Acheulean

Acheulean

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Acheulean is the name given to an archaeological industry
Archaeological industry
An archaeological industry, normally just "industry", is the name given in the study of prehistory to a consistent range of assemblages connected with a single product, such as the Langdale axe industry...

 of stone tool
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...

 manufacture associated with early humans
Homo
Homo may refer to:*the Greek prefix ὅμο-, meaning "the same"*the Latin for man, human being*Homo, the taxonomical genus including modern humans...

 during the Lower Palaeolithic era across Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and much of West Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, South Asia
South Asia
South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities , also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east...

 and Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

remains. It is thought that they first developed out of the more primitive Oldowan technology as long as 1.76 million years ago, by Homo habilis
Homo habilis
Homo habilis is a species of the genus Homo, which lived from approximately at the beginning of the Pleistocene period. The discovery and description of this species is credited to both Mary and Louis Leakey, who found fossils in Tanzania, East Africa, between 1962 and 1964. Homo habilis Homo...

.

It was the dominant technology for the vast majority of human history starting more than one million years ago. Their distinctive oval and pear-shaped handaxes have been found over a wide area and some examples attained a very high level of sophistication suggesting that the roots of human art, economy and social organisation arose as a result of their development. Although it developed in Africa, the industry is named after the type site
Type site
In archaeology a type site is a site that is considered the model of a particular archaeological culture...

 of Saint-Acheul, now a suburb of Amiens
Amiens
Amiens is a city and commune in northern France, north of Paris and south-west of Lille. It is the capital of the Somme department in Picardy...

 in northern France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 (not to be confused with the rural commune of Saint Acheul), where some of the first examples were identified in the 19th century.

Rediscovery



John Frere
John Frere
John Frere was an English antiquary and a pioneering discoverer of Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic tools in association with large extinct animals at Hoxne, Suffolk in 1797.-Life:...

 is generally credited as being the first to suggest a very ancient date for Acheulean hand-axes. In 1797 he sent two examples to the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

 in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 from Hoxne
Hoxne
Hoxne is an anciently established village in the Mid Suffolk district of Suffolk, England, about five miles east-southeast of Diss, Norfolk and one-half mile south of the River Waveney...

 in Suffolk
Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

. He had found them in prehistoric lake deposits along with the bones of extinct animals and concluded that they were made by people "who had not the use of metals" and that they belonged to a "very ancient period indeed, even beyond the present world". His ideas were ignored by his contemporaries however, who subscribed to a pre-Darwinian
Darwinism
Darwinism is a set of movements and concepts related to ideas of transmutation of species or of evolution, including some ideas with no connection to the work of Charles Darwin....

 view of human evolution
Human evolution
Human evolution refers to the evolutionary history of the genus Homo, including the emergence of Homo sapiens as a distinct species and as a unique category of hominids and mammals...

.

Later, Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes
Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes
Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes , sometimes referred to as Boucher de Perthes, was a French archaeologist and antiquary notable for his discovery, in about 1830, of flint tools in the gravels of the Somme valley....

, working between 1836 and 1846, collected further examples of hand-axes and fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

ised animal bone from the gravel river terraces of the Somme
Somme River
The Somme is a river in Picardy, northern France. The name Somme comes from a Celtic word meaning tranquility. The department Somme was named after this river....

 near Abbeville
Abbeville
Abbeville is a commune in the Somme department in Picardie in northern France.-Location:Abbeville is located on the Somme River, from its modern mouth in the English Channel, and northwest of Amiens...

 in northern France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. Again, his theories attributing great antiquity to the finds were spurned by his colleagues until one of de Perthe's main opponents, Dr Jean Paul Rigollot, began finding more tools near Saint Acheul. Following visits to both Abbeville and Saint Acheul by the geologist Joseph Prestwich
Joseph Prestwich
Sir Joseph Prestwich FRS, was a British geologist and businessman, known as an expert on the Tertiary Period and for having confirmed the findings of Boucher de Perthes of ancient flint tools in the Somme valley gravel beds....

, the age of the tools was finally accepted.

Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet
Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet
Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet , French anthropologist, was born at Meylan, Isère.-Biography:He was educated at the Jesuit college of Chambéry and at the Paris Conservatoire. Becoming in 1847 proprietor of La Revue indépendante, he was implicated in the Revolution of 1848 and sentenced to two...

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

Dating the Acheulean



Providing calendrical dates and ordered chronological sequences in the study of early stone tool manufacture is difficult and contentious. Radiometric dating
Radiometric dating
Radiometric dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks, usually based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates...

, often potassium-argon dating
Potassium-argon dating
Potassium–argon dating or K–Ar dating is a radiometric dating method used in geochronology and archeology. It is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium into argon . Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas, clay minerals,...

, of deposits containing Acheulean material is able to broadly place the use of Acheulean techniques within the time from around 1.65 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. The earliest accepted examples of the type, at 1.65 m years old, come from the West Turkana region of Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

although some have argued for its emergence from as early as 1.8 million years ago. Recent discoveries suggest that early Acheulean tools were in use 1.76 million years ago.
Presence of acheulean tools in South Asia
South Asia
South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities , also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east...

 have also been found to be dated as far as 1.5 million years ago.
In individual regions, this dating can be considerably refined; in Europe for example, Acheulean methods did not reach the continent until around 400,000 years ago; and in smaller study areas, the date ranges can be much shorter. Numerical dates can be misleading however, and it is common to associate examples of this early human tool industry with one or more glacial or interglacial
Interglacial
An Interglacial period is a geological interval of warmer global average temperature lasting thousands of years that separates consecutive glacial periods within an ice age...

 periods or with a particular early species of human. The earliest user of Acheulean tools was Homo ergaster
Homo ergaster
Homo ergaster is an extinct chronospecies of Homo that lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, about 2.5–1.7 million years ago.There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

who first appeared about 1.8 million years ago. Not all researchers use this formal name, and instead prefer to call these users early Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

. Later forms of early humans also used Acheulean techniques and are described below.

