British/European 'Handaxe Sculpture' Symbolizing Traditon / l)swanscmprt2
K. P. Oakley (1973: pl. 1A): "Thick flake of Isastraea chert associated with Middle Acheulian hand-axes (bifaces). Upper Middle Gravel, Barnfield Pit, Swanscombe, Kent. Length 12.5 cm. (British Museum of Natural History, London)." The Swanscombe Middle Gravels are now dated to OIS 11, c. 400,000 BP.
Oakely (1973) notes: "Two flakes of chert composed of the Portlandian (Upper Jurassic) coral Isastraea oblonga were found by Mr. A. T. Marston in the Middle Gravel at Swanscombe, Kent, where they were associated with the Acheulian industsry attributed with certainty to Homo sapiens var. steinheimensis here represented by the Swanscombe skull (Ovey 1964). The larger flake is illustrated here for the first time (Pl. 1A). They were significant finds because . . . no outcrops of it occur in the catchment area of the Lower Thames which deposited the gravels. Since the only two pieces recorded . . . are both humanly-struck flakes, there is little doubt that the chert was transported by the Acheulian hunters from a distant source, and they valued it on account of the pattern which it displayed when flaked. As this chert is less readily flaked than the local flint, there can have been no practical reason for using it." [Oakley, K. P. (1973). Fossils collected by the earlier palaeolithic men. In Mélanges de préhistoire, darchéocivilization et dethnologie offerts à André Varagnac, pp. 581-584. Paris: Serpen].Ovey, C. D. (1964). The Swanscombe skull: A surevey of research on a pleistocene site. Occ. Pap. R. Anthrop. Inst. 20]. In pl. 1B Oakely presents for comparison a photo of a polished slab of Isastraea--see image (o) in this web gallery.
Oakley (1981) notes the West Tofts and Swanscombe Middle Gravels handaxes with fossil shell and five-pointed sea urchin at their plan face centers. He then considers the two pieces of Swanscombe Middle Gravels flaked chert containing Jurassic fossil coral in which the corallites are on average five-sided pentagons, suggested the artists of this tradition were stimulated by the geometricity of the five-sided or five-rayed pentagon. Oakley adds that the chert pieces are manuports. The only known location for this kind of coral-bearing chert in Britain is the Portlandian beds outcropping at Tisbury, Wiltshire, about 120 miles (193 km) from Swanscombe. Oakley infers that these artefacts/naturefacts reflect the emergence of "art as human behaviour" and "higher thought" [Oakley, K. P. (1981). Emergence of higher thought 3.0-0.2 Ma B.P. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. London B 292:205-211].
Comment: This object appears to have on its left side an intentionally carved or nature fact hominid profile/head. The object needs to be re-examined to confirm or disconfirm this identification, whether intentionally flaked or accidental; whether flaked by the Swanscombe people or some other people or industry, etc. If as the two preceding slides also seem to show, there are indeed three different profiles, one human and two animal on this object, then it is the oldest known securely dated 'combination' or 'combi' figure stone. 'Combi' figure stones are not infrequent in the later Heidelbergian component of the CCC Symbolizing Tradition as at Hamburg-Wittenbergen, dated minimum c. 200,000 BP. They are frequent in Middle Paleolithic sculptural art and continue into the Upper Paleolithic as seen in a number of female figurines and in the combi-human-animal head at El Juyo.
Illus. © Oakley, K. P. (1973). Fossils collected by the earlier palaeolithic men. In Mélanges de préhistoire, darchéocivilization et dethnologie offerts à André Varagnac, pp. 581-584. Paris: Serpen. Plate 1A.