c. 400,000–375,000 BC
In 1797 John Frere (1740–1807) of Roydon Hall in Norfolk wrote a letter to the Society of Antiquaries of London about some flint ‘weapons’ that had been found in a brickpit pit here and observed that from their stratigraphic position they must belong ‘to a very remote period, indeed, even beyond that of the present world’.
This famous letter is the earliest recognition of the great antiquity of humankind. It can now be shown that the brickearth deposits came from a lake, about 570m across and up to 14m deep, that had formed in a hollow left by the Anglian Glaciation. This had progressively infilled with silt in a warm period around 400,000 years ago that since 1956 has been known as the ‘Hoxnian Interglacial’ after this place. Later excavations indicate that the flint hand-axes and other tools were deposited on the edge of the lake in a late stage of the Hoxnian Interglacial, about 370,000 years ago.
To see the actual handaxe, now in the British Museum, click here:
Frere, J., 'Account of Flint Weapons discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk', Archaeologia, vol. XIII, 1800, 204-5.
West, R.G., 'The Quaternary deposits at Hoxne, Suffolk', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B 239, 1956, 265-356.
Singer, R.G., Gladfelter, B.G. & Wymer, J.J., The Lower Palaeolithic Site at Hoxne, England, University of Chicago Press 1993.
Gable, C. & Kruszynski, R., 'John Evans, Joseph Prestwich and the stone that shattered the time barrier', Antiquity 83, 2009, 461-75.