The Oldowan (or Mode I) was a 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 Hominin (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).[1] It is not clear if the Lomekwian industry bears any relation to the Oldowan.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4][5] 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).[6] Oldowan tools are sometimes called "pebble tools", so named because the blanks chosen for their production already resemble, in pebble form, the final product.[7]

It is not known for sure which hominin species created and used Oldowan tools. Its emergence is often associated with the species Australopithecus garhi[8] 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.[9]

Canto tallado 2-Guelmim-Es Semara
Geographical rangeAfro-Eurasia
PeriodLower Paleolithic
Dates2.6 million years BP – 1.7 million years BP
Major sitesOlduvai Gorge
Preceded byLomekwian
Followed byAcheulean, Riwat

Dates and ranges

The oldest known Oldowan tools have been found in Gona, Ethiopia, and are dated to about 2.6 mya.[10]

The use of tools by apes including chimpanzees[11] and orangutans[12] can be used to argue in favour of tool-use as an ancestral feature of the hominin family.[13] Tools made from bone, wood, or other organic materials were therefore in all probability used before the Oldowan.[14] Oldowan stone tools are simply the oldest recognisable tools which have been preserved in the archaeological record.

There is a flourishing of Oldowan tools in eastern Africa, spreading to southern Africa, between 2.4 and 1.7 mya. At 1.7 mya., the first Acheulean tools appear even as Oldowan assemblages continue to be produced. Both technologies are occasionally found in the same areas, dating to the same time periods. This realisation required a rethinking of old cultural sequences in which the more "advanced" Acheulean was supposed to have succeeded the Oldowan. The different traditions may have been used by different species of hominins living in the same area, or multiple techniques may have been used by an individual species in response to different circumstances.

Sometime before 1.8 mya Homo erectus had spread outside of Africa, reaching as far east as Java by 1.8 mya[15] and in Northern China by 1.66 mya.[16] In these newly colonised areas, no Acheulean assemblages have been found. In China, only "Mode 1" Oldowan assemblages were produced, while in Indonesia stone tools from this age are unknown.

By 1.8 mya early Homo was present in Europe, as shown by the discovery of fossil remains and Oldowan tools in Dmanisi, Georgia.[17] Remains of their activities have also been excavated in Spain at sites in the Guadix-Baza basin[18] and near Atapuerca.[19] Most early European sites yield "Mode 1" or Oldowan assemblages. The earliest Acheulean sites in Europe only appear around 0.5 mya. In addition, the Acheulean tradition does not seem to spread to Eastern Asia.[20] It is unclear from the archaeological record when the production of Oldowan technologies ended. Other tool-making traditions seem to have supplanted Oldowan technologies by 0.25 mya.



To obtain an Oldowan tool, a roughly spherical hammerstone is struck on the edge, or striking platform, of a suitable core rock to produce a conchoidal fracture with sharp edges useful for various purposes. The process is often called lithic reduction. The chip removed by the blow is the flake. Below the point of impact on the core is a characteristic bulb with fine fissures on the fracture surface. The flake evidences ripple marks.

The materials of the tools were for the most part quartz, quartzite, basalt, or obsidian, and later flint and chert. Any rock that can hold an edge will do. The main source of these rocks is river cobbles, which provide both hammer stones and striking platforms. The earliest tools were simply split cobbles. It is not always clear which is the flake. Later tool-makers clearly identified and reworked flakes. Complaints that artifacts could not be distinguished from naturally fractured stone have helped spark careful studies of Oldowon techniques. These techniques have now been duplicated many times by archaeologists and other knappers, making misidentification of archaeological finds less likely.

Use of bone tools by hominins also producing Oldowan tools is known from Swartkrans, where a bone shaft with a polished point was discovered in Member (layer) I, dated 1.8–1.5 mya. The Osteodontokeratic industry, the "bone-tooth-horn" industry hypothesized by Raymond Dart, is less certain.

