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PHOTO GALLERY: Happisburgh handaxe chosen as UK’s top treasure - finds from Sedgeford, Postwick and Billingford in shortlist.

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 July 2012

Michael Buerk and Norfolk Museums and Archaeological Service research associate Peter Robins with the Happisburgh axe. Photo: SUBMITTED.

Michael Buerk and Norfolk Museums and Archaeological Service research associate Peter Robins with the Happisburgh axe. Photo: SUBMITTED.

Archant

Experts have chosen a Stone Age handaxe found in Norfolk as Britain’s top archaeological treasure of recent years.

The handaxe, discovered in 2000 by a dog walker in Happisburgh, revolutionised accepted knowledge and put the area on the map as the earliest known location for humans in the whole of north-west Europe.

It was among five objects found in the county which were all included in the shortlist of 50 - from among nearly one million recorded in the past 15 years by the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme.

The announcement was the climax of ITV1’s six-part series Britain’s Secret Treasures, presented by veteran TV journalist Michael Buerk with historian and author Bettany Hughes, which ended last night.

The judges, including experts from the British Museum and The Council for Archaeology, were unanimous in choosing the Happisburgh handaxe as the top find.

The Palaeolithic flint handaxe, with a groove for the user’s thumb, has been dated to 700,000 BC.

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said: “Few other finds can have caused us to rethink our origins in these islands so radically, as it pushes back the evidence for the earliest human occupation of Britain by at least 100,000 years.”” Other Norfolk objects on the shortlist were: the 7th-century Balthild seal-ring matrix unearthed in a field in Postwick, just outside Norwich; a rare Roman good-luck charm found in topsoil at Billingford, a hoard of 2,000-year-old Iceni gold coins hidden inside a cow bone at Sedgeford, and the Iron Age gold Sedgeford Torc.

The news has delighted staff at the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service (NMAS) which cares for and displays four of the five county shortlisted objects.

The handaxe, seal-ring and Roman amulet can be seen at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, and the Sedgeford hoard is on display at King’s Lynn Museum. The torc is at the British Museum.

Tim Pestell, NMAS curator of archaeology, said: ”Norfolk is one of the most stunning places for archaeology in Britain. The county regularly records more than 20,000 finds per year; 13pc of all treasure cases recorded by the portable antiquities scheme have been discovered in Norfolk, the highest proportion in the country.””

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