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10 March 2009
Axe handles dredged from North Sea win archaeology award

Prehistoric hand axes discovered in sand and gravel dredged from the North Sea by Hanson Aggregates Marine, have won the Best Archaeological Discovery Award at the prestigious British Archaeology Awards.
     Twenty eight flint hand-axes, which may be more than 100,000-years-old, were discovered in marine sand and gravel delivered by Hanson to a Dutch wharf at Flushing, south west Netherlands in February this year. A Dutch amateur archaeologist stumbled upon what has been described as one of the most important finds discovered in English waters. The axes show that deep in the Ice Age, mammoth hunters roamed across land that is now submerged beneath the sea. These are the first hand axes that experts are certain come from offshore in English waters, although there have been several finds on the beach, for example at Pakefield in Suffolk.
     Phil Harding of Wessex Archaeology and Channel 4's Time Team programme is an expert on the Ice Age. He said: "These finds are massively important. In the Ice Age the cold conditions meant that water was locked up in the ice caps. The sea level was lower then, so in some places what is now the seabed was dry land. The hand-axes would have been used by hunters in butchering the carcasses of animals like mammoths." He added: "Although we don't yet know their precise date, we can say that these hand-axes are the single most important find of Ice Age material from below the North Sea."
     The hand-axes date to the Palaeolithic but exactly when is yet to be determined. While the hand-axes were discovered in Holland, the gravel came from a licensed marine dredging area in English waters known as Area 240 – some 13km off Great Yarmouth lying in water depths of about 25m. The award-winning hand axes and many other important archaeological finds have been preserved thanks to a reporting protocol set in place by the British Marine Aggregate Producers' Association (BMAPA) and English Heritage.
     Robert Langman, Hanson Marine's senior resources manager, said: "The hand-axes were collected over a three-month period and this remarkable discovery only came to light when the archaeologist, realising their importance, informed the wharf owners. We were quickly able to identify the area where the finds came from. As part of our protocol with English Heritage, we have now moved dredging to another part of the seabed."

Source: Dredging News Online (2 March 2009)

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