Shapes and uses

Oldowan tradition chopper
Oldowan-tradition stone chopper.

Mary Leakey classified the Oldowan tools as Heavy Duty, Light Duty, Utilized Pieces and Debitage, or waste.[21] Heavy-duty tools are mainly cores. A chopper has an edge on one side. It is unifacial if the edge was created by flaking on one face of the core, or bifacial if on two. Discoid tools are roughly circular with a peripheral edge. Polyhedral tools are edged in the shape of a polyhedron. In addition there are spheroidal hammer stones.

Light-duty tools are mainly flakes. There are scrapers, awls (with points for boring) and burins (with points for engraving). Some of these functions belong also to heavy-duty tools. For example, there are heavy-duty scrapers.

Utilized pieces are tools that began with one purpose in mind but were utilized opportunistically.

Oldowan tools were probably used for many purposes, which have been discovered from observation of modern apes and hunter-gatherers. Nuts and bones are cracked by hitting them with hammer stones on a stone used as an anvil. Battered and pitted stones testify to this possible use.

Heavy-duty tools could be used as axes for woodworking. Both choppers and large flakes were probably used for this purpose. Once a branch was separated, it could be scraped clean with a scraper, or hollowed with pointed tools. Such uses are attested by characteristic microscopic alterations of edges used to scrape wood. Oldowan tools could also have been used for preparing hides. Hides must be cut by slicing, piercing and scraping them clean of residues. Flakes are most suitable for this purpose.

Lawrence Keeley, following in the footsteps of Sergei Semenov, conducted microscopic studies (with a high-powered optical microscope) on the edges of tools manufactured de novo and used for the originally speculative purposes described above. He found that the marks were characteristic of the use and matched marks on prehistoric tools. Studies of the cut marks on bones using an electron microscope produce a similar result.


Abbevillian is a currently obsolescent name for a tool tradition that is increasingly coming to be called Oldowan. The label Abbevillian prevailed until the Leakey family discovered older (yet similar) artifacts at Olduvai Gorge (a.k.a. Oldupai Gorge) and promoted the African origin of man. Oldowan soon replaced Abbevillian in describing African and Asian lithics. The term Abbevillian is still used but is now restricted to Europe. The label, however, continues to lose popularity as a scientific designation.

In the late 20th century, discovery of the discrepancies in date caused a crisis of definition. If Abbevillian did not necessarily precede Acheulean and both traditions had flakes and bifaces, how was the difference to be defined? It was in this spirit that many artifacts formerly considered Abbevillian were labeled Acheulean. In consideration of the difficulty, some preferred to name both phases Acheulean. When the topic of Abbevillian came up, it was simply put down as a phase of Acheulean. Whatever was from Africa was Oldowan, and whatever from Europe, Acheulean.

The solution to the definition problem is stated in the article on Acheulean. The difference is to be defined in terms of complexity. Simply struck tools are Oldowan. Retouched, or reworked tools are Acheulean. Retouching is a second working of the artifact. The manufacturer first creates an Oldowan tool. Then he reworks or retouches the edges by removing very small chips so as to straighten and sharpen the edge. Typically but not necessarily the reworking is accomplished by pressure flaking.

The pictures in the introduction to this article are mainly labeled Acheulean, but this is the now false Acheulean, which also includes Abbevillian. The artifacts shown are clearly in the Oldowan tradition. One or two of the more complex bifaces may have edges made straighter by a large percussion or two, but there is no sign of pressure flaking as depicted. The pictures included with this subsection show the difference.

