It is possible that the early humans not only made tools on the riverbank but also lived there. Protected by a cliff on one side and a river on the other, it would have been a secure campsite. If future excavations prove that to have been the case, it would be the first such discovery of this age in northern Europe.