Acheulean (/əˈʃuːliən/; also Acheulian and Mode II), from the French acheuléen, is an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture characterized by distinctive oval and pear-shaped "hand-axes" associated with Homo erectus and derived species such as Homo heidelbergensis.

Acheulean tools were produced during the Lower Palaeolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia, and Europe, and are typically found with Homo erectus remains. It is thought that Acheulean technologies first developed about 1.76 million years ago, derived from the more primitive Oldowan technology associated with Homo habilis.[3] The Acheulean includes at least the early part of the Middle Paleolithic. Its end is not well defined, depending on whether Sangoan (also known as "Epi-Achaeulean") is included, it may be taken to last until as late as 130,000 years ago. In Europe and Western Asia, early Neanderthals adopted Achaeulean technology, transitioning to Mousterian by about 160,000 years ago.

A cordiform biface as commonly found in the Acheulean (replica)
Geographical rangeAfrica, Europe, and Asia
PeriodLower Paleolithic
Dates1.76–0.13 Mya
Type siteSaint-Acheul (Amiens)
Preceded byOldowan
Followed byMousterian, Clactonian, Micoquien
Acheulean hand-axes from Kent. The types shown are (clockwise from top) cordate, ficron, and ovate.
Depiction of a Terra Amata hut in Nice, France as postulated by Henry de Lumley dated to 400 thousand years ago. Acheulean-culture shelter construction has been discovered in Japan dating back to 500 thousand years ago.[1] [2]

History of research

The type site for the Acheulean is Saint-Acheul, a suburb of Amiens, the capital of the Somme department in Picardy, where artifacts were found in 1859.[4]

John Frere is generally credited as being the first to suggest a very ancient date for Acheulean hand-axes. In 1797, he sent two examples to the Royal Academy in London from Hoxne in Suffolk. He had found them in prehistoric lake deposits along with the bones of extinct animals and concluded that they were made by people "who had not the use of metals" and that they belonged to a "very ancient period indeed, even beyond the present world".[5] His ideas were, however, ignored by his contemporaries, who subscribed to a pre-Darwinian view of human evolution.

Later, Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes, working between 1836 and 1846, collected further examples of hand-axes and fossilised animal bone from the gravel river terraces of the Somme near Abbeville in northern France. Again, his theories attributing great antiquity to the finds were spurned by his colleagues, until one of de Perthe's main opponents, Dr Marcel Jérôme Rigollot, began finding more tools near Saint Acheul. Following visits to both Abbeville and Saint Acheul by the geologist Joseph Prestwich, the age of the tools was finally accepted.

In 1872, Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet described the characteristic hand-axe tools as belonging to L'Epoque de St Acheul. The industry was renamed as the Acheulean in 1925.

Dating the Acheulean

Biface Cintegabelle MHNT PRE 2009.0.201.1 V2
An Acheulean handaxe, Haute-Garonne France – MHNT

Providing calendrical dates and ordered chronological sequences in the study of early stone tool manufacture is often accomplished through one or more geological techniques, such as radiometric dating, often potassium-argon dating, and magnetostratigraphy. From the Konso Formation of Ethiopia, Acheulean hand-axes are dated to about 1.5 million years ago using radiometric dating of deposits containing volcanic ashes.[6] Acheulean tools in South Asia have also been found to be dated as far as 1.5 million years ago.[7] However, the earliest accepted examples of the Acheulean currently known come from the West Turkana region of Kenya and were first described by a French-led archaeology team.[8] These particular Acheulean tools were recently dated through the method of magnetostratigraphy to about 1.76 million years ago, making them the oldest not only in Africa but the world.[9] The earliest user of Acheulean tools was Homo ergaster, who first appeared about 1.8 million years ago. Not all researchers use this formal name, and instead prefer to call these users early Homo erectus.[3]

From geological dating of sedimentary deposits, it appears that the Acheulean originated in Africa and spread to Asian, Middle Eastern, and European areas sometime between 1.5 million years ago and about 800 thousand years ago.[10][11] In individual regions, this dating can be considerably refined; in Europe for example, it was thought that Acheulean methods did not reach the continent until around 500,000 years ago. However more recent research demonstrated that hand-axes from Spain were made more than 900,000 years ago.[11]

Relative dating techniques (based on a presumption that technology progresses over time) suggest that Acheulean tools followed on from earlier, cruder tool-making methods, but there is considerable chronological overlap in early prehistoric stone-working industries, with evidence in some regions that Acheulean tool-using groups were contemporary with other, less sophisticated industries such as the Clactonian[12] and then later with the more sophisticated Mousterian, as well. It is therefore important not to see the Acheulean as a neatly defined period or one that happened as part of a clear sequence but as one tool-making technique that flourished especially well in early prehistory. The enormous geographic spread of Acheulean techniques also makes the name unwieldy as it represents numerous regional variations on a similar theme. The term Acheulean does not represent a common culture in the modern sense, rather it is a basic method for making stone tools that was shared across much of the Old World.

The very earliest Acheulean assemblages often contain numerous Oldowan-style flakes and core forms and it is almost certain that the Acheulean developed from this older industry. These industries are known as the Developed Oldowan and are almost certainly transitional between the Oldowan and Acheulean.

Acheulean stone tools


In the four divisions of prehistoric stone-working,[13] Acheulean artefacts are classified as Mode 2, meaning they are more advanced than the (usually earlier) Mode 1 tools of the Clactonian or Oldowan/Abbevillian industries but lacking the sophistication of the (usually later) Mode 3 Middle Palaeolithic technology, exemplified by the Mousterian industry.

