June 22, 1797
John Frere dug up some old weapons and animal bones in England and realized they may be much more ancient than young earth creationism would suggest. Frere presented his results and wrote "weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals... The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed, even beyond that of the present world"
Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk
An interest in the past, instigated by observing worked stone tools in a clay mining pit, led him to become a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Royal Society and to conduct excavations at a site just south of Hoxne, 8 km east, and across the River Waveney, from his home in Roydon, near Diss. Frere wrote a letter to the Society of Antiquaries about flint tools and large bones of extinct animals found at a depth of approximately twelve feet (four meters) in a hole dug by local brickworkers. He described the worked stones as "...weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals... The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed, even beyond that of the present world...." In addition, Frere carefully described the stratigraphy of the find, with the tools lying below an apparent ancient sea floor, yet not in a position to which they could have been washed down. Although Frere's letter was officially read at the Society on 22 June 1797, and published by it in 1800, his interpretation was so radical by the standards of the day as to be overlooked for six decades, until noticed by John Evans.
Frere's is considered one of the most important middle Pleistocene sites in Europe, because of what he observed in his letter: juxtaposition of artefacts, animal remains and stratigraphic evidence. Its significance is double: for paleoanthropology, showing Homo presence in Britain approximately 400,000 years ago, and, for geology, dating stages of the European Great Interglacial period (known in Britain as the Hoxnian).
THE BEGINNING OF PALEOLITHHIC ARCHAEOLOGY
printed as "Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk,"
Archaeologia, 1800, vol. 13, pp. 204-205.
John Frere's account of finding in 1790 Acheulean handaxes associated with the large bones of unknown animals (actually elephants) is the first clear presentation of the association in an open site of manmade tools and extinct animals. This account was ignored until J. Flower called attention to it sixty years later. Prestwich (see his account further on in this chapter) and Lyell (1863:166169) visited the Hoxne pit and described the geology, and interest in the locality is still active (West, 1956).
The Beginning of Paleolithic Archaeology
LETTER TO THE REV. JOHN BRAND, SECRETARY, READ JUNE 22, 1797
I take the liberty to request you to lay before the Society some flints found in the parish of Hoxne, in the county of Suflolk, which, if not particularly objects of curiosity in themselves, must, I think, be considered in that light from the situation in which they were found.
They are, I think, evident weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals. They lay in great numbers at the depth of about twelve feet, in a stratified soil, which was dug into for the purpose of raising clay for bricks.
The strata are as follows:
1. Vegetable earth l l/2 feet.
2. Argill 7 l/2 feet.
3. Sand mixed with shells and other marine substances 1 foot.
4. A gravelly soil, in which the flints are found, generally at the rate of five or six in a square yard, 2 feet.
In the same stratum are frequently found small fragments of wood, very perfect when first dug up, but which soon decompose on being exposed to the air; and in the stratum of sand (No. 3), were found some extraordinary bones, particularly a jawbone of enormous size, of some unknown animal, with the teeth remaining in it. I was very eager to obtain a sight of this; and finding it had been carried to a neighboring gentleman, I inquired of him, but learned that he had presented it, together with a huge thighbone, found in the same place, to Sir Ashton Lever, and it therefore is probably now in Parkinson's Museum.
The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed; even beyond that of the present world; but, whatever our conjectures on that head may be, it will be difficult to account for the stratum in which they lie being covered with another stratum, which, on that supposition, may be conjectured to have been once the bottom, or at least the shore, of the sea. The manner in which they lie would lead to the persuasion that it was a place of their manufacture and not of their accidental deposit; and the numbers of them were so great that the man who carried on the brickwork told me that before he was aware of their being objects of curiosity, he had emptied baskets full of them into the ruts of the adjoining road. It may be conjectured that the different strata were formed by inundations happening at distant periods, and bringing down in succession the different materials of which they consist; to which I can only say that the ground in question does not lie at the foot of any higher ground, but does itself overhang a track of boggy earth, which extendsunder the fourth stratum; so that it should rather seem that torrents had washed away the incumbent strata and left the bogearth bare, than that the bogearth was covered by them, especially as the strata appear to be disposedhorizontally, and present their edges to the abrupt termination of the high ground.
If you think the above worthy the notice of the Society you will please to lay it before them.
I am, Sir,
with great respect,
Your faithful humble Servant,