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.
Four classes of hand axe are:
While Class 4 hand axes are referred to as "formalized tools", bifaces from any stage of a lithic reduction sequence may be used as tools. (Other biface typologies make five divisions rather than four.)
French antiquarian André Vayson de Pradenne introduced the word biface in 1920. This term co-exists with the more popular hand axe (coup de poing), that was coined by Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet much earlier. The continued use of the word biface by François Bordes and Lionel Balout supported its use in France and Spain, where it replaced the term hand axe. Use of the expression hand axe has continued in English as the equivalent of the French biface (bifaz in Spanish), while biface applies more generally for any piece that has been carved on both sides by the removal of shallow or deep flakes. The expression Faustkeil is used in German; it can be literally translated as hand axe, although in a stricter sense it means "fist wedge". It is the same in Dutch where the expression used is vuistbijl which literally means "fist axe". The same locution occurs in other languages.
However, the general impression of these tools were based on ideal (or classic) pieces that were of such perfect shape that they caught the attention of non-experts. Their typology broadened the term's meaning. Biface hand axe and bifacial lithic items are distinguished. A hand axe need not be a bifacial item and many bifacial items are not hand axes. Nor were hand axes and bifacial items exclusive to the Lower Palaeolithic period in the Old World. They appear throughout the world and in many different pre-historical epochs, without necessarily implying an ancient origin. Lithic typology is not a reliable chronological reference and was abandoned as a dating system. Examples of this include the "quasi-bifaces" that sometimes appear in strata from the Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian periods in France and Spain, the crude bifacial pieces of the Lupemban culture (9000 B.C.) or the pyriform tools found near Sagua La Grande in Cuba. The word biface refers to something different in English than biface in French or bifaz in Spanish, which could lead to many misunderstandings. Bifacially carved cutting tools, similar to hand axes, were used to clear scrub vegetation throughout the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. These tools are similar to more modern adzes and were a cheaper alternative to polished axes. The modern day villages along the Sepik river in New Guinea continue to use tools that are virtually identical to hand axes to clear forest. "The term biface should be reserved for items from before the Würm II-III interstadial", although certain later objects could exceptionally be called bifaces.
Hand axe does not relate to axe, which was overused in lithic typology to describe a wide variety of stone tools. At the time the use of such items was not understood. In the particular case of Palaeolithic hand axes the term axe is an inadequate description. Lionel Balout stated, "the term should be rejected as an erroneous interpretation of these objects that are not 'axes'". Subsequent studies supported this idea, particularly those examining the signs of use.
Most hand axes have a sharp border all around, No academic consensus describes their use. The pioneers of Palaeolithic tool studies first suggested that bifaces were used as axes or at least for use in demanding physical activities. Other uses showed that hand axes were a multi-functional tool. The different forms and shapes of known specimens led them to be described as the Acheulean "Swiss Army knife". Each type of tool could have been used for multiple tasks.
Wells proposed in 1899 that hand axes were used as missile weapons to hunt prey – an interpretation supported by Calvin, who suggested that some of the rounder specimens of Acheulean hand axes were used as hunting projectiles or as "killer frisbees" meant to be thrown at a herd of animals at a water hole so as to stun one of them. This assertion was inspired by findings from the Olorgesailie archaeological site in Kenya. Few specimens indicate hand axe hafting, and some are too large for that use. However, few hand axes show signs of heavy damage indicative of throwing.
In addition, as hand axes can be recycled, resharpened and remade, they could have been used for varied tasks. For this reason it is misleading to think of them as axes, they could have been used for tasks such as digging, cutting, scraping, chopping, piercing and hammering. In addition, and given their mass, they may be used as a lithic core to obtain flakes that could be used as knives or transformed for specialized uses through retouching.
Baker suggested that the hand axe was not itself a tool, but a core from which flakes had been removed and used as tools (flake core theory). However, hand axes are often found with retouching such as sharpening or shaping, casting doubt on this idea.
Other theories suggest the shape is part tradition and part by-product of its manufacture. Many early hand axes appear to be made from simple rounded pebbles (from river or beach deposits). It is necessary to detach a 'starting flake', often much larger than the rest of the flakes (due to the oblique angle of a rounded pebble requiring greater force to detach it), thus creating an asymmetry. Correcting the asymmetry by removing material from the other faces, encouraged a more pointed (oval) form factor. (Knapping a completely circular hand axe requires considerable correction of the shape.) Studies in the 1990s at Boxgrove, in which a butcher attempted to cut up a carcass with a hand axe, revealed that the hand axe was able to expose bone marrow.
Kohn and Mithen independently arrived at the explanation that symmetric hand axes were favoured by sexual selection as fitness indicators. Kohn in his book As We Know It wrote that the hand axe is "a highly visible indicator of fitness, and so becomes a criterion of mate choice." Miller followed their example and said that hand axes have characteristics that make them subject to sexual selection, such as that they were made for over a million years throughout Africa, Europe and Asia, they were made in large numbers, and most were impractical for utilitarian use. He claimed that a single design persisting across time and space cannot be explained by cultural imitation and draws a parallel between bowerbirds' bowers (built to attract potential mates and used only during courtship) and Pleistocene hominids' hand axes. He called hand axe building a "genetically inherited propensity to construct a certain type of object." He discards the idea that they were used as missile weapons because more efficient weapons were available, such as javelins. Although he accepted that some hand axes may have been used for practical purposes, he agreed with Kohn and Mithen who showed that many hand axes show considerable skill, design and symmetry beyond that needed for utility. Some were too big, such as the hand axe found in Furze Platt, England that is over a foot long. Some were too small - less than two inches. Some feature symmetry beyond practical requirements and show evidence of unnecessary attention to form and finish. Miller thinks that the most important clue is that under electron microscopy hand axes show no signs of use or evidence of edge wear. Furthermore, hand axes can be good handicaps in Zahavi's handicap principle theory: learning costs are high, risks of injury, they require physical strength, hand-eye coordination, planning, patience, pain tolerance and resistance to infection from cuts and bruises when making or using such a hand axe.
