NEWS RELEASE - Virtual Quarry

March 6, 2008
Amazing find sheds new light on early man
An amazing haul of 28 flint hand-axes, dated by archaeologists to be around 100,000 years-old,
have been unearthed in gravel from a licensed marine aggregate dredging area 13km off Great
The find was made by a Dutch amateur archaeologist, Jan Meulmeester, who regularly searches
for mammoth bones and fossils in marine sand and gravel delivered by British construction
materials supplier Hanson to a Dutch wharf at Flushing, south west Netherlands.
The axes show that deep in the Ice Age, mammoth hunters roamed across land that is now
submerged beneath the sea. These are the finest hand-axes that experts are certain come from
English waters, although there have been several finds on beaches, for example at Pakefield in
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.”
English Heritage, the Government heritage agency, is co-operating with Dutch counterparts, the
National Service for Archaeology, Cultural Landscape and Built Heritage to evaluate the finds. The
hand-axes date to the Palaeolithic (or Old Stone Age) but exactly when in that 750,000-year time
span 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. Bones and teeth, some of which may be from mammoths, were also recovered along
with the axes.
Ian Oxley, Head of Maritime Archaeology at English Heritage, said: “These are exciting finds which
help us gain a greater understanding of The North Sea at a time when it was land. We know people
were living out there before Britain became an island, but sites actually proving this are rare.”
Ian Selby, Hanson’s Marine Operations and Resources Director, added: “The hand-axes were
collected over a three-month period and this remarkable discovery only came to light in February
when Mr Meulmeester, realising their importance, informed the wharf owners. As we manage our
dredging very carefully, we were quickly able to identify the area where the finds came from. As part
of our industry’s protocol with English Heritage, we have now moved dredging to another part of the
The reporting of the hand-axes demonstrates the level of co-operation that exists between the
dredging industry, through its trade association, The British Marine Aggregate Producers
Association, and English Heritage. The protocol, signed in 2005, aims to protect archaeological
remains discovered in English waters as a result of marine sand and gravel extraction.
For more information contact David Harding of Hardingpr on 01686 640630/ 07967 655379
1. The reporting protocol for archaeological finds was an industry led initiative to prevent finds such as
these going unreported. The potential for discovering finds has always been known to exist within
dredging areas. The industry with consultants Wessex Archaeology and English Heritage established
a mechanism through which any finds could be reported and assessed. The Guidance notes
produced on behalf of English Heritage and BMAPA, can be viewed at:
2. Hanson is one of the world’s largest suppliers of heavy building materials to the construction industry
and is part of the HeidelbergCement Group, which employs 70,000 people across five continents.
HeidelbergCement is the global leader in aggregates and has leading positions in cement, concrete
and heavy building products. Hanson’s marine aggregate dredging business is the largest in Europe,
delivering to 20 wharves around the UK and in Holland, Belgium and France.
3. The British Marine Aggregate Producers Association is the trade association for the British marine
aggregate industry. It represents 12 member companies who collectively produce around 90 per cent
of the 24 million tonnes of marine sand and gravel dredged from licence areas off the coast of
England and Wales each year.
4. English Heritage exists to protect and promote England’s spectacular historic environment and
ensure that its past is researched and understood. The national Heritage Act 2002 gave English
Heritage responsibility for the submerged historic environment out to the 12 nautical mile limit. The
maritime team of English Heritage is also responsible for managing historic wrecks designated under
the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.
5. Wessex Archaeology is one of the largest archaeological practices in the UK, working with public
authorities and developers to ensure the archaeological remains are recorded and preserved in the
course of construction and extraction. Set up in 1979, Wessex Archaeology now employs more than
180 archaeologists and retains its charitable status, encouraging interest in archaeology and
extending knowledge to the wider public. Wessex Archaeology has been working with the marine
aggregate industry since the mid-1990s, carrying out desk-based, geophysical and diving
investigations as well as designing and implementing the industry’s reporting protocol.