Tool users

Current anthropological thinking is that Oldowan tools were made by late Australopithecus and early Homo. Homo habilis was named "skillful" because it was considered the earliest tool-using human ancestor. Indeed, the genus Homo was in origin intended to separate tool-using species from their tool-less predecessors, hence the name of Australopithecus garhi, garhi meaning "surprise", a tool-using Australopithecine discovered in 1996 and described as the "missing link" between the Australopithecus and Homo genera. There is also evidence that some species of Paranthropus utilized stone tools.[22]

Artistic interpretation of a female member of the Australopithecus genus. The emergence of Oldowan tools is often associated with the species Australopithecus garhi.[8]

There is presently no evidence to show that Oldowan tools were the sole creation of members of the Homo line or that the ability to produce them was a special characteristic of only our ancestors. Research on tool use by modern wild chimpanzees in West Africa shows there is an operational sequence when chimpanzees use lithic implements to crack nuts. In the course of nut cracking, sometimes they will create unintentional flakes. Although the morphology of chimpanzees' hammer is different from Oldowan hammer, chimpanzees' ability to use stone tools indicates that the earliest lithic industries were probably not produced by only one kind of hominin species.[23]

The makers of Oldowan tools were mainly right-handed.[24] "Handedness" (lateralization) had thus already evolved, though it is not clear how related to modern lateralization it was, since other animals show handedness as well.

In the mid-1970s, Glynn Isaac touched off a debate by proposing that human ancestors of this period had a "place of origin" and that they foraged outward from this home base, returning with high-quality food to share and to be processed. Over the course of the last 30 years, a variety of competing theories about how foraging occurred have been proposed, each one implying certain kinds of social strategy. The available evidence from the distribution of tools and remains is not enough to decide which theories are the most probable. However, three main groups of theories predominate.

  • Glynn Isaac's model became the Central Forage Point, as he responded to critics that accused him of attributing too much "modern" behavior to early hominins with relatively free-form searches outward.
  • A second group of models took modern chimpanzee behavior as a starting point, having the hominids use relatively fixed routes of foraging, and leaving tools where it was best to do so on a constant track.
  • A third group of theories had relatively loose bands scouring the range, taking care to move carcasses from dangerous death sites and leaving tools more or less at random.

Each group of models implies different grouping and social strategies, from the relative altruism of central base models to the relatively disjointed search models. (See also central foraging theory and Lewis Binford)

Hominins probably lived in social groups that had contact with others. This conclusion is supported by the large number of bones at many sites, too large to be the work of one individual, and all of the scatter patterns implying many different individuals. Since modern primates in Africa have fluid boundaries between groups, as individuals enter, become the focus of bands, and others leave, it is also probable that the tools we find are the result of many overlapping groups working the same territories, and perhaps competing over them. Because of the huge expanse of time and the multiplicity of species associated with possible Oldowan tools, it is difficult to be more precise than this, since it is almost certain that different social groupings were used at different times and in different places.

There is also the question of what mix of hunting, gathering and scavenging the tool users employed. Early models focused on the tool users as hunters. The animals butchered by the tools include waterbuck, hartebeest, springbok, pig and zebra. However, the disposition of the bones allows some question about hominin methods of obtaining meat. That they were omnivores is unquestioned, as the digging implement and the probable use of hammer stones to smash nuts indicate. Lewis Binford first noticed that the bones at Olduvai contained a disproportionately high incidence of extremities, which are low in food substance. He concluded other predators had taken the best meat, and the hominins had only scavenged. The counter view is that while hunting many large animals would be beyond the reach of an individual human, groups could bring down larger game, as pack hunting animals are capable of doing. Moreover, since many animals both hunt and scavenge, it is possible that hominins hunted smaller animals, but were not above driving carnivores from larger kills, as they probably were driven from kills themselves from time to time.

Sites and archaeologists

A complete catalog of Oldowan sites would be too extensive for listing here. Some of the better-known sites include the following:



Pierre taillée Melka Kunture Éthiopie fond
Oldowan choppers dating to 1.7 million years BP, from Melka Kunture, Ethiopia

Sites in the Gona river system in the Hadar region of the Afar triangle, excavated by Helene Roche, J. W. Harris and Sileshi Semaw, yielded some of the oldest known Oldowan assemblages, dating to about 2.6 million years ago. Raw material analysis done by Semaw showed that some assemblages in this region are biased towards a certain material (e.g.: 70% of the artifacts at sites EG10 and EG12 were composed of trachyte) indicating a selectivity in the quality of stone used.[25] Recent excavations have yielded tools in association with cut-marked bones, indicating that Oldowan were used in meat-processing or -acquiring activities.

