In 1893, the newly founded Committee of the Hastings Museum Association began to acquire collections from various local antiquarian collectors. One such collection comprised an extensive quantity of prehistoric worked flint assembled by one Stephen Blackmore, resident of Frost Hill Cottage, East Dean near Eastbourne. Charles Dawson, who inspected the material, judged it to be “one of the finest collections of Neolithic flint implements in private hands in England”.
Whilst discussing the nature of the collection and terms for which the Hastings Museum would be allowed to purchase elements for their Loan Collection, Dawson recorded that his eye was taken by a drawing of a haft “bearing an implement in situ”. As evidence of how prehistoric flint tools were originally hafted was extremely rare, certainly in the latter years of the 19th century Dawson was intrigued and asked Blackmore about the history of the drawing. Dawson later transcribed Blackmore’s comments surrounding the discovery of the piece in an article published in the Sussex Archaeological Collections. The non availability of the artefact itself, the haft had apparently “crumbled at the touch”, was unfortunate, but luckily Blackmore was, according to Dawson, able to make a detailed sketch of the discovery, from which Dawson’s published illustration was taken.
It is important to note that the figure accompanying Dawson’s article was therefore not the original drawing by Blackmore, rather an interpretation of that first (unpublished) illustration. How close to the original drawing, or indeed for that matter the original find, Dawson’s version was, we shall unfortunately never know. The same note of caution may also be added with regard to the other flint implements appearing in the figure accompanying Dawson’s article, most of which do not appear to have any parallel with the known Neolithic tool types recorded from southern Britain.
Since the reporting of Blackmore’s axe, a number of better preserved hafted axe heads have come to light from waterlogged prehistoric contexts across northern Europe and from these it is possible to more closely examine the evidence from Mitchdean. In addition, the increase in experimental techniques in archaeological research, means that there have been a number of modern attempts to use prehistoric tools in a variety of alternative fittings. Given all this new information it is worth noting that it is doubtful whether Dawson’s reconstruction would have been of much practical use.
The evidence supplied by Dawson to account for Blackmore’s hafted stone axe is not at all convincing. Given the circumstances of the artefact’s discovery and eventual reporting though (an interpretation of a memory of an artefact found ‘some years ago’), then this is perhaps not surprising. An objective account of what was really found on the cliffs at Mitchdean is unlikely ever to be forthcoming, and the version that we possess (provided by Dawson) could easily have been distorted, garbled or inflated at any stage in its recounting. It is worth reiterating however that we only possess Dawson’s account of both the artefact and the events surrounding its discovery. That Stephen Blackmore existed, there is no doubt, but the items credited to him by Dawson have never been seen since Dawson described them. Given the total absence of information in this particular case, all we can do is observe that the hafted axe itself, as well as its reconstruction by Dawson and style of preservation at the time of recovery, are all highly suspicious.