The Mode 1 industries created rough flake tools by hitting a suitable stone with a hammerstone. The resulting flake that broke off would have a natural sharp edge for cutting and could afterwards be sharpened further by striking another smaller flake from the edge if necessary (known as "retouch"). These early toolmakers may also have worked the stone they took the flake from (known as a core) to create chopper cores although there is some debate over whether these items were tools or just discarded cores.[14]

The Mode 2 Acheulean toolmakers also used the Mode 1 flake tool method but supplemented it by using bone, antler, or wood to shape stone tools. This type of hammer, compared to stone, yields more control over the shape of the finished tool. Unlike the earlier Mode 1 industries, it was the core that was prized over the flakes that came from it. Another advance was that the Mode 2 tools were worked symmetrically and on both sides indicating greater care in the production of the final tool.

Mode 3 technology emerged towards the end of Acheulean dominance and involved the Levallois technique, most famously exploited by the Mousterian industry. Transitional tool forms between the two are called Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition, or MTA types. The long blades of the Upper Palaeolithic Mode 4 industries appeared long after the Acheulean was abandoned.

As the period of Acheulean tool use is so vast, efforts have been made to classify various stages of it such as John Wymer's division into Early Acheulean, Middle Acheulean, Late Middle Acheulean and Late Acheulean[15] for material from Britain. These schemes are normally regional and their dating and interpretations vary.[16]

In Africa, there is a distinct difference in the tools made before and after 600,000 years ago with the older group being thicker and less symmetric and the younger being more extensively trimmed.[17]


The primary innovation associated with Acheulean hand-axes is that the stone was worked symmetrically and on both sides. For the latter reason, handaxes are, along with cleavers, bifacially worked tools that could be manufactured from the large flakes themselves or from prepared cores.[18]

Tool types found in Acheulean assemblages include pointed, cordate, ovate, ficron, and bout-coupé hand-axes (referring to the shapes of the final tool), cleavers, retouched flakes, scrapers, and segmental chopping tools. Materials used were determined by available local stone types; flint is most often associated with the tools but its use is concentrated in Western Europe; in Africa sedimentary and igneous rock such as mudstone and basalt were most widely used, for example. Other source materials include chalcedony, quartzite, andesite, sandstone, chert, and shale. Even relatively soft rock such as limestone could be exploited.[19] In all cases the toolmakers worked their handaxes close to the source of their raw materials, suggesting that the Acheulean was a set of skills passed between individual groups.[20]

Some smaller tools were made from large flakes that had been struck from stone cores. These flake tools and the distinctive waste flakes produced in Acheulean tool manufacture suggest a more considered technique, one that required the toolmaker to think one or two steps ahead during work that necessitated a clear sequence of steps to create perhaps several tools in one sitting.

A hard hammerstone would first be used to rough out the shape of the tool from the stone by removing large flakes. These large flakes might be re-used to create tools. The tool maker would work around the circumference of the remaining stone core, removing smaller flakes alternately from each face. The scar created by the removal of the preceding flake would provide a striking platform for the removal of the next. Misjudged blows or flaws in the material used could cause problems, but a skilled toolmaker could overcome them.

Once the roughout shape was created, a further phase of flaking was undertaken to make the tool thinner. The thinning flakes were removed using a softer hammer, such as bone or antler. The softer hammer required more careful preparation of the striking platform and this would be abraded using a coarse stone to ensure the hammer did not slide off when struck.

Final shaping was then applied to the usable cutting edge of the tool, again using fine removal of flakes. Some Acheulean tools were sharpened instead by the removal of a tranchet flake. This was struck from the lateral edge of the hand-axe close to the intended cutting area, resulting in the removal of a flake running along (parallel to) the blade of the axe to create a neat and very sharp working edge. This distinctive tranchet flake can be identified amongst flint-knapping debris at Acheulean sites.


Acheulean hand-axe from Egypt. Found on a hill top plateau, 1400 feet above sea level, 9 miles NNW of the city of Naqada, Egypt. Paleolithic. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Acheulean hand-axe from Egypt. Found on a hill top plateau, 1400 feet above sea level, 9 miles NNW of the city of Naqada, Egypt. Paleolithic. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London

Loren Eiseley calculated[21] that Acheulean tools have an average useful cutting edge of 20 centimetres (8 inches), making them much more efficient than the 5-centimetre (2 in) average of Oldowan tools.

Use-wear analysis on Acheulean tools suggests there was generally no specialization in the different types created and that they were multi-use implements. Functions included hacking wood from a tree, cutting animal carcasses as well as scraping and cutting hides when necessary. Some tools, however, could have been better suited to digging roots or butchering animals than others.

Alternative theories include a use for ovate hand-axes as a kind of hunting discus to be hurled at prey.[22] Puzzlingly, there are also examples of sites where hundreds of hand-axes, many impractically large and also apparently unused, have been found in close association together. Sites such as Melka Kunturé in Ethiopia, Olorgesailie in Kenya, Isimila in Tanzania, and Kalambo Falls in Zambia have produced evidence that suggests Acheulean hand-axes might not always have had a functional purpose.

