for National Geographic News
An amateur archaeologist has found an unprecedented collection of Stone Age hand axes among material collected at the bottom of the North Sea.
Jan Meulmeester of the Netherlands found 28 axes, possibly up to 100,000 years old, in marine sand and gravel scooped up by a British construction materials supplier.
He also found fragments of bones, teeth, tusks, and antlers from mammoths and other animals that had likely been butchered with the utensils.
Early humans used the stone tools for several purposes, much like today's Swiss army knives.
During ice-age periods of the Paleolithic era, which ended about 10,000 years ago, sea levels were lower and the North Sea was grassland hunting grounds.
The axes's discovery proves that artifacts from that ancient period remain exceptionally well preserved below the seafloor, experts say.
"It's something that we've dreamed about—that we knew was out there somewhere," said Phil Harding of the U.K. nonprofit Wessex Archaeology.
"But I guess most of us in our lifetime wouldn't have believed that something was going to crop up like that," he said.
(Related story: "Unprecedented Ice Age Cave Art Discovered in U.K." [August 18, 2004].)
Ancient Landscapes Preserved
Fishermen have pulled the occasional stone tool or bone from the North Sea, but this trove—dug 8 miles (13 kilometers) off the coast near Great Yarmouth in the United Kingdom—suggests something far more than a random find.
"The condition of the material is such that is evident that it really comes from one single spot," said Hans Peeters, an archaeologist with the National Service for Archaeology (RACM) in Amersfoort, Netherlands.
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