The use-wear analysis of Palaeolithic hand axes is carried out on findings from emblematic sites across nearly all of Western Europe. Keeley and Semenov were the pioneers of this specialized investigation. Keeley stated, "The morphology of typical hand axes suggests a greater range of potential activities than those of flakes".
Many problems need to be overcome in carrying out this type of analysis. One is the difficulty in observing larger pieces with a microscope. Of the millions of known pieces, few have been thoroughly studied. Another arises from the clear evidence that the same tasks were performed more effectively using utensils made from flakes:
This raises the question: why make hand axes, whose production is more complicated and costly, if the flakes can do the same work with the same efficiency? The answer could be that, in general, hand axes were not conceived for a particular function (excluding certain specialized types) [...], they were not made for one main task but covered a much more general purpose.— Keeley
Keeley based his observations on archaeological sites in England. He proposed that in base settlements where it was possible to predict future actions and where greater control on routine activities was common, the preferred tools were made from specialized flakes, such as racloirs, backed knives, scrapers and punches. However, hand axes were more suitable on expeditions and in seasonal camps, where unforeseen tasks were more common. Their main advantage in these situations was the lack of specialization and adaptability to multiple eventualities. A hand axe has a long blade with different curves and angles, some sharper and others more resistant, including points and notches. All of this is combined in one tool. Given the right circumstances, it is possible to make use of loose flakes. In the same book, Keeley states that a number of the hand axes studied were used as knives to cut meat (such as hand axes from Hoxne and Caddington). He identified that the point of another hand axe had been used as a clockwise drill. This hand axe came from Clacton-on-Sea (all of these sites are located in the east of England). Toth reached similar conclusions for pieces from the Spanish site in Ambrona (Soria). Analysis carried out by Domínguez-Rodrigo and co-workers on the primitive Acheulean site in Peninj (Tanzania) on a series of tools dated 1.5 mya shows clear microwear produced by plant phytoliths, suggesting that the hand axes were used to work wood.
Some hand axes were used with force that left clearly visible marks. Other visible marks can be left as the scars from retouching, on occasion it is possible to distinguish them from marks left by the initial manufacture. One of the most common cases is when a point breaks. This was seen at sites in Europe, Africa and Asia. One example comes from the El Basalito site in Salamanca, where excavation uncovered fragments of a hand axe with marks at the tip that appeared to be the result of the action of a wedge, which would have subjected the object to high levels of torsion that broke the tip. A break or extreme wear can affect a tool's point or any other part. Such wear was reworked by means of a secondary working as discussed above. In some cases this reconstruction is easily identifiable and was carried out using techniques such as the coup de tranchet (French, meaning "tranchet blow"), or simply with scale or scalariform retouches that alter an edge's symmetry and line.
The most characteristic and common shape is a pointed area at one end, cutting edges along its side and a rounded base (this includes hand axes with a lanceolate and amygdaloidal shape as well as others from the family). Hand axes display a variety of shapes, including circular, triangular and elliptical--calling in to question the contention that they had a constant and only symbolic significance. They are typically between 8 and 15 centimetres (3.1 and 5.9 in) long, although they can be bigger or smaller.
They were typically made from a rounded stone, a block or lithic flake, using a hammer to remove flakes from both sides of the item. This hammer can be made of hard stone, or of wood or antler. The latter two, softer hammers can produce more delicate results. However, a hand axe's technological aspect can reflect more differences. For example, uniface tools have only been worked on one side and partial bifaces retain a high proportion of the natural cortex of the tool stone, often making them easy to confuse with chopping tools. Further, simple bifaces may have been created from a suitable tool stone, but they rarely show evidence of retouching.
In summary, hand axes are recognized by many typological schools under different archaeological paradigms and are quite recognisable (at least the most typical examples). However, they have not been definitively categorized. Stated more formally, the idealised model combines a series of well-defined properties, but no set of these properties are necessary or sufficient to identify a hand axe.
The study of hand axes is made complicated because its shape is the result of a complicated chain of technical actions that are only occasionally revealed in their later stages. If this complexity of intentions during the manufacture of a hand axe is added to its variety of forms [...] we realise that the hand axe is one of the most problematical and complex objects in Prehistory— Benito del Rey.
Early examples of hand axes date back to 1.6 mya in the later Oldowan (Mode I), called the "developed Oldowan" by Mary Leakey. These hand axes became more abundant in mode II Acheulean industries that appeared in Southern Ethiopia around 1.4 mya. Some of the best specimens come from 1.2 mya deposits in Olduvai Gorge. They are known in Mousterian industries.
By 1.8 mya early man was present in Europe. Remains of their activities were excavated in Spain at sites in the Guadix-Baza basin and near Atapuerca. Most early European sites yield "mode 1" or Oldowan assemblages. The earliest Acheulean sites in Europe appear around 0.5 mya. In addition, the Acheulean tradition did not spread to Eastern Asia. In Europe and particularly in France and England, the oldest hand axes appear after the Beestonian Glaciation–Mindel Glaciation, approximately 750,000 years ago, during the so-called Cromerian complex. They became more widely produced during the Abbevillian tradition.
The apogee of hand axe manufacture took place in a wide area of the Old World, especially during the Riss glaciation, in a cultural complex that can be described as cosmopolitan and which is known as the Acheulean. The use of hand axes survived the Middle Palaeolithic in a much smaller area and were especially important during the Mousterian, up to the middle of the Last glacial period.
