Posts in Category: Prehistoric

From Belize to Brundall 

A Mayan Mystery
Friday, June 7, 2024 9:05:00 AM Categories: Post-medieval Prehistoric Tool

It’s not often the Norfolk County Council Find Team are left scratching their collective heads over a discovery. But this very unusual object, found at Brundall, was one of them.

Stone tool: a Mayan chert stemmed macro blade. (© Norfolk County Council).

The first thing to say is that it isn’t a handaxe or a giant arrowhead. Its actual technical name is a ‘stemmed macro blade’, but it’s easier to think of it as a large handheld knife, or a stone dagger. But it’s unlike anything else that’s ever been found in Norfolk: the shape’s wrong, the size is wrong and that stone looks nothing like our own famous and very distinctive black and grey flint.

So what is it – and where did it originally come from?

I mentioned we were scratching our heads. And so were until our flint specialist Jason Gibbons stepped in. There was something about the object’s heft (it’s almost 11cm long, and was once much bigger), the way it had been worked and the colour of the stone which seemed instantly familiar to him. His answer was truly astonishing: this object wasn’t made in Norfolk at all, but 5,250 miles away in Belize in Central America. And the people who made it were one of the most famous from history – the once-extensive 'Maya' civilisation, which survived until the fateful encounters with colonising Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century.

Ancient culture: A painted plaster cast of a Mayan sculpture from Chichén Itzá, Lower Temple of the Jaguars. (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Jason takes up the story: ‘I could see it was made from a massive struck blade, there are a few cultures that make them (we made long blades in the Upper Palaeolithic, 40,000 to 10,000 BC) but nowhere remotely near that big, apart from only one culture, and that is in Belize, so it was narrowed down very quickly.’ This stone is known as Colha chert, and is found in abundance in the north-east central area of the country, formerly known as ‘British Honduras’.

He adds: ‘I studied these back around 2012 along with trying to familiarise myself with both North and South American worked flints and flint types. I’m still working on that as there are thousands of variations.’

This type of tool was used for more than 1000 years, from circa 250 BC to AD 900. This example is a little battered, having lost its point and handle. It would have been used as a large knife or dagger.

‘They were also used by the "elite" class of Maya society in ritual caches,’ Jason says, ‘the favoured deposition of which appears to be in rivers.’

So that’s the object identified. But how on earth did it arrive in the Broads?

The tool was actually found in the 1950s, from the surface very near to Brundall Gardens. This was a popular tourist attraction founded in the 1880s, its attractive slopes giving rise to the nickname of ‘Little Switzerland’. The name of the attraction lives on in Brundall Gardens station. An old map shows the gardens once had a small museum. Was this Mayan tool one of the exhibits perhaps, a curiosity accidentally dropped and then lost one day? Decades after its rediscovery it was brought to Norwich Metal Detecting Club for identification and recording by the present owner.

Beauty spot: Brundall Gardens, pictured in the 1920s. (Image courtesy of

We may never truly know how it came to Brundall in the first place, although Jason has an interesting theory about that. You can find out what it is – and more about the story behind this fascinating object – by visiting the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database under NMS-E80743.

July - Cut Above 

Monday, July 31, 2017 4:38:00 PM Categories: Flint Neolithic Prehistoric Tool

July’s Find of the Month is a rather large and magnificent example of a Neolithic polished flint axehead.  It weighs in at a hefty 1.6Kg and is 256mm long.

Polished axes were produced by taking a flaked axehead and rubbing it against sandstone to remove the flake scars. Water was used to cool the axe during this process, and sand was sometimes added to make it quicker. A functional flaked axe can be made (by an experienced knapper) in about 20 minutes, however it can take up to 40 hours to completely polish a large axe (Butler 2005: 141-2).

Photograph of Neolithic polished flint axe

The blade end of an axe was polished to improve its strength. The protruding angles and holes created by the flaking process can easily catch on wood while chopping, which can cause the axe to break. Polishing the axe removes the points where this impact could cause problems and also reduces friction, allowing a smoother chopping motion. Polishing the butt of the axe can actually make it less efficient, as the smoother surface would allow it to slip out of the handle more easily. It is thought that polishing areas other than the blade was mainly done for aesthetic reasons.

Although this example has not been entirely ground and polished to remove all the flake scars its aesthetic appeal is enhanced by a beautiful orange and off-white mottled patination. There is a very small amount of damage to either end, but the cutting edge is still sharp after circa 5000 years in the ground. The axe was found in Forncett in South Norfolk and was generously donated to Norwich Castle Museum by the finder.

Full details of the axehead can be found at using the search reference NMS-6A485E

November - Shaping Up 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015 10:04:00 AM Categories: Accessories Bronze Age Copper Craft Metal Metal working Prehistoric Religion Tool

November's Find of the Month is this fantastic Middle – Late Bronze Age anvil.

Bronze Age anvils are very unusual finds, probably because the metalworkers who used them were easily able to melt down broken ones to create new objects.

Photograph of Bronze Age anvil

Almost every surface of this example would have been used to work bronze or gold, with either of the two ‘beaks’ being used to secure the anvil to a wooden block so the other could be used to shape the metal. Each working surface has a different form allowing a wide variety of shapes to be created using just this one anvil.

At the time this anvil was in use, the number and type of personal ornaments made and worn by Bronze Age people increased, and this anvil would have been used to make some of them. The metalworker who used it would have been highly skilled and was probably seen as powerful, important or even as having a religious role in society. We suspect this because the way Bronze Age tools were treated shows they had a meaning or significance beyond their use as tools, suggesting the people who made them had a role which extended beyond their skills as craftspeople. 

Find a full description of the anvil here.

September - Caught knapping 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 9:18:00 AM Categories: Flint Palaeolithic Prehistoric Tool

We go a long way back into the depths of time this month to the Old Stone Age in the so-called Palaeolithic period. This period spans the time from around 800,000-10,000 BC. The find for this month is an early or lower Palaeolithic ovate Hand Axe that unusually was found on the surface of a ploughed field near Wymondham.

The axe was made in antiquity by roughing-out the shape from a flint nodule with a hard hammer stone such as quartzite. This initial stage would then be followed by carefully working the edges of the flint from both faces with a soft hammer such as antler or a softer variety of stone like sandstone. The purpose of the finished tool would be have been primarily for the butchery of meat.

Photograph of hand axe

Photographic image of the Palaeolithic flint Hand Axe

Illustration of hand axe

A hand-drawn illustration of the same Hand Axe

In archaeological recording it is common to hand-draw flint tools. The two graphics above illustrate why this is the case. The top photographic image gives a good idea of shape and surface colouration, but because of lighting constraints and limitations regarding depth of focus, it does little to help researchers understand how the flint was made. However, the illustration (the lower image) drawn by our Historic Environment Services illustrator Jason Gibbons, not only reproduces complete accuracy, but allows the flint to be studied in detail under a whole range of lighting conditions. This photographically-unseen information can then be interpreted and faithfully recorded on the drawing. The so-called ripples that are often featured on the surface of a struck flake are like ripples on the surface of a pond, in that they lead back concentrically to their origin. On the drawing therefore the ripples shown on each struck facet lead back to a point of striking, revealing much more than a simple photograph could ever do about how the axe was made.

The expert drawing gives fitting testament to the fantastic skill of the prehistoric craftsman who carefully fashioned the tool, and evidences his intimate understanding of the material he was using and the techniques required to manipulate it circa 400,000 years ago.
The full record of this Palaeolithic Hand Axe can be viewed on the Portable Antiquities database website on and is record reference NMS-C94303.

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