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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Mark White

Shaw, A.D. & White, M.J. (2003). Another look at the Cuxton handaxe assemblage. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 69: 305-314.

Author(s) from Durham


The well-known Palaeolithic site at Cuxton, Kent is situated on a remnant of Pleistocene terrace deposits of the Medway that have been known as a source of Palaeolithic artefacts since at least 1889, and have been the subject of two controlled excavations. The excavations produced a total of 878 stratified artefacts, including 206 handaxes, whose character was described by Tester (1965, 38) as being dominated by 'roughly made, pointed hand-axes with thick, crust covered butts', with some ovates and cleavers, and by Roe (1968), who placed the assemblage in his Pointed Tradition, Group I (with cleavers). The character of the Cuxton handaxe assemblage is therefore well established, but recently it has gained new importance in relation to a debate concerning the significance of variation in handaxe form (eg, Ashton & McNabb 1994; White 1998; Wenban-Smith et al., 2000).

This paper re-examines the handaxe assemblage in the light of this debate by testing the raw material model as to how far it explains the fossilised acts and decisions of hominid agents in specific, concrete situations. When the model is applied to Cuxton we find that it contradicts the clearly over-simplified prediction regarding raw material sources, but that they conform to the more important principle that nodule form influenced human technological choices and practices. Ecological variables such as raw materials, while not actually determining human actions, certainly imposed a set of boundaries within which hominids could reasonably act and which left a very real mark on assemblage level variation in the landscape.