Seeing Clacton man in a new light

By Ted JeorySTOOPED, violent, unable to utter more than a grunt and hell-bent on terrifying innocent bystanders with Stanley knife-type weapons.This is the image that archaeologists have painted of the ape-like man that lived in the Clacton area 400,000 years ago.

By Ted Jeory

STOOPED, violent, unable to utter more than a grunt and hell-bent on terrifying innocent bystanders with Stanley knife-type weapons.

This is the image that archaeologists have painted of the ape-like man that lived in the Clacton area 400,000 years ago.

But new research has caused historians and archaeologists to re-evaluate the culture that has been dubbed “Clactonian”.

Until recently it was thought that crude, sharp-bladed flint weapons found off Jaywick in 1911 were evidence of an isolated, unsophisticated type of prehistoric ape-like man.

With a relative paucity of similar finds, experts have for decades debated the importance of Clactonian culture, with many believing it to be confined to only a small area.

Most Read

Instead, many considered German-inspired Acheulian (crrct) culture, with its more refined handheld axes, as dominant in Stone Age Britain that was linked by land to the continent and home to lions, rhinos, buffalos and giant elephants.

But excavations at the Channel Tunnel high-speed rail link in Ebbsfleet, Kent, have unearthed more of the Clactonian-type flints and given rise to the possibility that two cultures were competing against each other.

The deadly weapons, likened by experts to modern Stanley knives, were found lying beside the remains of a 4m-high elephant and would have been used as a butcher's implement.

Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology, said early hominid fossils were rare and the latest find had “profound implications”.

Writing in the latest journal, he added: “That hominids [early humans] this ancient should express cultural variation would add a new perspective to the behaviour of creatures that many of us still think of as being nearer ape than human.

“That there might be two different hominid species in Europe long before Neanderthals had evolved, let alone homo sapiens, would also demand a reappraisal if early human behaviour and evolution.”

Clacton historian Norman Jacobs added: “There's been a lot of controversy about the importance of Clactonian culture.

“People have said that the Clactonians were less sophisticated, but it could have been that they were just more practical - when they needed a sharp weapon, they made it to their needs quickly so they looked cruder.”

ted.jeory@eadt.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter