Ancient African tools at Norwich Castle

To the untrained eye they might simply appear to be curiously shaped rocks - but in fact they are among the oldest artefacts in the world and provide an insight into the very roots of civilisation.

To the untrained eye they might simply appear to be curiously shaped rocks - but in fact they are among the oldest artefacts in the world and provide an insight into the very roots of civilisation.

When the Made In Africa exhibition opens at Norwich Castle it will serve as a reminder that all human life began on the continent more than 2.5m years ago.

The exquisite objects - a chopping tool and two hands axes - come from Olduvai Gorge, now in Tanzania and more often referred to as The Cradle of Mankind; their discovery in 1931 by Louis Leakey helped to change scientific thinking about human evolution.

The very first technological invention was the stone tool and these three finds represent the oldest form of material culture anywhere in the world. They also represent the very first spark of creativity, which set humans apart from the animal kingdom.


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Jill Cook, from the British Museum, said: “These tools date back nearly two million years and were still in use all over world until 50,000 years ago.

“They represent the first form of globalisation and could be seen as history's version of Coca Cola - they started in east Africa and became an essential part of human existence from Europe to Asia.”

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When chopping tools first appeared they fulfilled many of the everyday needs of our earliest ancestors. As the brain developed in size and complexity just over 1.5 million years ago, a new tool was invented - the teardrop shaped hand axe.

The examples on show have been described as masterpieces of the toolmaker's art. Their size, symmetry, quality and the choice of material suggest that the skill of making them was as important as the function for which they were intended.

They are finished beyond functional requirements and this may suggest they had a role in evolving social behaviour such as courtship or bonding. This is a form of symbolic communication, the earliest indication of artistic endeavour and the status symbol.And rather than be limited to simply viewing the artefacts, visitors will also have the chance to handle the tools.

The exhibition spans nearly two million years of evolution beginning with these exhibits right up to work by contemporary artists.

And, as John Davies, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service chief curator, explained, the exhibition has special significance for East Anglia. He said: “The region produced the earliest known man-made artefacts in the UK.

“In the year 2000, a beautiful flint handaxe was found at Happisburgh which has been dated to in excess of 600,000 years old. This handaxe can also be seen at the castle where it's on display in the Art at the Rockface exhibition until September 3.”

When Leakey made the discoveries he helped extend human culture further back in time than had previous been thought and the finds were later associated with fossils of our early human ancestors.

Although Leakey was not the first to discover early human fossils in Africa, he helped persuade the world of their importance and challenge conventional scientific thought.

WHERE AND WHEN

Made in Africa is on show on the balcony in Norwich Castle's Norman keep from July 26 until December 13.

It is a British Museum Partnership UK touring exhibition made possible through support from the Dorset Foundation.

Admission to all zones of the museum is £6.30 for adults, £5.35 for concessions and £4.60 for those aged between four and 16.

During the school holidays the museum is open from 10am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 1pm to 5pm on Sundays.

The rest of the year it is open from 10am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm on Saturdays and 1pm to 5pm on Sundays.

For further information contact 01603 493636 or, alternatively, visit www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk

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