Godalming Museum Prehistory Loan Box Contents Table

Contents of Godalming Museum’s Prehistory Loan Box

Please handle all these objects carefully, using cotton gloves.  Most of them are originals and are very precious.  Some of them are sharp!

The stone tools in these boxes are all made of flint which can be worked to make a strong tool with a sharp edge.  Most Stone Age stone tools were made from flint.

Flints are found in West Surrey in the chalk of the North Downs and, especially, in the clay with flints which occurs in the chalk.



Palaeolithic flint handaxe from the Farnham river gravels

This stone tool is more than 400,000 years old.

This type of tool is called a handaxe.  It is the most common type of stone tool to survive from the earlier and middle Palaeolithic.  Handaxes have been called the “Swiss Army knives” of the Palaeolithic. With a point on one end, a thicker end to use as a hammer and sharp edges, they could be used for many different jobs.

Archaeologists looking at hand axes through a microscope have discovered evidence that they were used to cut meat, wood and plants.

This handaxe was probably made by Homo Heidelbergensis


Copy of a Palaeolithic flint handaxe found in Hallam Road in Godalming

This is a modern copy of a flint tool which is on display in Godalming Museum (there is a photograph of the original in these topic notes).  The original tool is around 60-50,000 years old and was probably made by a Neanderthal.

The copy was made out of flint by Karl Lee, a modern flint knapper who uses Stone Age techniques.  He started with a big block of flint.  First he used a hammer stone to roughly shape the handaxe, then smaller stone and bone tools, used carefully and precisely, to finish it.  It took him less than half an hour.

You can see a video of flint knapping on the Museum of London website http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/schools/classroom-homework-resources/prehistoric-london-resources/

There is also a good illustration in Stone Age Boy, p16

Karl deliberately left the edges blunter than they would have been originally but please take care when you handle this!



Mesolithic flint axe or adze head

This flint tool is between 10,800 and 6,500 years old.  It probably originally had a wooden handle.

This type of flint tool is called an adze, because it is similar to present day metal adze heads. Adze heads have one flat side and one more domed side.  They are mounted on the handle with the flat side facing down, so that the blade is perpendicular to the handle (unlike axes, which are mounted so that the blade is parallel to the handle).  Adzes today are used to shape wood.


Flint core

Mesolithic people made flint flakes or blades.  To do this, they carefully prepared a lump of flint to make a core, taking off the parts they did not want and making a flat surface called a striking platform.  To make a flake, they hit the edge of the striking platform with a stone, or a piece of antler or bone, and a flake came off.

On the flint core in the loan box you can see the striking platform at the top and the marks, or scars, where flakes have been removed.


2 Mesolithic flint flakes (or blades)

Flakes struck from a flint core.  When a flint flake is first struck off a core, it is very sharp.  It can be used just as it is or shaped to make a tool.

When a flake is struck off a core, you get a swelling or lump on the flake directly below the point where the core was struck.  This is known as a bulb of percussion.   Sometimes there is a small flake of flint missing from the dome of the bulb of percussion.  This is known as a bulbar scar.  There are also often ripples on the surface of the flake, below the bulb of percussion.  Archaeologists look for these features to determine whether a flake was deliberately struck from a core by a single sharp blow (by a human being) or whether it was knocked off in the course of natural processes (for instance by being rolled around in a river).  You can see both these features on these flakes.


3 Mesolithic flint points

Struck from a flint core and shaped by removing tiny flakes of flint.  This method of shaping the flint is called retouch.  You can see the retouch on these flakes using the magnifying glass in the loan box.

These small flint tools are called microliths.  Some may have been used just as they are, for instance to bore holes in leather or carve bone.  Others may have been mounted on a wooden handle or shaft.  Archaeologists think Mesolithic people were the first to use bows and arrows, and that they made harpoons by mounting several points onto a wooden shaft.  They could have used glue made from birch bark, string made from plant fibres or animal sinews to fix the points in place.

Neolithic – Bronze Age


Neolithic flint arrowhead

This leaf-shaped flint arrowhead is all that is left of a highly effective weapon, made by a skilled worker from many different materials, each one carefully selected for its particular properties.

Ötzi (see the book The Man in the Ice in the loan box) was carrying a bow, quiver and arrows (see p119 on and colour plates following p114 & p178).   The bow and some of the arrows were unfinished and archaeologists believe that Ötzi was in the middle of making them when he died.  The bow was made of yew.  The bow string was missing, but Ötzi was carrying lengths of animal sinew and of tree bast (fibres) either of which could have been used to make a bow string.  The quiver was made of fur, on a wooden frame.  The arrows were made from wood from the wayfaring tree, shaped and smoothed to make them fly straight and true.  The flint points were fixed in place with birch bark glue and animal sinew.  The feathers used to fletch the arrows, were carefully selected and trimmed to shape and were also fixed in place with birch bark glue and with fine thread, possibly fibres of sheep’s wool.

If Ötzi had not been preserved in the ice, only the flint arrow heads would have survived.


Neolithic or Bronze Age pottery

Neolithic people were the first to make pottery.  Earlier people probably used leather bags, wooden bowls or even waterproof baskets to hold liquids, and bags, nets, baskets and wooden containers to hold other items.  Ötzi the Ice Man was carrying two birch bark containers (see the colour plates following p114).  Any of these are better options for nomadic people than pottery, which is both fragile and heavy.

The notes with this loan box include pictures of Neolithic and Bronze Age pots found locally.


Neolithic or Bronze Age flint scraper

This small round scraper has been made from a flint flake.

Look for the bulb of percussion and bulbar scar and use the magnifying glass to see the retouch which created the steep scraping edge.

Archaeologists believe scrapers were used to scrape unwanted material (eg fat or hair) off animal skins during the process of turning them into leather.  You can see people using scrapers on animal skins in Stone Age Boy pp15, 17 & 22 and Stone Age Bone Age p29


Plaster replica of a Bronze Age axe head

The notes with this loan box include pictures of copper and bronze axe heads found locally, which demonstrate how the shape of Bronze Age axe heads changed over time.  You can also see this on p5 of Hidden Depths.  The axes’ wooden handles, which generally do not survive, must have changed correspondingly.

Ötzi was carrying a copper axe with a wooden handle and leather binding (see colour plates following p114).

A late Bronze Age axe with its wooden handle still intact was found at Shepperton in Surrey.  There is a photograph of it in Hidden Depths (p48).


Bronze Age barbed-and-tanged flint arrow head

See the notes for the Neolithic leaf shaped flint arrowhead, above. This arrowhead is a more sophisticated shape than the leaf shaped Neolithic arrowhead.  It has a tang which would fit into a slot at the end of the arrow shaft and barbs which would stop the arrow falling out again when it pierced the skin.

Bronze is a mix of copper and tin, both relatively rare metals.  Its rarity must have made it valuable and Bronze Age people carried on using flint for many everyday tools.  Ötzi the Ice Man lived at the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age.  He had a copper axe, but his arrow heads and knife were made of flint and he was also carrying flint blades (see colour plates following p178)