The second oldest known Oldowan tool site comes from the Shungura formation of the Omo River basin. This formation documents the sediments of the Plio-Pleistocene and provides a record of the hominins that lived there. Lithic assemblages have been classified as Oldowan in members E and F in the lower Omo basin. Although there have been lithic assemblages found in multiple sites in these areas, only the Omo sites 57 and 123 in member F are accepted as hominin lithic remains. The assemblages at Omo sites 71 and 84 in member E do not show evidence of hominin modification and are therefore classified as natural assemblages.[26]

The tools are never found in direct association with the hominins, but archaeologists believe that they would be the strongest candidates for tool manufacture. There are no hominins in those layers, but the same layers elsewhere in the Omo valley contain Paranthropus and early Homo fossils. Paranthropus occurs in the preceding layers. In the last layer at 1.4 million years ago is only Homo erectus.


Along the Nile River, within the 100-foot terrace, evidence of Chellean or Oldowan cultures has been found.[27]


In November 2018 Science published a report of Oldowan artefacts in a secure dating context of 1.9 to 2.4 million years from four levels in the foothills of the Atlas mountains near the Algerian coast. [28]


Kanjera South, part of the Kanjera site complex, is located on the Homa Peninsula.[29] The site is estimated around 2 million years old.[30] One of the significant excavations, in the area, is Leakey’s expedition in 1932-35.[29] In 1995, Oldowan and Plio-Pleistocene faunal remains surfaced from the site.[29] There has been fieldwork to understand the geochronology of Kanjera.[29]

The numerous Koobi Fora sites on the east side of Lake Turkana are now part of Sibiloi National Park. Sites were initially excavated by Richard Leakey, Meave Leakey, Jack Harris, Glynn Isaac and others. Currently the artifacts found are classified as Oldowan or KBS Oldowan dated from 1.9–1.7 mya, Karari (or "advanced Oldowan") dated to 1.6–1.4 mya, and some early Acheulean at the end of the Karari. Over 200 hominins have been found, including Australopithecus and Homo.


Olduvai Chopper
Chopper from Olduvai Gorge, some 1.8 million years old

The Oldowan industry is named after discoveries made in the Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania in east Africa by the Leakey family, primarily Mary Leakey, but also her husband Louis and their son, Richard. Mary Leakey organized a typology of Early Pleistocene stone tools, which developed Oldowan tools into three chronological variants, A, B and C.[31] Developed Oldowan B is of particular interest due to changes in morphology that appear to have been driven mostly by the short term availability of a chert resource from 1.65 mya to 1.53 mya. The flaking properties of this new resource resulted in considerably more core reduction and a higher prevalence of flake retouch.[32] Similar tools had already been found in various locations in Europe and Asia for some time, where they were called Chellean and Abbevillian.

The oldest tool sites are in the East African Rift system, on the sediments of ancient streams and lakes. This is consistent with what we surmise of the evolution of man. Genetic studies tell us that the human line (the hominins) possibly diverged from the chimpanzee line (the hominids), and the native territory of the latter is the forests of Central Africa nearby. Fossil chimpanzees have been found in Kenya.

The forests of central and western Africa are a stable environment containing food in abundance for animals such as chimpanzees, and any species living in such an environment would have been under little pressure to evolve further. Eastern Africa is a land of often harsh and unstable environments, and resources are correspondingly scarcer and more difficult to get. Species living in the latter environment would be under greater pressure to evolve and change as needed to survive. A facility for tool-using would contribute to the species' chances of survival.