[In Europe s]mall bifaces are found from the late Acheulean until the Aurignacian— Pierre-Jean Texier, Préhistoire et Technologie lithique, page 18
Hand axes dating from the lower Palaeolithic were found on the Asian continent, on the Indian subcontinent and in the Middle East (to the south of parallel 40° N), but they were absent from the area to the east of the 90° E meridian. Movius designated a border (the so-called Movius Line) between the cultures that used hand axes to the west and those that made chopping tools and small retouched lithic flakes, such as were made by Peking man and the Ordos culture in China, or their equivalents in Indochina such as the Hoabinhian. However, Movius hypothesis was found incorrect when many hand axes made in Palaeolithic era were found in 1978 at Hantan River, Jeongok, South Korea for the first time in East Asia. Some of them are exhibited at the Jeongok Prehistory Museum, South Korea.
The Padjitanian culture from Java was traditionally thought to be the only oriental culture to manufacture hand axes. However, a site in Baise, China shows that hand axes were made in eastern Asia.
In North America, hand axes make up one of the dominant tool industries, starting from the terminal Pleistocene and continuing throughout the Holocene. For example, the Folsom point and Clovis point traditions (collectively known as the fluted points) are associated with Paleo Indians, some of the first people to colonize the new world. Hand axe technology is almost unknown in Australian prehistory.
Experiments in knapping have demonstrated the relative ease with which a hand axe can be made, which could help explain their success. In addition, they demand relatively little maintenance and allow a choice of raw materials–any rock will suffice that supports a conchoidal fracture. It is easy to improvise their manufacture and correct mistakes without requiring detailed planning. No long or demanding apprenticeship is necessary to learn the necessary techniques. These factors combine to allow these objects to remain in use throughout pre-history. Their adaptability makes them effective in a variety of tasks, from heavy duty such as digging in soil, felling trees or breaking bones to delicate such as cutting ligaments, slicing meat or perforating a variety of materials.
Lastly, a hand axe represents a prototype that can be refined giving rise to more developed, specialised and sophisticated tools such as the tips of various projectiles, knives, adzes and hatchets.
Given the typological difficulties in defining the essence of a hand axe, it is important when analysing them to take account of their archaeological context (geographical location, stratigraphy, the presence of other elements associated with the same level, chronology etc.). It is necessary to study their physical state to establish any natural alterations that may have occurred: patina, shine, wear and tear, mechanical, thermal and / or physical-chemical changes such as cracking, in order to distinguish these factors from the scars left during the tool's manufacture or use.
The raw material is an important factor, because of the result that can be obtained by working it and in order to reveal the economy and movement of prehistoric humans. In the Olduvai Gorge the raw materials were most readily available some ten kilometres from the nearest settlements. However, flint or silicate is readily available on the fluvial terraces of Western Europe. This means that different strategies were required for the procurement and use of available resources. The supply of materials was the most important factor in the manufacturing process as Palaeolithic artisans were able to adapt their methods to available materials, obtaining adequate results from even the most difficult raw materials. Despite this it is important to study the rock's grain, texture, the presence of joints, veins, impurities or shatter cones etc.
In order to study the use of individual items it is necessary to look for traces of wear such as pseudo-retouches, breakage or wear, including areas that are polished. If the item is in a good condition it is possible to submit it to use-wear analysis, which is discussed in more detail below. Apart from these generalities, which are common to all carved archaeological pieces, hand axes need a technical analysis of their manufacture and a morphological analysis.
The technical analysis of a hand axe tries to discover each of the phases in its chaîne opératoire (operational sequence). The chain is highly flexible, as a toolmaker may focus narrowly on just one of the sequence's links or equally on each link. The links examined in this type of study start with the extraction methods of the raw material, then include the actual manufacture of the item, its use, maintenance throughout its working life, and finally its disposal.
A toolmaker may put a lot of effort into finding the highest quality raw material or the most suitable tool stone. In this way more effort is invested in obtaining a good foundation, but time is saved on shaping the stone: that is, the effort is focused on the start of the operational chain. Equally the artisan may concentrate the most effort in the manufacture so that the quality or suitability of the raw material is less important. This will minimize the initial effort, but will result in a greater effort at the end of the operational chain.
Hand axes are most commonly made from rounded pebbles or nodules, but many are also made from a large flake. Hand axes made from flakes first appeared at the start of the Acheulean period and became more common with time. Manufacturing a hand axe from a flake is actually easier than from a pebble. It is also quicker, as flakes are more likely to be closer to the desired shape. This allows easier manipulation and fewer knaps are required to finish the tool; it is also easier to obtain straight edges. When analysing a hand axe made from a flake, it should be remembered that its shape was predetermined (by use of the Levallois technique or Kombewa technique or similar). Notwithstanding this, it is necessary to note a tool's characteristics: type of flake, heel, knap direction.
The natural external cortex or rind of the tool stone, which is due to erosion and the physical-chemical alterations of weathering, is different from the stone's interior. In the case of chert, quartz or quartzite, this alteration is basically mechanical, and apart from the colour and the wear it has the same characteristics as the interior in terms of hardness, toughness etc. However, flint is surrounded by a limestone cortex that is soft and unsuitable for stone tools. As hand axes are made from a tool stone's core, it is normal to indicate the thickness and position of the cortex in order to better understand the techniques that are required in their manufacture. The variation in cortex between utensils should not be taken as an indication of their age.
Many partially-worked hand axes do not require further work in order to be effective tools. They can be considered to be simple hand axes. Less suitable tool stone requires more thorough working. In some specimens the cortex is unrecognisable due to the complete working that it has undergone, which has eliminated any vestige of the original cortex.
It is possible to distinguish multiple types of hand axe:
Older hand axes were produced by direct percussion with a stone hammer and can be distinguished by their thickness and a sinuous border. Mousterian hand axes were produced with a soft billet of antler or wood and are much thinner, more symmetrical and have a straight border. An experienced flintknapper needs less than 15 minutes to produce a good quality hand axe. A simple hand axe can be made from a beach pebble in less than 3 minutes.