Recently, it has been suggested[23] that the Acheulean tool users adopted the handaxe as a social artifact, meaning that it embodied something beyond its function of a butchery or wood cutting tool. Knowing how to create and use these tools would have been a valuable skill and the more elaborate ones suggest that they played a role in their owners' identity and their interactions with others. This would help explain the apparent over-sophistication of some examples which may represent a "historically accrued social significance".[24]

One theory goes further and suggests that some special hand-axes were made and displayed by males in search of mate, using a large, well-made hand-axe to demonstrate that they possessed sufficient strength and skill to pass on to their offspring. Once they had attracted a female at a group gathering, it is suggested that they would discard their axes, perhaps explaining why so many are found together.[25]

Hand-axe as a left over core

Stone knapping with limited digital dexterity makes the center of gravity the required direction of flake removal. Physics then dictates a circular or oval end pattern, similar to the handaxe, for a leftover core after flake production. This would explain the abundance, wide distribution, proximity to source, consistent shape, and lack of actual use, of these artifacts.[26]


Mimi Lam, a researcher from the University of British Columbia, has suggested that Acheulean hand-axes became "the first commodity: A marketable good or service that has value and is used as an item for exchange."[27]


Map of Afro-Eurasia showing important sites of the Acheulean industry (clickable map).

The geographic distribution of Acheulean tools – and thus the peoples who made them – is often interpreted as being the result of palaeo-climatic and ecological factors, such as glaciation and the desertification of the Sahara Desert.[28]

Biface de St Acheul MHNT
Acheulean Biface from Saint Acheul

Acheulean stone tools have been found across the continent of Africa, save for the dense rainforest around the River Congo which is not thought to have been colonized by hominids until later. It is thought that from Africa their use spread north and east to Asia: from Anatolia, through the Arabian Peninsula, across modern day Iran[29] and Pakistan, and into India, and beyond. In Europe their users reached the Pannonian Basin and the western Mediterranean regions, modern day France, the Low Countries, western Germany, and southern and central Britain. Areas further north did not see human occupation until much later, due to glaciation. In Athirampakkam at Chennai in Tamil Nadu the Acheulean age started at 1.51 mya and it is also prior than North India and Europe.[30]

Until the 1980s, it was thought that the humans who arrived in East Asia abandoned the hand-axe technology of their ancestors and adopted chopper tools instead. An apparent division between Acheulean and non-Acheulean tool industries was identified by Hallam L. Movius, who drew the Movius Line across northern India to show where the traditions seemed to diverge. Later finds of Acheulean tools at Chongokni in South Korea and also in Mongolia and China, however, cast doubt on the reliability of Movius's distinction.[31] Since then, a different division known as the Roe Line has been suggested. This runs across North Africa to Israel and thence to India, separating two different techniques used by Acheulean toolmakers. North and east of the Roe Line, Acheulean hand-axes were made directly from large stone nodules and cores; while, to the south and west, they were made from flakes struck from these nodules.[32]

Biface (trihedral) Amar Merdeg, Mehran, Ilam, Lower Paleolithic, National Museum of Iran
Biface (trihedral) Amar Merdeg, Mehran, National Museum of Iran

Acheulean tool users

Most notably, however, it is Homo ergaster (sometimes called early Homo erectus), whose assemblages are almost exclusively Acheulean, who used the technique. Later, the related species Homo heidelbergensis (the common ancestor of both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens) used it extensively. Late Acheulean tools were still used by species derived from H. erectus, including Homo sapiens idaltu and early Neanderthals.[33]

The symmetry of the hand-axes has been used to suggest that Acheulean tool users possessed the ability to use language;[34] the parts of the brain connected with fine control and movement are located in the same region that controls speech. The wider variety of tool types compared to earlier industries and their aesthetically as well as functionally pleasing form could indicate a higher intellectual level in Acheulean tool users than in earlier hominines.[35] Others argue that there is no correlation between spatial abilities in tool making and linguistic behaviour, and that language is not learned or conceived in the same manner as artefact manufacture.[36]

Lower Palaeolithic finds made in association with Acheulean hand-axes, such as the Venus of Berekhat Ram,[37] have been used to argue for artistic expression amongst the tool users. The incised elephant tibia from Bilzingsleben[38] in Germany, and ochre finds from Kapthurin in Kenya[39] and Duinefontein in South Africa,[40] are sometimes cited as being some of the earliest examples of an aesthetic sensibility in human history. There are numerous other explanations put forward for the creation of these artefacts, however; and there is no unequivocal evidence of human art until around 50,000 years ago, after the emergence of modern Homo sapiens.[41]

The kill site at Boxgrove in England is another famous Acheulean site. Up until the 1970s these kill sites, often at waterholes where animals would gather to drink, were interpreted as being where Acheulean tool users killed game, butchered their carcasses, and then discarded the tools they had used. Since the advent of zooarchaeology, which has placed greater emphasis on studying animal bones from archaeological sites, this view has changed. Many of the animals at these kill sites have been found to have been killed by other predator animals, so it is likely that humans of the period supplemented hunting with scavenging from already dead animals.[42]

Excavations at the Bnot Ya'akov Bridge site, located along the Dead Sea rift in the southern Hula Valley of northern Israel, have revealed evidence of human habitation in the area from as early as 750,000 years ago.[43] Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem claim that the site provides evidence of "advanced human behavior" half a million years earlier than has previously been estimated. Their report describes an Acheulean layer at the site in which numerous stone tools, animal bones, and plant remains have been found.[44]

