The Sutton Coldfield hand-axe (photo courtesy of Andy Howard, University of Birmingham)

An excellent example of a stone-age hand axe lay undiscovered in the centre of Sutton Coldfield for over fifty thousand years. It was unearthed in 2006, and has now been studied by archaeologists and reported in PAST, the newsletter of the Prehistoric Society.

The axe is of a kind made by Neanderthal men, who would have used it for cutting up meat and scraping skins. The Neanderthals were meat-eaters, their prey including wild horses, bison and elks, maybe the occasional mammoth. They flourished all over Europe, but only the British Neanderthals made tools of this particular pattern.

The Sutton Coldfield hand-axe is made of flint; only three other hand-axes have been found in Birmingham, made from large pebbles and dating from an earlier period. The Sutton hand-axe is the largest to have been found in the region, measuring over six inches by four and a half, and is in pristine condition with edges still razor-sharp. It fits comfortably when held the right hand, as a thumb-shaped piece of unworked flint has been left. The archaeologists reported that it was the finest example of a hand-axe of this type they had seen

By chance, the axe was found at the bottom of a 10-foot deep trench where building work was being done, having been missed by an archaeological investigation of the site which had not delved so deep. It had lain there for over 50,000 years, undisturbed even by the ice-sheets of the Devensian glaciation.

The Palaeolithic period, or Old Stone Age, lasted for half a million years - until 10,000BC - so remains from this vast length of time should be plentiful; however, Roman remains from less than 2,000 years ago are often buried three or four feet deep, so if there are more axes to be found they may buried even more than ten feet down.