On 26 May 1859, six months before Charles Darwin shattered the biblical creation story when he finally plucked up the courage to publish his theory of natural selection, the stone hand axe from the bottom of a French quarry was presented to the world at a lecture at the Royal Society in London.It is important to note that this was not the first stone tool to come out of the ground and that people were starting to get some odd ideas about just how literal the biblical creation story actually was. The Spy Neandertals had been unearthed in Belgium, in 1828, the Feldhofer cranium in the Neander Valley, in 1856, and other finds had come to light, as well. The axe was special because it showed prehistoric occupation of England, which had spent most of its time under large sheets of ice.
Neither John Evans nor Joseph Prestwich, the businessmen and amateur archaeologist and geologist who found it, nor their distinguished audience, could guess its true age, around 400,000 years. But they did know it came from "a very remote period", when the woolly mammoth and rhinos, whose bones were mixed up in the same layer, roamed the plains of northern France.
There was no way the mammoths and the man-made tool could be fitted into the traditional biblical timescale, calculated by the 17th-century Archbishop Ussher, that God made the world in 4004BC.
The axe then vanished for 150 years, until it was tracked down by another archaeologist and geologist team – Clive Gamble, a professor at Royal Holloway, and Robert Kruszynski of the Natural History Museum – who publish their quest in next month's Antiquity journal.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The Axe That Roared
Maev Kennedy of The Guardian has a story about an axe that was found in a quarry by John Evans and Joseph Prestwich that has reappeared after 150 years. According to the story: