In the Fakes and Forgeries section of the Ancient Worlds displays opening this October we are going to show some eoliths from the archaeology collection. A student researcher came to look at them just before Christmas. Eoliths are stones that were thought to have been made by the earliest inhabitants of Britain, at ‘the dawn of time’, hence their name eoliths or ‘dawnstones’.
Some enthusiasts argued the stones had been made as tools or representations of animals. They claimed that the shapes they saw in the stones were evidence of deliberate human intent. People like William Boyd Dawkins of the Manchester Museum were in no doubt that the eoliths were ‘accidents of nature’ and questioned whether they were evidence of early man in the UK. In a letter sent to one of the Museum’s curators, one donor wrote that he saw human faces and representations of animals in the eoliths but that the reader should excuse him because he was in his 80s and almost blind… Benjamin Harrison, one of the leading champions of eoliths as humanly-worked artefacts, was once challenged about how suitable one particular eolith really was because it seemed not to fit in his hand very well. Harrison took the eolith in his left hand which did fit better and said: “There, you see, that explains it, it must have been made for a left-handed person!”
The student concerned, David Matzliach, sent me some photos of eoliths. He describes them as a bear, a human face, a bird, etc. I’m sure he doesn’t think for one second they were deliberately-shaped. The stones only resemble those creatures by coincidence. The interpretation of the eoliths as animals or faces or anything is very subjective. This is a very interesting area. Ultimately it revolves around the question of whether how we see things today is the way people in the past saw them and vice-versa. We can’t assume they’re the same. Have a look at them dear reader and see what you think….