Azykh cave located in Azerbaijan is another site where Acheulean tools were found. In 1968, a lower jaw of a new type of hominid was discovered in the 5th layer (so-called Acheulean layer) of the cave. Specialists named this type “Azykhantropus”.[45][46][47]

Only limited artefactual evidence survives of the users of Acheulean tools other than the stone tools themselves. Cave sites were exploited for habitation, but the hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic also possibly built shelters such as those identified in connection with Acheulean tools at Grotte du Lazaret[48] and Terra Amata near Nice in France. The presence of the shelters is inferred from large rocks at the sites, which may have been used to weigh down the bottoms of tent-like structures or serve as foundations for huts or windbreaks. These stones may have been naturally deposited. In any case, a flimsy wood or animal skin structure would leave few archaeological traces after so much time. Fire was seemingly being exploited by Homo ergaster, and would have been a necessity in colonising colder Eurasia from Africa. Conclusive evidence of mastery over it this early is, however, difficult to find.

See also


  1. ^ Hadfield, Peter, Gimme Shelter, New Scientist, 4 March 2000.
  2. ^ "BBC News | SCI/TECH | Earliest evidence of art found". Retrieved 2017-12-18.
  3. ^ a b Wood, B, 2005, p87.
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Ed. (1989)
  5. ^ Frere, John. Wikisource-logo.svg "Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk.". Archaeologia 13 (1800): 204-205 [reprinted in Grayson (1983), 55-56, and Heizer (1962), 70-71].
  6. ^ (Asfaw, B. et al. The earliest Acheulean from Konso-Gardula. Nature 360, 732–735, 1992,
  7. ^ Pappu, Shanti (2011-03-25). "Early Pleistocene Presence of Acheulian Hominins in South India | Science". Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  8. ^ (Roche, H. et al. Les sites arche´ologiques plio-ple´istoce`nes de la formation de Nachukui, Ouest-Turkana, Kenya: bilan synthe´tique 1997–2001. C. R. Palevol 2, 663–673, 2003,
  9. ^ (Lepre, C. J., Roche, H., Kent, D. V., Harmand, S., Quinn, R. L., Brugal, J.-P., Texier, P.-J., Lenoble, A., & Feibel, C. S. (2011). An earlier origin for the Acheulian. Nature, 477, 82–85,
  10. ^ Goren-Inbar, N.; Feibel, C. S.; Verosub, K. L.; Melamed, Y.; Kislev, M. E.; Tchernov, E.; Saragusti, I. (2000). "Pleistocene Milestones on the Out-of-Africa Corridor at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Israel". Science. 289 (5481): 944–947. doi:10.1126/science.289.5481.944. PMID 10937996.
  11. ^ a b Scott, G. R.; Gibert, L. (2009). "The oldest hand-axes in Europe". Nature. 461 (7260): 82–85. doi:10.1038/nature08214. PMID 19727198.
  12. ^ Ashton, N, McNabb, J, Irving, B, Lewis, S and Parfitt, S Contemporaneity of Clactonian and Acheulian flint industries at Barnham, Suffolk Antiquity 68, 260, p585–589 Abstract
  13. ^ Barton, RNE, Stone Age Britain English Heritage/BT Batsford:London 1997 qtd in Butler, 2005. See also Wymer, JJ, The Lower Palaeolithic Occupation of Britain, Wessex Archaeology and English Heritage, 1999.
  14. ^ Ashton, NM, McNabb, J, and Parfitt, S, Choppers and the Clactonian, a reinvestigation, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 58, pp21–28, qtd in Butler, 2005
  15. ^ Wymer, JJ, 1968, Lower Palaeolithic Archaeology in Britain: as represented by the Thames Valley, qtd in Adkins, L and R, 1998
  16. ^ Collins, D, 1978, Early Man in West Middlesex, qtd in Adkins, L and R, 1998
  17. ^ Stout, Dietrich; Apel, Jan; Commander, Julia; Roberts, Mark (2014). "Late Acheulean technology and cognition at Boxgrove, UK" (PDF). Journal of Archaeological Science. 41: 576–590. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.10.001. ISSN 0305-4403.
  18. ^ Barham, Lawrence; Mitchell, Peter (2008). The First Africans (1st ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-521-61265-4.
  19. ^ Paddayya, K, Jhaldiyal, R and Petraglia, MD, Excavation of an Acheulian workshop at Isampur, Karnataka (India) Antiquity 74, 286, pp 751–752 Abstract
  20. ^ Gamble, C and Steele, J, 1999, Hominid ranging patterns and dietary strategies in Ullrich, H (ed.), Hominid evolution: lifestyles and survival strategies, pp 396–409, Gelsenkirchen: Edition Archaea.
  21. ^ Unattributed citation in Renfrew and Bahn, 1991, p277