Even though Olduvai Gorge is the type site, Oldowan tools from here are not the oldest known examples. They occur in Beds I–IV. Bed I, dated 1.85 mya to 1.7 mya, contains Oldowan and fossils of Paranthropus boisei as well as Homo habilis, as does Bed II, 1.7–1.2 mya. H. habilis gives way to Homo erectus at about 1.6 mya but P. boisei goes on. Oldowan continues to Bed IV at 800,000 to 600,000 before present (BP).

South Africa

Abbé Breuil was the first recognized archaeologist to go on record to assert the existence of Oldowan tools. While his description was for "Chello-Abbevillean" tools, and post-dated Leakey's finds at Olduvai Gorge by at least ten years, his descriptions nonetheless represented the scholarly acceptance of this technology as legitimate. These findings were cited as being from the location of the Vaal River, at Vereeniging, and Breuil noted the distinct absence of a significant number of cores, suggesting a "portable culture". At the time, this was considered very significant, as portability supported the conclusion that the Oldowan tool-makers were capable of planning for future needs, by creating the tools in a location which was distant from their use.[33]

The Swartkrans site is a cave filled with layered fossil-bearing limestone deposits. Oldowan is found in Members (layers) I–III, 1.8–.5 mya, in association with Paranthropus robustus and Homo habilis. The Member I assemblage also includes a shaft of pointed bone polished at the pointed end.

Member I contained a high percentage of primate remains compared to other animal remains, which did not fit the hypothesis that H. habilis or P. robustus lived in the cave. C. K. Brain conducted a more detailed study and discovered the cave had been the abode of leopards, who preyed on the hominins.[34]

Another site of limestone caves is Sterkfontein, found in South Africa. This site contains a large number of not only Oldowan tools, but also early Acheulean technology. [35]



Dmanisi stone tool 1
Stone tool (Oldowan style) from Dmanisi paleontological site (right, 1.8 mya, replica), to be compared with the more "modern" Acheulean style (left)

In 1999 and 2002, two Homo erectus skulls (H. georgicus) were discovered at Dmanisi in southern Georgia. The archaeological layer in which the human remains, hundreds of Oldowan stone tools, and numerous animal bones were unearthed is dated approximately 1.6-1.8 million years ago. The site yields the earliest unequivocal evidence for presence of early humans outside the African continent.[36]


At Kozarnika, in the ground layers, dated to 1.4-1.6 Ma, archaeologists have discovered a human molar tooth, lower palaeolithic assemblages that belong to a core-and-flake non-Acheulian industry and incised bones that may be the earliest example of human symbolic behaviour.


Ainikab-1 and Muhkay-2 (North Caucasus, Daghestan) are the extraordinary sites in relation to date and the culture. Geological and geomorphological data, palynological studies and paleomagnetic testing unequivocally point to Early Pleistocene (Eopleistocene), indicating the age of the sites as being within the range of 1.8 – 1.2 Ma.[37][38]


Bifaz abbevillense
Extremely archaic handaxe from the Quaternary fluvial terraces of Duero river (Valladolid, Spain) dated to Oldowan/Abbevillian period (Lower Paleolithic).
Hand axe spanish
Typical Acheulean handaxe with tear form, from a superficial site in the Zamora province (Spain), in the Duero river.

Oldowan tools have been found at the following sites: Fuente Nueva 3, Barranco del Leon, Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca TD 6.


Oldowan tools have been found at: Lézignan-la-Cèbe, 1.5 mya; Abbeville, 1–.5 mya; Vallonnet cave, French Riviera; Soleihac, open-air site in Massif Central. Oldowan tools have also been found at Tautavel in the foothills of the Pyrenees. These were discovered by Henry de Lumbley alongside human remains (cranium). The tools are of limestone and quartz.


