This is a sightly rolled finely made handaxe from Warren Hill , Mildenhall, Suffolk. This example displays the classic ‘toad-belly’, patination, a very distinctive characteristic of axes found in this location .
The Handaxe is perhaps one of the most distinctive symbols of the early Paleolithic. From their first appearance, handaxes have been created, used and discarded by hominins for nearly 1.7 million years. In N/W-Europe, Handaxes were first discarded in substantial numbers by Homo heidelbergensis at sites such as Boxgrove and Warren Hill dated to 500,000 BP (MIS 13). Assemblages in the Lower Paleolithic that contain handaxes are dominated by them as the major tool type and prepared core technology is rare or absent. Handaxes remain the dominant element of assemblages throughout the British Lower Paleolithic (500– 300 k.a. BP). The richest Acheulian findings are dated after the Anglian glaciation around 400 k.a during the Hoxnian Interglacial (MIS11; http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/02/swanscombe-during-the-hoxnian/).
Britain during the early and the early middle Pleistocene was a peninsula of continental Europe, connected by the Weald–Artois land bridge or link between the Boulonnais and Sussex, Kent and southeast England. It is a predominantly chalk ridge carrying its own streams. In the Chalk, bands of flint occur and where these eroded (cliffs, gravel beaches, river valleys) they provided a rich lithic resource for tool-making hominins.
The large number of finds of stone tools from East Anglia Anglia that relate to the gravels of the Bytham River (a hypothetical Pleistocene river that has been suggested to have run through the English Midlands until around 450 k.a. BP), suggest that it was one of perhaps only two major entry points into the British area for our human ancestors prior to the Anglian. Evidence from High Lodge and Warren Hill provides clues to an entry route, via the river systems inland with constant access to water and food. The only other possible entry route, the south coast, has produced the globally unique site of Boxgrove as well as the cave sites of Kent’s Cavern and, slightly further north, Westbury-sub-Mendip, known for its early flake industry at ca 700 k.a. BP.
Warren Hill is notable for being a prolific Handaxe site, with an estimated 2000 handaxes recorded during gravel extraction. It is situated in the Three Hills area of Mildenhall Forest, Suffolk, less than 1 km south of another well-known early Paleolithic site, High Lodge (MIS13; Acheulian). The handaxes were mostly collected between the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Recent work has confirmed the pre-Anglian date of the deposits, placing Boxgrove and Warren Hill in the same chronological period thereby validating the visual similarity of the handaxe assemblage from the two sites. However, in contrast to Boxgrove, all of the material from Warren hill is derived and none of it reflects occupation directly.
Warren Hill and Boxgrove represent the earliest Acheulian in Britain, which occurred in association with one of the most extreme interglacial to glacial transitions of the past 500 k.a., with MIS 13–12 in Britain being characterized by a shift from climates that were as warm as those of MIS 5e through to a glacial stage that was characterized by widespread periglaciation and lowland glaciation. Although there is good evidence to support the presence of Acheulean industries in Britain during temperate climate conditions in MIS 13, most of Acheulian archaeological sites, when found in association with robust multiproxy palaeoenvironmental data, suggest that early humans were existing largely under cool to post-temperate climates, boreal landscapes and/or under climatic regimes that are cooler than the present, notably with winter temperatures at or below freezing.
The temperature reconstructions from the “cool temperate” Acheulean sites suggest that the climate and environments of these early colonists have no analogue in modern-day Britain, primarily because of the extreme winter cold envisaged. This implies that human occupation occurred during episodes of enhanced continentality, most probably in association with the falling sea levels that occurred after the main interglacial peak. The ability of early human populations to adapt to these harsh winter conditions would appear to be the key factor when considering the nature of the earliest Acheulean occupation of Britain.