  22. ^ O'Brien, E, 1981, The projectile capabilities of an Acheulian handaxe from Olorgesailie, Current Anthropology 22: 76–9. See also Calvin, W, 1993, The unitary hypothesis: a common neural circuitry for novel manipulations, language, plan-ahead and throwing, in K.R. Gibson & T. Ingold (ed.), Tools, language and cognition in human evolution: 230–50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  23. ^ Gamble, C, 1997, Handaxes and palaeolithic individuals, in N. Ashton, F. Healey & P.Pettitt (ed.), Stone Age archaeology: 105–9. Oxford: Oxbow Books. Monograph 102.
  24. ^ White, MJ, 1998, On the significance of Acheulian biface variability in southern Britain, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 64: 15–44.
  25. ^ Kohn, M and Mithen, S, 1999, Handaxes: products of sexual selection?, Antiquity 73, 518–26 Abstract
  26. ^ "The Acheulean Handaxe".
  27. ^ Welsh, Jennifer (2012-02-29). "Tools May Have Been First Money". Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  28. ^ Todd, L, Glantz, M and Kappelman, J, Chilga Kernet: an Acheulean landscape on Ethiopia's western plateau Antiquity 76, 293 pp 611–612 Abstract
  29. ^ Biglari, F. and Shidrang, S. 2006 The Lower Paleolithic Occupation of Iran, Near Eastern Archaeology 69(3–4): 160-168 [1]
  30. ^ "Archive News". The Hindu. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  31. ^ Hyeong Woo Lee, The Palaeolithic industries of Korea: chronology and related new findspots in Milliken, S and Cook, J (eds), 2001
  32. ^ Gamble, C and Marshall, G, The shape of handaxes, the structure of the Acheulian world, in Milliken, S and Cook, J (eds), 2001
  33. ^ Clarke, JD et al., 2003, Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia, Nature 423, 747–52, Abstract
  34. ^ Isaac, GL, 1976, Stages of cultural elaboration in the Pleistocene: possible archaeological indicators of the development of language capabilities, in Origins and Evolution of Languages and Speech (SR Harbard et al. eds.), 276–88, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 280, qtd in Renfrew and Bahn, 1991
  35. ^ Wynn, T, 1995, Handaxe enigmas, World Archaeology 27, 10–24, qtd in Scarre, 2005
  36. ^ Dibble, HL, 1989, The implications of stone tool types for the presenceof language during the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic, in The Human Revolution (P Mellars and C Stringer eds) Edinburgh University Press, qtd in Renfrew and Bahn, 1991.
  37. ^ Goren-Inbar, N and Peltz, S, 1995, Additional remarks on the Berekhat Ram figure, Rock Art Research 12, 131–132, qtd in Scarre, 2005
  38. ^ Mania, D and Mania, U, 1988, Deliberate engravings on bone artefacts of Homo Erectus, Rock Art Research 5, 919–7, qtd in Scarre, 2005
  39. ^ Tryon, CA and McBrearty, S, 2002, Tephrostatigraphy and the Acheulean to Middle Stone Age transition in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya, Journal of Human Evolution 42, 211–35, qtd in Scarre, 2005 Abstract
  40. ^ Cruz-Uribe, K et al., 2003, Excavation of buried late Acheulean (mid-Quaternary) land surfaces at Duinefontein 2, West Cape Province, South Africa, Journal of Archaeological Science 30, 559–75, qtd in Scarre, 2005
  41. ^ Scarre, 2005, chapter 3, p118 "However, objects whose artistic meaning is unequivocal become commonplace only after 50,000 years ago, when they are associated with the origins and spread of fully modern humans from Africa.
  42. ^ ...the most conservative conclusion today is that Acheulean people and their contemporaries definitely hunted big animals, though their success rate is not clear ibid, p 120.
  43. ^ Gesher Benot Ya'aqov Archived 2009-07-20 at the Wayback Machine, Hebrew University, Retrieved 2010-01-05.
  44. ^ Evidence of advanced human life half a million years earlier than previously thought (Dec 22, 2009) in The Jerusalem Post Retrieved 2010-01-05.
  45. ^ Pavel Dolukhanov (2014). The Early Slavs: Eastern Europe from the Initial Settlement to the Kievan Rus. Routledge. ISBN 9781317892229.
  46. ^ V.A. Zubakov, I.I. Borzenkova (1990). Global Palaeoclimate of the Late Cenozoic. Elsevier. ISBN 9780080868530.
  47. ^ Ian Shaw, Robert Jameson, ed. (2008). A Dictionary of Archaeology. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780470751961.
  48. ^ De Lumley, 1975, Cultural evolution in France in its palaeoecological setting during the middle Pleistocene, in After the Australopithecines, Butzer, KW and Issac, G Ll. (eds) 745–808. The Hague:Mouton, qtd in Scarre, 2005


