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Stone Handaxe, Somalia: E6012
Stone handaxe, Somalia. From the collection of Seton-Karr in the 1890s. Image: Finton Mahony
© Australian Museum

Heyward Walter Seton-Karr (1859–1938), of Scottish descent, educated at Eaton, was game hunter and adventure traveller, associated with the Royal Geographical Society. He was also a skilled artist and collector of flints (stone tools) which made him a reputable amateur archaeologist. After his short stint in military service in Gibraltar and Egypt he dedicated his time to traveling and hunting.

Seton-Karr went on hunting expeditions every year. He made more than twenty expeditions to India, the similar number of trips to Arctic Europe, and some daring adventures in Alaska. He was one of the first passengers to cross North America by the new Canadian Pacific Railway. He visited Persia and the Middle East and made nineteen hunting expeditions to tropical Africa.

In 1896 Seton-Karr was travelling south of Berbera – the region then nicknamed Aden's Butcher Shop - in Somaliland. While pursuing game, he discovered numerous worked flints (stone artefacts), which he recognised as resembling palaeolithic tools previously found in France. He showed them to archaeologist John Evans and examined Evans’s collections of ancient stone tools from various parts of the world. They agreed that stone hand axes from Somalia provide important evidence, showing unity of early human species across the Old World. In addition, they asserted that Africa must be examined when the human origin is being considered. Successive research in the 20th century demonstrated that Africa was indeed the cradle of humanity.

Seton-Karr’s tools from Somalia were exhibited at the Royal Archaeological Society at their meeting in London in 1897. For his contributions to archaeology, Seton-Karr was awarded the Galileo Gold Medal by the University of Florence.

Seton-Karr placed his Somalian hand axes in some museums, including the British Museum. In 1897 he supplied about eighty of his stone tools to the Australian Museum in exchange for twenty stone adzes of Maori people from New Zealand.