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2016-09-04 07:31:47   •   ID: 1499

Handaxe found in St Acheul found in 1897

Figure 1
Figure 1: This handaxe was found in 1897 at the type site of the Acheulean at St. Acheul in the Rue Cagny quarries. It is of gray Thanatian flint patinated by watertable. Remnants of these quarries can nowadays visited in the  jardin archéologique de Saint Acheul à Amiens. When I visited the the old quarries 30 years ago, this area had been partially destructed by a motorcycle training ground.

This artifact takes us back to the early days of prehistoric research. Jacques Boucher de Perthes, a customs officer in Abbeville, and president of a local scholarly society was the first who made discoveries of paleolithic stone tools in the Somme Valley around Abbeville and Saint Acheul in the 1830s and 40s.

These findings included bifacially-worked handaxes which he called "haches antediluviennes". Enthusiastically he  published about these stone tools but also about many pseudoartefacts which he suggested to be tools, a 3-volume treatise “Antiqués Celtiques et  Antédiluviennes” in 1848. A satisfactory explanation of the stone tools found with fossils of extinct Pleistocene mammals, as he stated, demanded far more time depth than provided by biblical interpretations and Cuviers scientific paradigma.

Boucher was ignored  by the scientific orthodox at Paris, but several eminent  British geologists (Falconer, Prestwich, Godwin, Lyell from the Geological society in London) were tantalized by  his observations and decided to visit the Somme valley, Boucher and his collection. It has to be mentioned, that Bouchers findings were paralleled by the 1850-60s discoveries at Brixham Cave in Devon, England where William Pengelly, a local schoolteacher and geologist  had  detected, under the auspices of the Geological society, stone tools and fossils of extinct lions, mammoths, and wooly rhinoceroses in undeniable undisturbed strata .

While on his way to  Paris in autumn 1858, Falconer visited Boucher de Perthes and reviewed the  finds from Abbeville and Amiens in the  light of the Brixham Cave discoveries. In Abbeville, the next several months saw the comings and goings of Prestwich, Godwin, the most influential Lyell and of John Evans, who later became the most eminent expert in the study of stone tools in England. Boucher de Perthes was, as always, cordial, opened up his collections to the visitors, and invited his british visitors to witness the work at the terrace quarries and dig there themselves.

The British were gradually won over by their host’s claims, the turning point coming when Prestwich and Evans were able to photograph a handaxe in situ in a fossil-bearing stratum at Saint-Acheul in 1859. An informative article about this year ("John Evans, Joseph Prestwich and the stone that shattered the time barrieris") is displayed in  the journal "antiquity".

The recognition of the existence of man in the age of the great extinct mammals  prior to history as laid down in written documents and the  biblical narrative-  was a major event in the history of Western thought.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Autograph note of Boucher de Perthes and Lartet. This specimen has displayed during the Exposition Universelle  1867 in Paris. From Menchecourt-les-Abbeville, Somme, France. Former collection of Jacques Boucher de Perthes and Edouard Lartet.