The choppy North Sea off the Yarmouth coast is more associated with fishermen and cargo ships than cavemen. But now a surprising find of Ice Age axes has revealed how prehistoric mammoth-hunters used to live there. Dutch amateur archaeologist Jan Meulmeester has discovered a haul of 28 100,000-year-old hand-axes among gravel dredged from an area eight miles (13km) off Yarmouth. Before Britain became an island early man roamed the pre-North Sea area using the flint tools to butcher animal carcasses. The hand-axes date to the Palaeolithic era -or Old Stone Age- but it is not yet known exactly when in that 750,000-year time span.
Phil Harding, of Wessex Archaeology and Channel 4’s Time Team, described the finds as ‘massively important’ as it offers a rare insight into the lives of cave men. He said: “We can say that these hand-axes are the single most important find of Ice Age material from below the North Sea. “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.’
Mr Meulmeester searches for mammoth bones and fossils in sand and gravel delivered by British construction materials supplier Hanson to the Dutch wharf at Flushing. The gravel was collected from a licensed marine dredging area in depths of about 25m and bones and teeth were also recovered along with the axes. English Heritage is co-operating with its Dutch counterparts to evaluate the finds and is developing a research programme for the submerged pre-history of the North Sea. Ian Oxley, head of maritime archaeology at English Heritage, said: “We know people were living out there before Britain became an island, but sites actually proving this are rare.’