Oldowan tools have been found in Italy at the Monte Poggiolo open air site dated to approximately 850 kya, making them the oldest evidence of human habitation in Italy. In Germany tools have been found in river gravels at Kärlich dating from 300 kya. In the Czech Republic tools have been found in ancient lake deposits at Przeletice and a cave site at Stranska Skala, dated no later than 500 kya. In Hungary tools have been found at a spring site at Vértesszőlős dating from 500 kya.


Oldowan tools have been found at sites in South Asia and Southwest Asia. In November 2008 tens of sites of Oldowan tools industry were found on the island of Socotra (Yemen).[39][40][41]

In Pakistan tools have been found dating from 1.9 mya at Riwat. In Iran tools have been found dating from the Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene at Kashafrud. In Israel tools have been found dating from 1.4 mya at el 'Ubeidiya.


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External links

Coordinates: 36°12′03″N 5°39′16″E / 36.2009°N 5.6544°E


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.


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.


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.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.


An eolith (from Greek "eos", dawn, and "lithos", stone) is a chipped flint nodule. Eoliths were once thought to have been artifacts, the earliest stone tools, but are now believed to be geofacts (stone fragments produced by fully natural geological processes such as glaciation).

The first eoliths were collected in Kent by Benjamin Harrison, an amateur naturalist and archaeologist, in 1885 (though the name "eolith" wasn't coined until 1892, by J. Allen Browne). Harrison's discoveries were published by Sir Joseph Prestwich in 1891, and eoliths were generally accepted to have been crudely made tools, dating from the Pliocene. Further discoveries of eoliths in the early 20th century – in East Anglia by J. Reid Moir and in continental Europe by Aimé Louis Rutot and H. Klaatsch – were taken to be evidence of human habitation of those areas before the oldest known fossils. Indeed, the English finds helped to secure acceptance of the hoax remains of Piltdown man.

Because eoliths were so crude, concern began to be raised that they were indistinguishable from the natural processes of erosion. Marcellin Boule, a French archaeologist, published an argument against the artifactual status of eoliths in 1905, and Samuel Hazzledine Warren provided confirmation of Boule's view after carrying out experiments on flints.Although the debate continued for about three decades, more and more evidence was discovered that suggested a purely natural origin for eoliths. This, together with the discovery of genuine early Lower Pleistocene Oldowan tools in East Africa, made support for the artifact theory difficult to sustain.

Homa Bay

Homa Bay is a bay and town on the south shore of Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria, in western Kenya. It lies near Mount Homa (in the Luo language Got Marahuma or God Uma ["famous mountain"]) and Ruma National Park, the latter noted for Jackson's hartebeests and roan antelope (the government has also released reticulated giraffes into the park).

Homo habilis

Homo habilis is a proposed archaic species of Homo, which lived between roughly 2.1 and 1.5 million years ago, during the Gelasian and early Calabrian stages of the Pleistocene geological epoch.The type specimen is OH 7, discovered in 1960 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, associated with the Oldowan lithic industry; the fossils were identified as a separate species of Homo with the proposed binomial name of H. habilis ("handy man") in 1964. In its appearance and morphology, H. habilis is intermediate between Australopithecus and the somewhat younger Homo erectus and its classification in the genus Homo has been the subject of controversial debate since its original proposal. A main argument for its classification as the first Homo ("human") species was its use of flaked stone tools. However, evidence for earlier tool use (3.39 million years ago) by undisputed members of Australopithecus has been found in the 1990s.In January 2019, scientists reported that Australopithecus sediba is distinct from, but shares anatomical similarities to, both the older Australopithecus africanus, and the younger Homo habilis.

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.


A knife (plural knives; possibly from Old Norse knifr ("blade")) is a tool with a cutting edge or blade attached to a handle. Mankind's first tool, knives were used at least two-and-a-half million years ago, as evidenced by the Oldowan tools. Originally made of rock, bone, flint, and obsidian, over the centuries, in step with improvements in metallurgy or manufacture, knife blades have been made from bronze, copper, iron, steel, ceramics, and titanium. Most modern knives have either fixed or folding blades; blade patterns and styles vary by maker and country of origin.