The manufacturing process employs lithic reduction. This phase is commonly thought of as the most important in hand axe fabrication, although it is not always used, such as for hand axes made from flakes or a suitable tool stone. An important concern is the implement that has been used to form the biface. If multiple implements were used, it is essential to discover in what order they were used and the result obtained by each one.The most common implements are:
Hand axes can be made without subsequent reworking of the edges. A hammerstone was the most common percussive tool used during the Acheulean. The resulting artefact is usually easily recognizable given its size and irregular edges, as the removed flakes leave pronounced percussion bulbs and compression rings. A hammerstone produces a small number of flakes that are wide and deep leaving long edges on the tool as their highly concave form yields curving edges. The cross-section is irregular, often sub-rhombic, while the intersection between the faces forms an acute angle of between 60° and 90° degrees. The shape is similar to that of the core as the irregularities formed during knapping are not removed. The notches obtained were exploited in the production sequence. It is common that this type of manufacture yields "partial bifaces" (an incomplete working that leaves many areas covered with cortex), "unifaces" (tools that have only been worked on one face), "bifaces in the Abbevillian style" and "nucleiform bifaces". This type of manufacturing style is generally an indication of the age when a tool was made and with other archaeological data can provide a context that allows its age to be estimated.
These hand axes have a more balanced appearance as the modification consists of a second (or third) series of blows to make the piece more uniform and provide a better finish. The modification is often called retouching and is sometimes carried out using invasive retouching or using softer, marginal, shallow blows that are only applied to the most marked irregularities leaving scale-like marks. The modification of edges with a hard hammer was carried out from the beginning of the Acheulean and persisted into the Musterian. It is therefore not useful as an indicator of chronology (in order for it to be considered as a marker it has to be accompanied by other complementary and independent archaeological data). The hand axes arising from this methodology have a more classical profile with either a more symmetrical almond or oval shape and with a lower proportion of the cortex of the original core. It is not always the case that the retouching had the objective of reducing an edge's irregularities or deformities. In fact, it has been shown that in some cases the retouching was carried out to sharpen an edge that had been blunted by use or a point that had deteriorated.
Some hand axes were formed with a hard hammer and finished with a soft hammer. Blows that result in deep conchoidal fractures (the first phase of manufacture) can be distinguished from features resulting from sharpening with a soft hammer. The latter leaves shallower, more distended, broader scars, sometimes with small, multiple shock waves. However, marks left by a small, hard hammer can leave similar marks to a soft hammer.
Soft hammer finished pieces are usually balanced and symmetrical, and can be relatively smooth. Soft hammer works first appeared in the Acheulean period, allowing tools with these markings to be used as a post quem estimation, but with no greater precision. The main advantage of a soft hammer is that a flintknapper is able to remove broader, thinner flakes with barely developed heels, which allows a cutting edge to be maintained or even improved with minimal raw material wastage. However, a high-quality raw material is required to make their use effective. No studies compare the two methods in terms of yield per unit weight of raw material, or the difference in energy use. The use of a soft hammer requires greater use of force by the flintknapper and a steeper learning curve, although it offers more flakes for less raw material.
Hand axes made using only a soft hammer are much less common. In most cases at least initial work was done with a hard hammer, before subsequent flaking with a soft hammer erased all vestiges of that work. A soft hammer is not suitable for all types of percussion platform and it cannot be used on certain types of raw material. It is, therefore, necessary to start with a hard hammer or with a flake as a core as its edge will be fragile (flat, smooth pebbles are also useful). This means that although it was possible to manufacture a hand axe using a soft hammer, it is reasonable to suppose that a hard hammer was used to prepare a blank followed by one or more phases of retouching to finish the piece. However, the degree of separation between the phases is not certain, as the work could have been carried out in one operation.
Working with a soft hammer allows a knapper greater control of the knapping and reduces waste of the raw material, allowing the production of longer, sharper, more uniform edges that will increase the tool's working life. Hand axes made with a soft hammer are usually more symmetrical and smooth, with rectilinear edges and shallow indentations that are broad and smooth so that it is difficult to distinguish where one flake starts and another ends. They generally have a regular biconvex cross-section and the intersection of the two faces forms an edge with an acute angle, usually of around 30°. They were worked with great skill and therefore they are more aesthetically attractive. They are usually associated with periods of highly developed tool making such as the Micoquien or the Mousterian. Soft hammer manufacturing is not reliable as the sole dating method.
Hand axes were created to be tools and as such they wore out, deteriorated and/or broke during use. Relics have suffered dramatic changes throughout their useful lives. It is common to find edges that have been sharpened, points that have been reconstructed and profiles that have been deformed by reworking in order to extend the piece's useful lifetime. Some tools were recycled later, leading Bordes to note that hand axes "are sometimes found in the Upper Palaeolithic. Their presence, which is quite normal in the Perigordian I, is often due, in other levels, to the collection of Mousterian or Acheulean tools.".
Hand axes have traditionally been oriented with their narrowest part upwards (presupposing that this would have been the most active part, which is not unreasonable given the many hand axes that have unworked bases). The following typological conventions are used to facilitate communication. The axis of symmetry that divides a biface in two is called the morphological axis. The main face is usually the most regular and better worked face. The base (not the heel) is the bottom of the hand axe.
Hand axe measurements use the morphological axis as a reference and for orientation. In addition to length, width, depth, specialists have proposed a wide range of other physical quantities. The most common were proposed by Bordes:51 and Balout:
A and o can be used to delineate the contour's cross section and to measure the angles of the edges (provided this is not an area covered in the stone's original cortex). These angular measurements for the edges are made using a goniometer.
Edge length, weight and the length of the chord described by the edges (if the piece has a transverse terminal bezel) can be measured. These measurements allow morphological and technical ratios to be established (for example, the relationship between the weight and the length of the cutting edges, or the relationship between the hammer used to form the piece and the angle obtained etc.).