  • Adkins, L; and R (1998). The Handbook of British Archaeology. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0-09-478330-0.
  • Butler, C (2005). Prehistoric Flintwork. Tempus, Stroud. ISBN 978-0-7524-3340-0.
  • Milliken, S; and J Cook (eds) (2001). A Very Remote Period Indeed. Papers on the Palaeolithic presented to Derek Roe. Oxford: Oxbow. ISBN 978-1-84217-056-4.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Renfrew, C; and P Bahn (1991). Archaeology, Theories Methods and Practice. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-27605-1.
  • Scarre, C (ed.) (2005). The Human Past. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-28531-2.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
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External links

  • Media related to Acheulean at Wikimedia Commons
Arago cave

Arago cave is a prehistoric site in the community of Tautavel, in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales. It is a large cavity overlooking a perennial stream called the Verdouble. Human remains attributed to the Tautavel Man and the lithic remnants of the Lower Paleolithic were discovered in the cave.

Ard Saouda

Ard Saouda or Ard es Saoude (Terres Noires) is a Heavy Neolithic archaeological site of the Qaraoun culture that is located in the Wadi al-Taym, between Rashaya and Marjayoun in Lebanon. It is south of the branch road to Qaraoun and Kaukaba at cote 990, on the surface of fields covered in large blocks of basalt, made from an ancient lava.The Neolithic site was located by M. Billeaux in 1957 left of the road, just before the junction. A further Acheulean site was found downhill to the southwest by Henri Fleisch. The site was extended by further discoveries by M. Le Cavalier and F. and L. Skeels at Jeb Farah. The area is notable for draining mountain waters into the most northerly feeders of the Jordan river.The Acheulean material was published by Fleisch in 1966 with the Neolithic remains studied by Jacques Cauvin. Over three hundred Acheulean bifaces were collected along with various waste, used cores and rough-outs. It was mostly in brown, shiny flint, some with a grey film. The pieces were heavily patinated, sometimes with a number of different patinas. This allowed Fleisch to divide the tools into four groups, Early Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, Middle/Late Paleolithic, and Upper Paleolithic with Levallois technique being used on cores in later periods. The Heavy Neolithic and Neolithic material was mostly in a creamy chert and consisted of adzes, chisels, oval axes with retouch all over, racloirs, cores and discs. Lorraine Copeland made a collection of similar materials in 1966 and noted the problems assigning material to specific periods. It seemed apparent that the Neolithic flint knappers had re-used older Acheulean tools and that the site had been a factory throughout numerous periods in a long and ancient history.

Cave of the Angel

The Cave of the Angel refers to several cave-related structures placed at Aras mountain range at the town of Lucena, Córdoba province in Spain. Here, it is located an Acheulean site that spans from the Middle Pleistocene to the Upper Pleistocene. There are geological, paleontological and archaeological evidences indicating an intense and long term occupation of this site. The study of numerous bone and lithic remains found in this site reveal exposure to fire. This along with the finding of a wide and deep combustion structure in the stratigraphic profile support the hypothesis that at the time of the occupation of the site by humans there was processing and consumption of big mammals.


The Clactonian is the name given by archaeologists to an industry of European flint tool manufacture that dates to the early part of the interglacial period known as the Hoxnian, the Mindel-Riss or the Holstein stages (c. 400,000 years ago). Clactonian tools were made by Homo heidelbergensis.It is named after 400,000-year-old finds made by Hazzledine Warren in a palaeochannel at Clacton-on-Sea in the English county of Essex in 1911. The artefacts found there included flint chopping tools, flint flakes and the tip of a worked wooden shaft along with the remains of a giant elephant and hippopotamus. Further examples of the tools have been found at sites including Barnfield Pit and Rickson's Pit, near Swanscombe in Kent and Barnham in Suffolk; similar industries have been identified across Northern Europe. The Clactonian industry involved striking thick, irregular flakes from a core of flint, which was then employed as a chopper. The flakes would have been used as crude knives or scrapers. Unlike the Oldowan tools from which Clactonian ones derived, some were notched implying that they were attached to a handle or shaft. Retouch is uncommon and the prominent bulb of percussion on the flakes indicates use of a hammerstone.

An "Egyptian verson" of the Clactonian industry was proposed in 1972, based on excavations on the banks of the Nile River, at the 100 foot terrace.


A cleaver is a large knife that varies in its shape but usually resembles a rectangular-bladed hatchet. It is largely used as a kitchen or butcher knife intended for hacking through bone. The knife's broad side can also be used for crushing in food preparation (such as garlic).

Tools described as cleavers have been in use since the Acheulean period.

Cleaver (tool)

In archaeology, a cleaver is a type of biface stone tool of the Lower Palaeolithic.

Cleavers resemble hand axes in that they are large and oblong or U-shaped tools meant to be held in the hand. But, unlike hand axes, they have a wide, straight cutting edge running at right angles to the axis of the tool.

Acheulean cleavers resemble handaxes but with the pointed end truncated away. Flake cleavers have a cutting edge created by a tranchet flake being struck from the primary surface.

Hand axe

A hand axe (or handaxe) is a prehistoric stone tool with two faces that is the longest-used tool in human history. It is usually made from flint or chert. It is characteristic of the lower Acheulean and middle Palaeolithic (Mousterian) periods. Its technical name (biface) comes from the fact that the archetypical model is generally bifacial Lithic flake and almond-shaped (amygdaloidal). Hand axes tend to be symmetrical along their longitudinal axis and formed by pressure or percussion. The most common hand axes have a pointed end and rounded base, which gives them their characteristic shape, and both faces have been knapped to remove the natural cortex, at least partially. Hand axes are a type of the somewhat wider biface group of two-faced tools or weapons.

Hand axes were the first prehistoric tools to be recognized as such: the first published representation of a hand axe was drawn by John Frere and appeared in a British publication in 1800. Until that time, their origins were thought to be natural or supernatural. They were called thunderstones, because popular tradition held that they had fallen from the sky during storms or were formed inside the earth by a lightning strike and then appeared at the surface. They are used in some rural areas as an amulet to protect against storms.

Hand axe tools were possibly used to butcher animals; to dig for tubers, animals and water; to chop wood and remove tree bark; to throw at prey; and as a source for flake tools.

Industry (archaeology)

In the archaeology of the Stone Age, an industry or technocomplex is a typological classification of stone tools. It is not to be confused with industrial archaeology, which concentrates on industrial sites from more recent periods.

