Day 18

1 Sep

Sunday 28th August means fun for all the family at Caistor as we embark on the second of our family days in association with the BBC’s Hands on History – Dig! events. There are many great things about Hands on History – Dig!, but the downside is that it is impossible to say or write the name in any context without sounding either inarticulate or grammatically inept. We do get a lot of free badges, however, which Dr Ed uses to repair his rapidly fraying digging wardrobe.

Lots of lovely people help us with the family fun. Alice comes and helps the kids make pottery, while Dishy Richard (as he is known to the ladies in the tent) instructs them in the finer points of animal bone studies. Hazel and Amy supervise the furiously troweling tots in the artificial excavation, while Dave Leese leads a mighty crocodile of visitors around the site in Pied Piper style.

Find of the day is undoubtedly a Paleolithic axe of extraordinary beauty which Dave Griffiths uncovers in Trench 6. Said axe is (according to those that know about this stuff) about 300,000 years old, which is really, really old. Older than the olden days. Older even than homo sapiens, which is pretty wild. We have not, however, mistakenly hacked through the Roman period and the preceding 298,000 thousand years of stratigraphy, as the axe comes from a pretty decent 4th-century layer. This could suggest that it was recognised as an object during the Roman period. This is not unheard of. There are many instances of flint tools (particularly polished Neolithic axes) being found in Roman (and medieval contexts), and it is thought that they were seen as having apotropaic properties (which is a posh word for warding off evil spirits – use it next time you want to simultaneously ward off evil and impress people with your vocabulary). Certainly from at least the medieval period flint axes were interpreted as thunderbolts and built into the roofs of buildings to ward off lightning strikes, on the premise that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place. The latter is not true, by the way, and should not be taken as part of official project Health and Safety policy.

The super palaeolithic axe. Nice isn't it?


3 Responses to “Day 18”

  1. Dr Peter Hoare October 22, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    Having seen the photograph of the palaeolith from Caistor on the front cover of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society’s Autumn Newsletter, 2011, I recalled an entry for Caistor in John Wymer’s (1985) ‘Palaeolithic Sites of East Anglia’. I’m sure you must know this already, but just in case …:

    Caistor St Edmund, Venta Icenorum – TG 230035

    “… a pointed hand-axe and a large cleaver were probably found on the surface inside the Roman walled town, early in this century. The implements certainly exist but the provenance is considered unreliable.”



    • bassbod October 22, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

      Peter, many thanks for this. I didn’t know the reference – as a Romanist I have at best a saloon bar knowledge of the palaeolithic – so I’m very grateful. Peter Robins recognised our hand-axe as being very similar to a group found at Keswick, so I wonder if the one John Wymer referred to is similar.
      Best wishes
      Will Bowden

      • Dr Peter Hoare October 23, 2011 at 7:00 am #

        Will, thanks for your response. John Wymer (1985, 62) summarises the finds from Mill Gravel Pit, Keswick (TG 214044) as follows: pointed F type hand-axes (commonest), cleavers, ovates and cordates (a minor component) in mainly sharp or only slightly rolled condition. I hope to see Peter Robins this week. I’m not an archaeologist!

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