The most commonly used coefficients were established by Bordes for the morphological-mathematical classification of what he called "classic bifaces" (Balout proposed other, similar indices):
|Triangular bifaces (the most regular)
or sub triangular (for the irregular ones)
Hand axes are so varied that they do not actually have a single common characteristic… [...] Despite the numerous attempts to classify hand axes, some of which date to the beginning of the [20th] century… their study does not comply completely satisfactorily to any typological list— Gabriel Camps
The following guide is strongly influenced by the possibly outdated and basically morphological "Bordes method" classification system. This classification is particularly applicable to classic hand axes,[a] those that can be defined and catalogued by measuring dimensions and mathematical ratios, while disregarding nearly all subjective criteria. "Distinguishing between different types of hand axes is not always easy. There is often no room for doubts, however, there are a number of cases where the difficulty is real." In the majority of cases, this system agrees with previously established categories (although slightly redefining them). Balout made a similar attempt at categorization.
They are the most common biface in this group, defined by their almond shape, symmetrical tendency and metric indices common to this category. Apart from their shape, which gives them their name (Latin for almond), they are bifaces of regular length (1.3 < L/m < 1.6), somewhat thick (m/e < 2.35) and with an average base roundness index for this category (2.75 < L/a < 3.75). The base may be unworked or worked. They may have a sharp-pointed or oval apical zone. In some cases it may be slightly rounded (and narrow).
Amygdaloidal bifaces are nearly identical to cordiform bifaces, except that the latter are thick and the former are flat. Amygdaloidal bifaces usually have a coarse finish and high-degree of cortex coverage. This is not necessarily an indication of development or chronology.
A cordiform biface is identical to the amygdaloidal when seen from the front, as it shares the same index values (elongation index: 1.3 < L/m < 1.6; and base roundness index: 2.75 < L/a < 3.75). When seen from the side it appears to be a flat biface (m/e > 2.35). Occasionally, although this is not defining, they are worked with greater skill, better finished, with less cortex and greater balance. They may also have more acute, rectilinear edges increasing efficiency.
Their name, which comes from the Latin cor (heart), was suggested by de Perthes in 1857. It became generally used when adopted by Breuil, Commont and Goury in the 1920s.
Bordes defined them mathematically as flat bifaces with rounded, short bases and a pointed or oval terminal zone. He defined eight variants, including an elongated form (L/m > 1.6) and another that is more irregular that has been called Subcordiform. The cordiform bifaces were common in both the Acheulean and the Mousterian.
Elliptical bifaces are also known as Limandes (from the French word meaning flounder). They have three axes of symmetry, bilateral, bifacial and horizontal. If the base is short they are virtually identical at the terminal end, complicating identifying top from bottom.
In practice their dimensional ratios are equal to the ovoid tools, except that the elliptical bifaces are usually more elongated (L/m > 1.6) and their maximum width (m) is nearer to their mid length.
Elliptical bifaces are found throughout the Acheulean and into the Mousterian. The finishing became more careful and balanced over time. Bordes usually differentiated flat elliptical bifaces (m/e > 2.35, true Limandes) from thick elliptical bifaces (m/e < 2.35, Protolimandes).
Many specimens defeat objective classification. Bordes created a group he called "non-classic bifaces" to which mathematical indexes do not apply.
Some authors count them as cleavers Bordes 1961, p. 63, which J. Chavaillon does not agree with; the carving technique used to create a biface is not in any way similar to the manufacturing process for cleavers— Alimen
The multi-use capability of a biface, including this type, conflicts with the technological simplicity of a cleaver, even though their morphology and function may be similar.
A knapping so incomplete, but so careful, added to the morphology of the core, allows us to talk of a finished hand axe, that was not worked more because it was not necessary, thereby saving energy.— Benito del Rey y Benito Álvarez
Hand axes constitute an important group artefacts from the Acheulean. They are particularly important in open air archaeological sites (Keelley suggested that they are less common in cave sites). Hand axes, chopping tools and trihedral picks are considered core utensils, which were commonly manufactured out of stones, blocks or rock nodules. However this grouping is problematic as these tools were often also fabricated from (large) flakes. Another common suggestion is to refer to flake tools as micro industry, as opposed to the more general size referred to as macro industry, which includes hand axes and cleavers. However, some scrapers are as big as hand axes.
Another group of tools commonly associated with hand axes is the biface leafpoint tools from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic in the Old World. The difference between the two types is based on the latter's fine, light finishing with a soft hammer and in a morphology that suggests a specific function, possibly as the point of a projectile or a knife. Representatives of these tools include well known examples from the specialized literature:
The term leaf piece should be prefixed to leaf point, as many of them are not pointed. They have been found sporadically in a number of Mousterian sites in France, but they are most common in central European Mousterian sites and African sites from the end of the Aterian— Bordes
|Central European blattspitzen||Aterian leafpoint piece||Stillbay leafpoint piece||Leafpoint piece, S'baikia, Algeria|
The hand axe helped establish that early humans were capable of constructing relatively sophisticated tools that also reflected a sense of aesthetics. The 19th century publications of Frere, and more importantly of Boucher de Perthes, in France, described pieces that were balanced, symmetrical and crafted with a formal purity. Vilanova i Piera published similar works in Spain. This work was continued by Pérez de Barradas and del Prado at the start of the 20th Century.
Art passed through a long formative period before becoming beautiful; but this does not mean that it ever stopped being a sincere and grandiose art, sometime more sincere and grandiose than beautiful; in mankind there is a creative nature that is manifested as soon as its existence is assured. When he was not worried or fearful, this demigod acting in tranquillity, found the material in his surroundings to breathe life into his spirit.