An industry consists of a number of lithic assemblages, typically including a range of different types of tools, that are grouped together on the basis of shared technological or morphological characteristics. For example, the Acheulean industry includes hand-axes, cleavers, scrapers and other tools with different forms, but which were all manufactured by the symmetrical reduction of a bifacial core producing large flakes. Industries are usually named after a type site where these characteristics were first observed (e.g. the Mousterian industry is named after the site of Le Moustier). By contrast, Neolithic axeheads from the Langdale axe industry were recognised as a type well before the centre at Great Langdale was identified by finds of debitage and other remains of the production, and confirmed by petrography (geological analysis). The stone was quarried and rough axe heads were produced there, to be more finely worked and polished elsewhere.

As a taxonomic classification of artefacts, industries rank higher than archaeological cultures. Cultures are usually defined from a range of different artefact types and are thought to be related to a distinct cultural tradition. By contrast, industries are defined by basic elements of lithic production which may have been used by many unrelated human groups over tens or even hundred thousands of years, and over very wide geographical ranges. Sites producing tools from the Acheulean industry stretch from France to China, as well as Africa. Consequently, shifts between lithic industries are thought to reflect major milestones in human evolution, such as changes in cognitive ability or even the replacement of one human species by another. Therefore, artefacts from a single industry may come from a number of different cultures.

Khallet Michte

Khallet Michte is a Heavy Neolithic archaeological site of the Qaraoun culture located in the Caza of Bint Jbeil in the Nabatiye Governorate in Lebanon. The two sites Khallet Michte I and Khallet Michte II are located in adjacent wadis on south facing slopes between a track and the main road between Bint Jbeil and Ain Ebel. They were found by Henri Fleisch and noted to contain both Heavy Neolithic and Acheulean flint tools which are now in the collection of the Museum of Lebanese Prehistory at the Saint Joseph University.

Khallet el Hamra

Khallet el Hamra or Khallet Hamra is a ravine or wadi joining the larger Wadi Yaroun located 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) southeast of Ain Ebelin the Bint Jbeil District of Nabatieh Governorate in Lebanon.A Heavy Neolithic archaeological site of the Qaraoun culture was discovered by jesuit archaeologist Paul Bovier-Lapierre in 1908. It was located to the south of a track that leads from Ain Ebel to Bint Jbeil at around 700 metres (2,300 ft) above sea level. Bovier-Lapierre considered several of the axes found to be Chellean with one exceptionally large and finely made Acheulean chopper. Henri Fleisch re-evaluated the materials in light of more modern studies and noted the finds to be only sparsely Acheulean with the assemblage consisting of predominantly "abundant" Heavy Neolithic tools of the Qaraoun culture.

Lower Paleolithic

The Lower Paleolithic (or Lower Palaeolithic) is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 3.3 million years ago when the first evidence for stone tool production and use by hominins appears in the current archaeological record, until around 300,000 years ago, spanning the Oldowan ("mode 1") and Acheulean ("mode 2") lithics industries.

In African archaeology, the time period roughly corresponds to the Early Stone Age, the earliest finds dating back to 3.3 million years ago, with Lomekwian stone tool technology, spanning Mode 1 stone tool technology, which begins roughly 2.6 million years ago and ends between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago, with Mode 2 technology.The Middle Paleolithic followed the Lower Paleolithic and recorded the appearance of the more advanced prepared-core tool-making technologies such as the Mousterian. Whether the earliest control of fire by hominins dates to the Lower or to the Middle Paleolithic remains an open question.

Madrasian culture

The Madrasian culture is a prehistoric archaeological culture of India, dated to the Lower Paleolithic, the earliest subdivision of the Stone Age. It belongs to the Acheulian industry, and some scholars consider the distinction between the Madrasian and the broader, regional Acheulian tradition defunct.The culture is characterized by bifacial handaxes and cleavers, but also includes flake tools, microliths and other chopping tools. Most were made from quartzite.The Madrasian was named for its type site of Attirampakkam, near to the city of Madras (now known as Chennai), discovered by British archaeologist and geologist Robert Bruce Foote in 1863. The oldest tools at Attirampakkam have been dated to 1.5 million years ago using cosmic-ray exposure dating.

Middle Stone Age

The Middle Stone Age (or MSA) was a period of African prehistory between the Early Stone Age and the Later Stone Age. It is generally considered to have begun around 280,000 years ago and ended around 50–25,000 years ago. The beginnings of particular MSA stone tools have their origins as far back as 550–500,000 years ago and as such some researchers consider this to be the beginnings of the MSA. The MSA is often mistakenly understood to be synonymous with the Middle Paleolithic of Europe, especially due to their roughly contemporaneous time span, however, the Middle Paleolithic of Europe represents an entirely different hominin population, Homo neanderthalensis, than the MSA of Africa, which did not have Neanderthal populations. Additionally, current archaeological research in Africa has yielded much evidence to suggest that modern human behavior and cognition was beginning to develop much earlier in Africa during the MSA than it was in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic. The MSA is associated with both anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) as well as archaic Homo sapiens, sometimes referred to as Homo helmei. Early physical evidence comes from the Gademotta Formation in Ethiopia, the Kapthurin Formation in Kenya and Kathu Pan in South Africa.


The Oldowan (or Mode I) is the earliest widespread stone tool archaeological industry (style) in prehistory. These early tools were simple, usually made with one or a few flakes chipped off with another stone. Oldowan tools were used during the Lower Paleolithic period, 2.6 million years ago up until 1.7 million years ago, by ancient hominids (early humans) across much of Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. This technological industry was followed by the more sophisticated Acheulean industry.

