Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Unearthing a piece of our history
A History of the World
By John Green
Website contributor

Waverley Wood handaxe is one of our 10 items for A History of the World

My name is John Green and this is my contribution to A History of the World.

I have worked for Smiths Concrete Ltd, a local concrete producer for 30-years. At the Bubbenhall site, near Coventry, we dig and process sand and gravel.

In the mid 1980s, several stone handaxes, along with some bones and shells, were found in the sand and gravel dig.

They were found by Prof Fred Shotton of Birmingham University and David Keen of Coventry University.

Since then, I had been looking on and off for handaxes in the gravel pit with David Keen and Jon Radley from Warwick Museum, but with no luck.

In May 2004, our excavator operator noticed what he thought was a lump of rock or clay in the sand and gravel and placed it on a bank out of the way. At lunchtime he had a closer look at it and found it was a bone of some sort.

Elephant teeth and fragments of bone

He got in contact with me and I went over to the dig to see what it was. I brought the bone up to the office and contacted John Radley, who came over and identified it as a remarkable specimen of an elephant neck axis vertebrae.

Back at the gravel dig, we then uncovered several elephant teeth and some more fragments of bone. John came back on 17 June and we again searched the area, but failed to find any more bones.

However, when I went back during the afternoon of 22 June to look at the area recently cleared of sand and gravel, as I looked down I saw what I thought was part of a handaxe, just above the pit floor sat in some clay.

Lifting it up and peeling away the clay, I realised it was a complete stone handaxe in pristine condition and amazing to think that I was the first person in 500,000 years to have held it. I returned to the office and contacted John Radley who came over immediately.

Discovery of a Palaeolithic handaxe

We sat in the office with the handaxe on the table and found it hard to believe what we were looking at. It looked as though it had just been made. The edges were sharp and it felt just right in the hand. We took a few photos of it and then contacted David Keen who came to site the next morning and confirmed it was a Palaeolithic handaxe made of andesite.

David took it away to Birmingham University. It was verified and dated at 500,000 BC, making it possibly the oldest known human tool in Britain.

The handaxe, for safe keeping, went home with me on the 22 June and my wife and son had the opportunity to be able to touch an object crafted by Heidelberg man 500,000 years ago.

The next time I saw my hand axe, it was on display at Warwick Museum.

The handaxe is one of them 10 items chosen to represent Coventry and Warwickshire's history as part of the A History of the World project. For further information, please visit our main A History of the World page:


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