Archive of Transactions

Tranchet axes and Thames Picks: mesolithic core tools from the west London Thames

David Field

With the exception of a few excavated sites on the fringes of the area, the archaeological evidence for mesolithic occupation within the London basin consists of a series of chance finds of artefacts from the river Thames. In this paper a sample of 116 mesolithic core tools from the Museum of London’s collection is considered in detail, allowing a number of common characteristics and types to be identified. From their shape it would appear that a large number were used as adzes or mattocks, rather than axes. There is little evidence for date, though the basic type seems to have been in currency for at least 2500 years, perhaps even into the Neolithic.

The fact that so many core tools are concentrated along the Thames suggests that mesolithic riverside activity was considerable in extent, especially in west London. Beyond this simple inference, however, no easy interpretation is possible – not least because shifts in the course of the river have made it difficult to reconstruct the prehistoric geography. Measured against the long period of potential production, the tools seem relatively less numerous, and it remains conjectural whether they represent settlement in any real sense or merely an accumulation of material over many centuries. Finally, any explanation must take into account the comparable distributions of neolithic and bronze age material: a high proportion of these later items are unbroken – as indeed are many of the mesolithic implements – and ritual or votive deposition has been postulated.

[Transactions 40 (1989), pp 1 – 26; abstract by Francis Grew, 13-Oct-1997]

Back to Volume 40