Oldowan is pre-dated by Lomekwian tools at a single site dated to 3.3 mya (million years ago). It is not clear if the Lomekwian industry bears any relation to the Oldowan.The term Oldowan is taken from the site of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the first Oldowan lithics were discovered by the archaeologist Louis Leakey in the 1930s. However, some contemporary archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists prefer to use the term Mode 1 tools to designate pebble tool industries (including Oldowan), with Mode 2 designating bifacially worked tools (including Acheulean handaxes), Mode 3 designating prepared-core tools, and so forth.Classification of Oldowan tools is still somewhat contentious. Mary Leakey was the first to create a system to classify Oldowan assemblages, and built her system based on prescribed use. The system included choppers, scrapers, and pounders. However, more recent classifications of Oldowan assemblages have been made that focus primarily on manufacture due to the problematic nature of assuming use from stone artefacts. An example is Isaac et al.'s tri-modal categories of "Flaked Pieces" (cores/choppers), "Detached Pieces" (flakes and fragments), "Pounded Pieces" (cobbles utilized as hammerstones, etc.) and "Unmodified Pieces" (manuports, stones transported to sites). Oldowan tools are sometimes called "pebble tools", so named because the blanks chosen for their production already resemble, in pebble form, the final product.It is not known for sure which hominin species created and used Oldowan tools. Its emergence is often associated with the species Australopithecus garhi and its flourishing with early species of Homo such as H. habilis and H. ergaster. Early Homo erectus appears to inherit Oldowan technology and refines it into the Acheulean industry beginning 1.7 million years ago.


The Soanian is a archaeological culture of the Lower Paleolithic in the Siwalik region of the Indian subcontinent. Contemporary to the Acheulean, it is named after the Soan Valley in Pakistan. Soanian sites are found along the Sivalik region in present-day India, Nepal and Pakistan.

Stone Age

The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used to make implements with an edge, a point, or a percussion surface. The period lasted roughly 3.4 million years and ended between 8700 BCE and 2000 BCE with the advent of metalworking.Stone Age artifacts include tools used by modern humans and by their predecessor species in the genus Homo, and possibly by the earlier partly contemporaneous genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus. Bone tools were used during this period as well but are rarely preserved in the archaeological record. The Stone Age is further subdivided by the types of stone tools in use.

The Stone Age is the first period in the three-age system of archaeology, which divides human technological prehistory into three periods:

The Stone Age

The Bronze Age

The Iron Age

Stone tool

A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric (particularly Stone Age) cultures that have become extinct. Archaeologists often study such prehistoric societies, and refer to the study of stone tools as lithic analysis. Ethnoarchaeology has been a valuable research field in order to further the understanding and cultural implications of stone tool use and manufacture.Stone has been used to make a wide variety of different tools throughout history, including arrow heads, spearpoints and querns. Stone tools may be made of either ground stone or chipped stone, and a person who creates tools out of the latter is known as a flintknapper.

Chipped stone tools are made from cryptocrystalline materials such as chert or flint, radiolarite, chalcedony, obsidian, basalt, and quartzite via a process known as lithic reduction. One simple form of reduction is to strike stone flakes from a nucleus (core) of material using a hammerstone or similar hard hammer fabricator. If the goal of the reduction strategy is to produce flakes, the remnant lithic core may be discarded once it has become too small to use. In some strategies, however, a flintknapper reduces the core to a rough unifacial or bifacial preform, which is further reduced using soft hammer flaking techniques or by pressure flaking the edges.

More complex forms of reduction include the production of highly standardized blades, which can then be fashioned into a variety of tools such as scrapers, knives, sickles and microliths. In general terms, chipped stone tools are nearly ubiquitous in all pre-metal-using societies because they are easily manufactured, the tool stone is usually plentiful, and they are easy to transport and sharpen.

Venus of Berekhat Ram

The Venus of Berekhat Ram is a pebble found at Berekhat Ram on the Golan Heights in the summer of 1981 by archaeologist N. Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. An article by Goren-Inbar and S. Peltz (1995) claims it has been modified to represent a female human figure, identifying it as a possible artifact made by Homo erectus of the later Acheulean, in the early Middle Paleolithic. The term "Venus" follows the convention for labelling the unrelated Venus figurines of the Upper Paleolithic. The claim is contested.

Venus of Tan-Tan

The Venus of Tan-Tan is an alleged artifact found in Morocco. It and its contemporary, the Venus of Berekhat Ram, have been claimed as the earliest representations of the human form. Critics, notably Professor Stanley Ambrose of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, contend the rock's shape is the result of natural weathering and erosion which coincidentally produced a remotely human-like object, i.e., a geofact.

The object is a 6cm-long piece of quartzite rock dated to the Middle Acheulean period, between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago, which some have interpreted as a depiction of the human form, gender indeterminate and faceless. It was discovered in 1999, during an archaeological survey by Lutz Fiedler, state archaeologist of Hesse, Germany, in a river terrace deposit on the north bank of the Draa River a few kilometers south of the Moroccan town of Tan-Tan.According to its discoverer and others, e.g. Robert Bednarik, the object had been created by natural geological processes giving it a general human-like shape that was recognized by early man and was taken as a manuport. Then it was accentuated by carving it with a stone-wedge; "a greasy substance" on the stone's surface containing iron and manganese may be remnants of red ochre pigments used by humans to further accentuate the human-like form.

Culture / Society

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