Knives can serve various purposes. Hunters use a hunting knife, soldiers use the combat knife, scouts, campers, and hikers carry a pocket knife; there are kitchen knives for preparing foods (the chef's knife, the paring knife, bread knife, cleaver), table knives (butter knives and steak knives), weapons (daggers or switchblades), knives for throwing or juggling, and knives for religious ceremony or display (the kirpan).

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.

Melka Kunture

Melka Kuntureመልካ ቁንጥሬ is a Paleolithic site in the upper Awash Valley, Ethiopia. It is located 50 kilometers south of Addis Ababa by road, across the Awash River from the village of Melka Awash, with a latitude and longitude of 8°42′9″N 38°36′30″E. Three waterfalls lie downstream of the bridge across the Awash here, which provides access south to Butajira.

Olduvai Gorge

The Olduvai Gorge or Oldupai Gorge in Tanzania is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world; it has proven invaluable in furthering understanding of early human evolution. A steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley that stretches across East Africa, it is about 48 km (30 mi) long, and is located in the eastern Serengeti Plains in the Arusha Region about 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Laetoli, another important archaeological site of early human occupation. The British/Kenyan paleoanthropologist-archeologist team Mary and Louis Leakey established and developed the excavation and research programs at Olduvai Gorge which achieved great advances of human knowledge and world-renowned status.

Homo habilis, probably the first early human species, occupied Olduvai Gorge approximately 1.9 million years ago (mya); then came a contemporary australopithecine, Paranthropus boisei, 1.8 mya, followed by Homo erectus, 1.2 mya. Our species Homo sapiens, which is estimated to have emerged roughly 300,000 years ago, is dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.

The site is significant in showing the increasing developmental and social complexities in the earliest humans, or hominins, largely revealed in the production and use of stone tools. Prior to tools, evidence of scavenging and hunting can be noted—highlighted by the presence of gnaw marks that predate cut marks—and of the ratio of meat versus plant material in the early hominin diet. The collecting of tools and animal remains in a centralized area is evidence of developing social interaction and communal activity. All these factors indicate an increase in cognitive capacities at the beginning of the period of hominids transitioning to hominin—that is, to human—form and behavior.

Outline of prehistoric technology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to prehistoric technology.

Prehistoric technology – technology that predates recorded history. History is the study of the past using written records; it is also the record itself. Anything prior to the first written accounts of history is prehistoric (meaning "before history"), including earlier technologies. About 2.5 million years before writing was developed, technology began with the earliest hominids who used stone tools, which they may have used to start fires, hunt, cut food, and bury their dead.

Paleolithic religion

Paleolithic religions are a set of spiritual beliefs thought to have appeared during the Paleolithic time period. Paleoanthropologists Andre Leroi-Gourhan and Annette Michelson believe Religious behaviour emerged by the Upper Paleolithic, before 30,000 years ago at the latest, but behavioral patterns such as burial rites that one might characterize as religious — or as ancestral to religious behaviour — reach back into the Middle Paleolithic, as early as 300,000 years ago, coinciding with the first appearance of Homo neanderthalensis and possibly Homo naledi.

There are suggested cases for the first appearance of religious or spiritual experience in the Lower Paleolithic (significantly earlier than 300,000 years ago, pre-Homo sapiens), but these remain controversial and have limited support.


Riwat (Rawat, Murree) is a Paleolithic site in Punjab, northern Pakistan. Another site, called Riwat Site 55, shows a later occupation dated to around 45,000 years ago.

Shungura Formation

The Shungura Formation is a stratigraphic formation located in the Omo river basin in Ethiopia. It dates to the Late Pliocene to Early Pleistocene. Oldowan tools have been found in the formation, suggesting early use of stone tools by hominins. Among many others, fossils of Panthera were found in Member G of the formation.

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.

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