As Leroi-Gourhan explained, it is important to ask what was understood of art at the time, considering the psychologies of non-modern humans. Archaeological records documenting rapid progress towards symmetry and balance surprised Leroi-Gourha. He felt that he could recognize beauty in early prehistoric tools made during the Acheulean:
It seems difficult to admit that these beings did not experience a certain aesthetic satisfaction, they were excellent craftsmen that knew how to choose their material, repair defects, orient cracks with total precision, drawing out a form from a crude flint core that corresponded exactly to their desire. Their work was not automatic or guided by a series of actions in strict order, they were able to mobilize in each moment reflection and, of course, the pleasure of creating a beautiful object.— Leroi-Gourhan
Many authors refer only to exceptional pieces. The majority of hand axes tended to symmetry, but lack artistic appeal. Generally, only the most striking pieces are considered, mainly 19th or early 20th century collections. At that time a lack of knowledge regarding prehistoric technology prevented a recognition of human actions in these objects. Other collections were made by aficionados, whose interests were not scientific, so that they collected only objects they considered to be outstanding, abandoning humbler elements that were sometimes necessary to interpret an archaeological site. Exceptions include sites methodically studied by experts where magnificently carved, abundant hand axes caused archaeologists to express admiration for the artists:
Such is the perfection of the carving on some hand axes that they give the impression that the artist took great pleasure in them per se, at least apparently, as the working does not make the pieces any more efficient. At any rate, we are unable to pronounce from this remove whether it was art or the utility of the hand axe that was being sought by making them so well. Although, in our heart of hearts we are sure that they were searching for beauty, aesthetics, as they could have achieved the same efficiency with cruder pieces.
The discovery in 1998 of an oval hand axe of excellent workmanship in the Sima de los Huesos in the Atapuerca Mountains mixed in with the fossil remains of Homo heidelbergensis reignited this controversy. Given that this is the only lithic remnant from this section of the site (possibly a burial ground), combined with the piece's qualities led it to receive special treatment, it was even baptized Excalibur and it became a star item. However, the symbolic meaning of this example in particular, and hand axes in general, has multiplied in recent years, feeding both scientific and more general debate and literature.
Basch offered this counterargument:
Art is always the same, it is only possible to call someone an artist if they know how to create, within objective limits, the equivalent of the numinous complex experienced individually and expressed in a suitable manner in relation to the society in which the artist lives. In this was it is possible to distinguish an essentially artistic piece from a useful tool, although this may also be beautiful. When a prehistoric man was able to achieve the marvels that are the Acheulean axes, he did not make a work of art; nor did he make a work of art when he used his skill and experience to make a house or adapt rock shelters or caves for living or sanctuary.— Martín Almagro
Paradoxically, within the wide range of Acheulean objects, hand axes are one of the simplest tools. They do not require as much planning as other types of object, generally made from flakes, that are less striking but more sophisticated.
Archaeologists have evidence of hand axes that are 1.2 million years old in Melka Kunturé (Ethiopia), but the oldest, from Konso-Gardula, could be 1.9 million years old: Although it is now known that they are the heritage of a number of human species, with Homo ergaster the earliest, up until 1954 no solid evidence indicated who had fabricated hand axes: in that year, in Ternifine, Algeria, Arambourg discovered remains that he called "Atlanthropus", along with some hand axes. All the species associated with hand axes (from H. ergaster to H. neanderthalensis) show an advanced intelligence that in some cases is accompanied by modern features such as a relatively sophisticated technology, systems to protect against inclement weather (huts, control of fire, clothing), and certain signs of spiritual awareness (early indications of art such as adorning the body, carving of bones, ritual treatment of bodies, articulated language).
Acheulean (; also Acheulian and Mode II), from the French acheuléen after the type site of Saint-Acheul, 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, East 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.
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.Axe
An axe (sometimes ax in American English; see spelling differences) is an implement that has been used for millennia to shape, split and cut wood, to harvest timber, as a weapon, and as a ceremonial or heraldic symbol. The axe has many forms and specialised uses but generally consists of an axe head with a handle, or helve.
Before the modern axe, the stone-age hand axe was used from 1.5 million years BP without a handle. It was later fastened to a wooden handle. The earliest examples of handled axes have heads of stone with some form of wooden handle attached (hafted) in a method to suit the available materials and use. Axes made of copper, bronze, iron and steel appeared as these technologies developed. Axes are usually composed of a head and a handle.
The axe is an example of a simple machine, as it is a type of wedge, or dual inclined plane. This reduces the effort needed by the wood chopper. It splits the wood into two parts by the pressure concentration at the blade. The handle of the axe also acts as a lever allowing the user to increase the force at the cutting edge—not using the full length of the handle is known as choking the axe. For fine chopping using a side axe this sometimes is a positive effect, but for felling with a double bitted axe it reduces efficiency.
Generally, cutting axes have a shallow wedge angle, whereas splitting axes have a deeper angle. Most axes are double bevelled, i.e. symmetrical about the axis of the blade, but some specialist broadaxes have a single bevel blade, and usually an offset handle that allows them to be used for finishing work without putting the user's knuckles at risk of injury. Less common today, they were once an integral part of a joiner and carpenter's tool kit, not just a tool for use in forestry. A tool of similar origin is the billhook.
Most modern axes have steel heads and wooden handles, typically hickory in the US and ash in Europe and Asia, although plastic or fibreglass handles are also common. Modern axes are specialised by use, size and form. Hafted axes with short handles designed for use with one hand are often called hand axes but the term hand axe refers to axes without handles as well. Hatchets tend to be small hafted axes often with a hammer on the back side (the poll). As easy-to-make weapons, axes have frequently been used in combat.Boneland
Boneland is a 2012 novel by Alan Garner, a sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. The boy Colin from the earlier novels is now an adult, still living near the top of Alderley Edge but now a Professor working at the nearby Jodrell Bank Observatory. His solitary home is a kit-built hut ("A Bergli") in a quarry. He has a form of amnesia which means he remembers nothing from before the age of 13, including his twin sister and his childhood adventures. He visits a psychotherapist and the gradual uncovering of his past forms the main story.
