Record Details

NHER Number:5119
Type of record:Find Spot
Name:Unprovenanced Palaeolithic handaxes, West Tofts (Lynford, poorly located)


Four (or possibly five) handaxes found in the West Tofts area during the late 19th century or early 20th century. The precise locations of these finds are not recorded, although they probably came from one of the two larger gravel pits that were open at this time (NHER 5131 and NHER 58802).
One of these handaxes is particularly notable as there is a fossil shell located centrally on one face. It appears that the maker of the handaxe deliberately preserved this fossil bivalve and this object has consequently been frequently cited as an example of early artistic thought.

Images - none



Full description

Several Palaeolithic handaxes are known to have been found in the West Tofts area of what is now Lynford parish during the late 19th century and/or early 20th century. Unfortunately the exact provenance of these implements remains unclear.


A Palaeolithic handaxe from West Tofts is one of several listed by R. Smith in (S1) as being of flat-butted cordate form. As noted in (S2), handaxes of this type (often described as bout coupé) shows a strong association with Late Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthal activity. This handaxe is also noted as a possible bout coupé in (S11), (S12) and (S13). The present location of this implement is unknown.


Roe (S3) lists 4 handaxes as unprovenanced handaxes from West Tofts; one being that listed in (S1) and the others held by the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (CUMAA).

Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology:
The 3 handaxes held by the CUMAA are described by Wymer in (S2). They include an unusual implement that contains one valve of a fossil bivalve shell (1916.82/Record 2). This object (previously recorded seperately as NHER 5124) is known to have been discovered around 1911 (S4) and was the subject of a short article published in 1973 (S5). It has subsequently been discussed by Oakley and others as an early example of art in human behaviour - see for example (S6), (S7) and (S8). Images of this object have also appeared in a number of other publications.

The other West Tofts handaxes held by the CUMAA (1916.82/Record 7) are described by Wymer in (S2) as cordate implements, both rolled to some degree.

Ipswich Museum.
According to Wymer (S3) the Ipswich Museum also holds an unprovenanced handaxe from West Tofts. This is described as the butt of a rolled ovate handaxe.

All of the objects described above are also noted in (S9) and (S10).

The source of the West Tofts handaxes is unclear. In (S2) Wymer suggests the Forestry Commission Pit (NHER 5131) as a probable source, although the notes on these finds in (S10) contradict this earlier assertion, arguing that the large pit adjacent to Gravel Pit Cottages is a more likely provenance (NHER 58802). As the Forestry Commission Pit was on the site of an earlier pit (the Swell Pit) either location could have been the source of these objects.

P. Watkins (HES), 13 May 2013.

Monument Types

  • FINDSPOT (Lower Palaeolithic to Middle Palaeolithic - 1000000 BC to 40001 BC)
  • FINDSPOT (Middle Palaeolithic - 150000 BC? to 40001 BC)

Associated Finds

  • HANDAXE (Lower Palaeolithic to Middle Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 40001 BC)
  • HANDAXE (Lower Palaeolithic to Middle Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 40001 BC)
  • HANDAXE (Lower Palaeolithic to Middle Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 40001 BC)
  • HANDAXE (Middle Palaeolithic - 150000 BC? to 40001 BC)

Protected Status - none

Sources and further reading

---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card. NHERs 5119 and 5124.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Palaeolithic.
<S1>Article in Serial: Smith, R. A. 1916. Origin of the Neolithic Celt. Archaeologia. Vol 67 (Second Series) pp 27-48. p 37.
<S2>Publication: Wymer, J. J. 1985. Palaeolithic Sites of East Anglia. p 52.
<S3>Monograph: Roe, D. A. 1968. A Gazetteer of British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Sites. CBA Research Report. No 8. p 242.
<S4>Article in Serial: 1915. Cambridge Antiquarian Society Collection. Cambridge Antiquarian Society Collection. Vol XIX, p 95. p 81.
<S5>Article in Serial: Oakley, K. P. 1973. Fossil shell observed by Acheulian man. Antiquity. Vol 47 No 185 pp 59-60.
<S6>Article in Serial: Oakley, K. P. 1981. Emergence of Higher Thought 3.0-0.2 Ma B.P. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol 292 No 1057 205-211.
<S7>Publication: Pfeiffer, J. 1982. The Creative Explosion.
<S8>Article in Serial: Feliks, J. 1998. The impact of fossils on the development of visual representation. Rock Art Research. No 15 pp 109-134.
<S9>Unpublished Contractor Report: 1996. The English Rivers Palaeolithic Project. Regions 9 (Great Ouse) and 12 (Yorkshire and the Lincolnshire Wolds). Wessex Archaeology. LLO-3, No.6.
<S10>Website: TERPS online database. Site 22755.
<S11>Publication: Roe, D. A. 1981. The Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Periods in Britain. p 263.
<S12>Monograph: Tyldesley, J. A. 1987. The bout coupé Handaxe: a typological problem. British Archaeological Report. No 170. p 38.
<S13>Publication: Pettitt, P. and White, M. 2012. The British Palaeolithic: Human Societies at the Edge of the Pleistocene World. p 328.

Related records - none

Find out more...

Norfolk County Council logo Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Powered by HBSMR-web and the HBSMR Gateway from exeGesIS SDM Ltd, and mojoPortal CMS
© 2007 - 2021 Norfolk Historic Environment Service