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Mesolithic 10000/8500 – 4200 BC

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Mesolithic flint axes

Mesolithic flint axes

Not all Mesolithic tools were fine and delicate pieces! Wood was a vital resource and both small and large wood-working axes and adzes, like the one pictured below, first appear at this time.

Mesolithic flint axes from Thanet

Eskdale Avenue
Bethlehem Farm


Scales in centimetre divisions

Non-local Mesolithic tranchet adze

The definition of whether such a tool was used as an 'axe' or an 'adze' rests on a supposition of how it was hafted (ie. fixed to a handle). Pieces which have a triangular cross-section are often considered to be 'adzes' and as such would have been hafted with the blade at right-angles to the handle.

The term 'axe' is used here in the general discussion as a 'catch-all' term encompassing both tool-forms.

The invention of the axe was a major innovation of the period. From this point on it formed one of the most important components of our ancestors’ tool-kit; from the Prehistoric down to the present day. 

This is particularly true of the Neolithic, Beaker Period and Earlier Bronze Age, where polished axes and the first metal ones of copper and bronze became prestigious possessions. They gained a value and a status beyond that of their practical function. This may in part be due to their appearance, the degree of quality and time taken in their manufacture and the rarity of the raw material they were made from.

Non-local Mesolithic tranchet adze

The tool pictured above was donated to the Trust, but is not from Thanet.

It is known as a 'tranchet' adze. This describes the way in which the cutting edge was created - by removing a large tranchet flake struck from one side of the axe. This is as opposed to retouching the blade end-on which would remove many smaller flakes and leave behind many more flake-scars.

No Mesolithic axes have turned up on excavations in Thanet (as far as we know). A few have been reported as occasional surface finds on the Isle.

Unfortunately, we have no pictures and only limited information on Thanet’s Mesolithic axes.


Mesolithic flint axes from Thanet

Only two certain examples are known, but there may be a third (see more? below).

(I) Eskdale Avenue, Nethercourt 1962.
‘A Late Mesolithic flaked axe’ was discovered in Eskdale Avenue in 1962 (TSMR no.163). This was unfortunately destroyed, alongside many other artefacts, in the Ramsgate Library fire.

Another reference lists a ‘Thames Pick’ found at Nethercourt (Thanet Excavation Group record cards; Birch et al 1987). This is likely to relate to the same artefact.

'Thames Pick' is an old term often used for a Mesolithic axe, but considered somewhat inaccurate now. This is because a pick and an axe are actually two totally different tool forms.

NGR 636481 165233 (approximate).

TSMR 163.
Thanet Excavation Group record cards.
Birch et al 1987.

(II) Bethlehem Farm, Cliffsend
A Mesolithic axe was reported from Bethlehem Farm, Cliffsend.

NGR TR 347 646 (area).

DRJ. Perkins
pers comm. with finder.
Birch et al 1987.


Another flint axe from Thanet was recently seen in a collection being exhibited by Andy Oxford at the Thanet Archaeological Society's 'Meet the local Archaeologists' event at Garlinge in 2006.

It was donated to him by one of his pupils from the Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs. Its exact provenence is uncertain at present however, though Andy is sure that the axe was discovered on Thanet. At the moment it is being assumed that this could well be a new discovery rather than the reappearance of one of the two axes already noted above.

Andy has kindly agreed to let us take some pictures of the axe for display in the Virtual Museum (watch this space).



Here comes an appeal! If you think you might have found a Mesolithic axe, blade-flakes or mysterious flints of any description in Thanet, please feel free to get in touch. If possible you could always e-mail us a picture (as good a close-up as you can make it please, with some sort of scale).

You can make a vital contribution in advancing the story of Prehistoric Thanet, especially if you find some rare evidence of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Your find could also be displayed in the Virtual Museum too if you wish.

Donations are gratefully accepted, but you do not have to give us any finds you report, as some people may think!

We’d just be delighted to know what’s out there, to have a chance to put your find ‘on the map’ (by adding it to the Thanet Sites and Monuments Record) and increase the information we have on our wonderful archaeological heritage.



TSMR - Thanet Sites and Monuments Record.


Birch D., Boakes P., Elworthy S., Hollins C. and Perkins D.R.J. 1987. The Gateway Island - Archaeological Discoveries in Thanet 1630-1987. Thanet Archaeological Unit.

The text is the responsibility of the author; the photographs are by the author unless otherwise stated.

Paul Hart

Version 1 - Posted 07.04.06
Version 2 - Posted 21.10.06
Version 3 - Posted 16.12.06

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