Interleaved with Colin's tale is another story set in the same part of England but at a distant time. A lone Stone-Age cave dweller leaves "Ludcruck" (the chasm of Ludchurch) in search of companionship.
Garner says that the focus of his research for the book was "the universal myth of the sleeping hero". He has written his own experience of psychotherapy into the novel. "Go to the pain," he was told by his therapist, "go to where it hurts the most, and say whatever it tells you". An important item towards the end of the book is a Lower Palaeolithic hand axe. Garner keeps such an axe in his study, although his is from the Acheulean culture while the one in the book is from the even older Abbevillian culture.Chelleo-Acheulean
The Chelleo-Acheulean is a Palaeolithic stone tool industry that marks a transitional stage between the Chellean (Abbevillian or Oldowan) and the Acheulean. Louis Leakey identified eleven stages of development in the Chelleo-Acheulean "hand axe culture" in Africa.Chopper (archaeology)
Archaeologists define a chopper as a pebble tool with an irregular cutting edge formed through the removal of flakes from one side of a stone.
Choppers are crude forms of stone tool and are found in industries as early as the Lower Palaeolithic from around 2.5 million years ago. These earliest known specimens were found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania by Louis Leakey in the 1930s. The name Oldowan was given to the tools after the site in which they were excavated. These types of tools were used an estimated time range of 2.5 to 1.2 million years ago.Clearbury Ring
Clearbury Ring is a univallate Iron Age hillfort which is partly in the parish of Downton in the county of Wiltshire in southwest England, approximately 5 kilometres (3 mi) due south of Salisbury city centre. The site, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, straddles the boundary with Odstock parish, and a slight scarp runs across the interior of the fort, marking the parish boundary.The fort occupies a prominent hilltop overlooking the valley of the River Avon, at an altitude of 142 metres (466 ft) above mean sea level. The hillfort is immediately adjacent to the Clearbury Down Site of Special Scientific Interest, but is not included within it.Clearbury Ring encloses an area of approximately 2 hectares (4.9 acres); the rampart is well preserved and consisted of a single bank with a ditch outside it. The fort had a single entrance on the northwest side, consisting simply of a 10-metre (33 ft) wide gap with a causeway across the ditch. Traces of a quarry are evident within the fort's interior. The fort is overgrown with tree cover. In 1632, Clearbury Ring was recorded as Clereburu. A paleolithic hand axe was found here.To the southwest of the fort are the remains of a lynchet, consisting of a steep 2-metre (6 ft 7 in) high scarp that runs parallel to the fort's defences. Two other lynchets have been identified near the fort, although they are not as well-preserved, together with faint traces of ancient field boundaries.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.Flint axe
A flint axe was a Flint tool used during prehistoric times to perform a variety of tasks. These were at first just a cut piece of flint stone used as a hand axe but later wooden handles were attached to these axe heads. The stone exhibits a glass-like fracture similar to obsidian, and can be knapped to form large blades. The offcuts were sharp enough to be used a small flint knives, while the larger parts of a knapped nodule could be polished to form an axe-head. They competed with other hard rocks such as greenstone, which were produced at Langdale in the British Lake District and got larger as working continued. They tend to be larger and heavier than the simple axes, and are sometimes known as axe-hammers.
There are many different types of flint axes. A specific one that appeared during the Early Stone Age was the core axe. This is an unpolished flint axe that is roughly hewn. The cutting edge is usually the widest part and has a pointed butt. Flake axes are created from the chips from the core axe.Gray's Inn Lane Hand Axe
The Gray's Inn Lane Hand Axe is a pointed flint hand axe, found buried in gravel under Gray's Inn Lane, London, England, by pioneering archaeologist John Conyers in 1679, and now in the British Museum. The hand axe is a fine example from about 350,000 years ago, in the Lower Paleolithic period, but its main significance lies in the role it and the circumstances of its excavation played in the emerging understanding of early human history.Hatchet
A hatchet (from the Old French hachete, a diminutive form of hache, 'axe' of Germanic origin) is a single-handed striking tool with a sharp blade on one side used to cut and split wood, and a hammer head on the other side. Hatchets may also be used for hewing when making flattened surfaces on logs; when the hatchet head is optimized for this purpose it is called a broadaxe.A hatchet is a type of hand axe; a small axe meant to be used with one hand.Hatchets have a variety of uses, such as tasks normally done by a pocket knife when one is not present. The hatchet can also be used to create a fire through sparks and friction. Hatchet throwing is increasing in popularity.Burying the hatchet has become a phrase meaning to make peace, due to the Native American tradition of hiding or putting away a tomahawk when a peace agreement was made.
Hachet was used to describe a battle-axe in Middle English.Izba
An izba (Russian: изба́, IPA: [ɪzˈba] (listen)) is a traditional Russian countryside dwelling. Often a log house, it forms the living quarters of a conventional Russian farmstead. It is generally built close to the road and inside a yard, which also encloses a kitchen garden, hay shed, and barn within a simple woven stick fence. Traditional, old-style izba construction involved the use of simple tools, such as ropes, axes, knives, and spades. Nails were not generally used, as metal was relatively expensive, and neither were saws a common construction tool. Both interior and exterior are of split pine tree trunks, the gap between is traditionally filled with river clay, not unlike the North American log cabin.
The dominant building material of Russian vernacular architecture, and material culture generally, for centuries was wood. Specifically houses were made from locally-cut rough-hewn logs, with little or no stone, metal, or glass. Even churches and urban buildings were primarily wooden until the eighteenth century.All of the building's components were simply cut and fitted together using a hand axe. Coins, wool, and frankincense were customarily placed beneath the corners of the house as an expression of the superstition that doing this would make the people living there healthy and wealthy.
