The Museum and Art Gallery on Bath Road, Old Town, is so small that it can only show a fraction of the amazing collections that Swindon owns. As a result, the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust is now bidding to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a contribution towards a landmark new building in the town centre. In the meantime, experts at the museum are lifting the lid on just some of the objects that tell us the long and colourful story of Swindon and how it shaped the community we are today

THIS week’s object harks back to the dawn of man’s time on earth and the early beginnings of our ancestors learning to fend for themselves.

Flint is a naturally occurring form of quartz, thought in some quarters to be created when molluscs burrow into the earth and secrete a gelatinous material.

However it happened to be there, Stone Age man quickly realised its potential as a tool – and as a weapon.

Flint splits easily into sharp-edged flakes when pounded with another object such as a rock and Stone Age man became proficient at using rocks to fashion usable tools from flint. The edges were razor sharp and could be formed crude axe-like tools.

There is no evidence that they were fitted to handles, although experts have many different theories. It is possible that the flints could just have been used in the hand, although they would have been difficult to use.

The tools would also have been used as scrapers to clean off animal hides before they were made into clothes and coverings.

Early Stone Agers were nomadic and it is thought these tools could be fashioned on the spot to butcher meat where the animal was killed.

There is little evidence that these nomads made and kept their own tools with them as they would have been too awkward to carry. But some flint tools have been found far from their natural habitat, which suggests some did become part of a nomad’s ‘toolkit’.

Flints were also used to create the sparks that ignited small pieces of kindling that built fires.

Later on it is thought the skills used to make these axe heads were refined to create smaller, lighter heads that could be inserted into wooden shafts to make arrows. From this, tools for carpentry were developed as the skills broadened.

Toolmakers became skilled at using pebbles or rounded stones to beat the flint into curved and concave shapes to make more refined tools.

There is even a school of thought that said axes would have been used as marriage offerings.

By the Neolithic period, or new Stone Age, the nomads had begun to stay put in agricultural settlements that clustered around fertile areas.

Flint tools, such as scythes and polished axes, are thought to have been developed then as man built shelters and fishing platforms to became more adept at protecting himself and providing food.

Swindon Museum has a large collection dating back to its earliest days, built up when local enthusiasts brought along their own finds and swapped them like cigarette cards to enlarge their own collections.

The museum collection traces the development of this rawest of raw material from basic tools to more finely-honed pieces of work and eventually to decorative objects that had no practical use but demonstrates those early inhabitants’ increasingly intricate talents.

The collection features pieces from all over Europe and as far as away as Ethiopia. All of them reflect a period of development that was fraught with danger and the struggle for survival but even in those early days there was room for creativity and expression, which is heartening.