From the fifteenth century on, the central element of the interior of izba was the Russian stove, which could occupy up to one quarter of the floorspace in smaller dwellings. Often there were no beds (in the Western sense) for many members of the household, as people would sleep directly on the plaster top of the oven, or on shelves built directly above the stove.The outside of izbas were often embellished by various special architectural features, for example the rich wood carving decoration of windows. Such decorative elements and the use of the Russian stove are still commonly found in many modern Russian countryside houses, even though only the older wooden houses are called izbas today.
An alternative word for "izba" in Russian is khata (хата), which is the word in most Slavic languages for any cottage or small house (including Belarusian and Ukrainian). According to historian of Russia Geoffrey Hosking, starting in the eighteenth century khata was used in to refer to cottages on the tree-poor southern steppes which used logs only for the framing, and then used wattle-and-daub as infill covered with a plaster and whitewash exterior. However, generally this wattle-and-daub house is called "mazanka" (мазанка) and "khata" is not necessarily a "mazanka".
"Izba" is also the Bulgarian and Croatian word for "cellar", as in wine cellar or a basement used for storing foodstuffs treated to last a long time in general. In several other Slavic languages, izba is a generic term for a room inside a house (the term is used specifically for habitable rooms).Kibbanahalli
Kibbanahalli is a village in the Tiptur taluk of Tumkur district in Karnataka state, India.
Kibbanahalli is a pre-historic site. Archaeologists believe that this site along with Biligere belong to the Early stone age. Hand-axe, guillotine chisels and many other Palaeolithic specimens found in the region are kept in the museum of the Geology Department of the Central College, Bangalore.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.Lynford Quarry
Lynford Quarry is the location of a well-preserved in-situ Middle Palaeolithic open-air site near Mundford, Norfolk.
The site, which dates to approximately 60,000 years ago, is believed to show evidence of hunting by Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis). The finds include the in-situ remains of at least nine woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), associated with Mousterian stone tools and debitage. The artefactual, faunal and environmental evidence were sealed within a Middle Devensian palaeochannel with a dark organic fill. Well preserved in-situ sites of the time are exceedingly rare in Europe and very unusual within a British context.The site also produced rhinoceros teeth, antlers, as well as other faunal evidence. The stone tools on the site numbered 600, made up of individual artefacts or waste flakes. Particularly interesting were the 44 hand axes of sub-triangular or ovate form.The site was dated to Marine Isotope Stage 3 using Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating of the sand from the two layers of deposits within the channel.Machine
A machine (or mechanical device) is a mechanical structure that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an intended action. Machines can be driven by animals and people, by natural forces such as wind and water, and by chemical, thermal, or electrical power, and include a system of mechanisms that shape the actuator input to achieve a specific application of output forces and movement. They can also include computers and sensors that monitor performance and plan movement, often called mechanical systems.
Renaissance natural philosophers identified six simple machines which were the elementary devices that put a load into motion, and calculated the ratio of output force to input force, known today as mechanical advantage.Modern machines are complex systems that consist of structural elements, mechanisms and control components and include interfaces for convenient use. Examples include a wide range of vehicles, such as automobiles, boats and airplanes, appliances in the home and office, including computers, building air handling and water handling systems, as well as farm machinery, machine tools and factory automation systems and robots.Maldon Cutting
Maldon Cutting is a 0.1 hectare geological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Maldon in Essex. It is a Geological Conservation Review site.The site is a former railway cutting which is the type locality for the Maldon Till, which dates to the Pleistocene ice age. It was previously thought to represent a separate advance of the ice sheet, but in the light of later work it was concluded that it is an outlier of the till which covers much of central and northern Essex. Finds include a flint hand axe.The overgrown site is on private land with no public access.Saltley handaxe
The Saltley handaxe is a quartzite hand axe found in the gravels of the valley of the River Rea in the Saltley area of Birmingham, England in 1890. Believed to be approximately 500,000 years old, it was the first human artefact from the paleolithic era found in the English Midlands, which had previously been considered not to have been inhabited before the end of the last glacial period.The axe is approximately 100mm long and was formed from a brown piece of quartzite. It would have been used by members of the pre-human species Homo heidelbergensis, but its rounded edges and manufacture from a material not present locally suggest that it was not found in situ, but was transported to its find site by the action of glacial meltwater. The find was documented and illustrated by the archaeologist John Evans in his book Ancient Stone Implements of Britain in 1897, who commented that "the question now arises whether the assumed absence of Palaeolithic implements over this area may not be due to their not having yet been found, and not to their non-existence".It is now in the collection of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.Wedge
A wedge is a triangular shaped tool, and is a portable inclined plane, and one of the six classical simple machines. It can be used to separate two objects or portions of an object, lift up an object, or hold an object in place. It functions by converting a force applied to its blunt end into forces perpendicular (normal) to its inclined surfaces. The mechanical advantage of a wedge is given by the ratio of the length of its slope to its width. Although a short wedge with a wide angle may do a job faster, it requires more force than a long wedge with a narrow angle.Xun Lei Chong
The xun lei chong (simplified Chinese: 迅雷铳; traditional Chinese: 迅雷銃; literally: 'Thundering fast firearm') is a revolving, spear combined musket invented by Zhao Shi-zhen (趙士禎) during the Ming dynasty.For Zhao Shi-Zhen's radical design, he connected five thin gun barrels behind a reinforced shield: like the five thunder divine machine the gunner could rotate the fuse 72 degrees and swiftly light each barrel with his match. These weapons would serve as defensive weapons and be fired from walls or high positions like hillocks and ridges. They were recorded to be deadly at 120 paces.
The central firing device is actually a combination of a detachable spear + five tubings + a firing mechanism, fitted together with interlocking grooves. The shield could be pulled off from the front and slung on the hand, the gun's rest is actually a double sided hand axe.