Relative dating techniques (based on a presumption that technology progresses over time) suggest that Acheulean tools followed on from earlier, cruder tool-making methods, however there is considerable chronological overlap in early prehistoric stone-working industries and there is evidence in some regions that Acheulean tool-using groups were contemporary with other, less sophisticated industries such as the Clactonian
Clactonian
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 . Clactonian tools were made by Homo erectus rather than modern humans...

and then later, with the more sophisticated Mousterian
Mousterian
Mousterian is a name given by archaeologists to a style of predominantly flint tools associated primarily with Homo neanderthalensis and dating to the Middle Paleolithic, the middle part of the Old Stone Age.-Naming:...

 too. It is therefore important not to see the Acheulean as a neatly defined period or one that happened as part of a clear sequence but as one tool-making technique that flourished especially well in early prehistory. The enormous geographic spread of Acheulean techniques also makes the name unwieldy as it represents numerous regional variations on a similar theme. The term Acheulean does not represent a common culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 in the modern sense, rather it is a basic method for making stone tools that was shared across much of the Old World
Old World
The Old World consists of those parts of the world known to classical antiquity and the European Middle Ages. It is used in the context of, and contrast with, the "New World" ....

.

The very earliest Acheulean assemblages often contain numerous Oldowan-style flakes
Lithic flake
In archaeology, a lithic flake is a "portion of rock removed from an objective piece by percussion or pressure," and may also be referred to as a chip or spall, or collectively as debitage. The objective piece, or the rock being reduced by the removal of flakes, is known as a core. Once the proper...

 and core forms
Lithic core
In archaeology, a lithic core is a distinctive artifact that results from the practice of lithic reduction. In this sense, a core is the scarred nucleus resulting from the detachment of one or more flakes from a lump of source material or tool stone, usually by using a hard hammer percussor such...

 and it is almost certain that the Acheulean developed from this older industry. These industries are known as the Developed Oldowan and are almost certainly transitional between the Oldowan and Acheulean.

Acheulean stone tools



Stages


In the four divisions of prehistoric stone-working, Acheulean artefacts are classified as Mode 2, meaning they are more advanced than the (usually earlier) Mode 1 tools of the Clactonian
Clactonian
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 . Clactonian tools were made by Homo erectus rather than modern humans...

 or Oldowan/Abbevillian
Abbevillian
Abbevillian is a currently obsolescent name for a tool tradition that is increasingly coming to be called Oldowan . The original artifacts were collected from road construction sites on the Somme river near Abbeville by a French customs officer, Boucher de Perthes...

 industries but lacking the sophistication of the (usually later) Mode 3 Middle Palaeolithic technology, exemplified by the Mousterian
Mousterian
Mousterian is a name given by archaeologists to a style of predominantly flint tools associated primarily with Homo neanderthalensis and dating to the Middle Paleolithic, the middle part of the Old Stone Age.-Naming:...

 industry.

The Mode 1 industries created rough flake tool
Flake tool
In archaeology a flake tool is a type of stone tool created by striking a flake from a prepared stone core.The flake could be sharpened by retouch to create scrapers or burins.-References:...

s by hitting a suitable stone with a hammerstone
Hammerstone
In archaeology, a hammerstone is a hard cobble used to strike off lithic flakes from a lump of tool stone during the process of lithic reduction. The hammerstone is a rather universal stone tool which appeared early in most regions of the world including Europe, India and North America...

. The resulting flake that broke off would have a natural sharp edge for cutting and could afterwards be sharpened further by striking another smaller flake from the edge if necessary (known as retouch
Retouch
Retouch may refer to:*Retouch , the work done to a flint implement after its preliminary roughing-out*Retouching, editing photographic imagery...

). These early toolmakers may also have worked the stone they took the flake from (known as a core
Lithic core
In archaeology, a lithic core is a distinctive artifact that results from the practice of lithic reduction. In this sense, a core is the scarred nucleus resulting from the detachment of one or more flakes from a lump of source material or tool stone, usually by using a hard hammer percussor such...

) to create chopper core
Chopper core
In archaeology a chopper core is a suggested type of stone tool created by using a lithic core as a chopper following the removal of flakes from that core...

s although there is some debate over whether these items were tools or just discarded cores.

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

Mode 3 technology emerged towards the end of Acheulean dominance and involved the Levallois technique
Levallois technique
The Levallois technique is a name given by archaeologists to a distinctive type of stone knapping developed by precursors to modern humans during the Palaeolithic period....

, most famously exploited by the Mousterian
Mousterian
Mousterian is a name given by archaeologists to a style of predominantly flint tools associated primarily with Homo neanderthalensis and dating to the Middle Paleolithic, the middle part of the Old Stone Age.-Naming:...

 industry. Transitional tool forms between the two are called Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition, or MTA types. The long blades of the Upper Palaeolithic Mode 4 industries appeared long after the Acheulean was abandoned.

As the period of Acheulean tool use is so vast, efforts have been made to classify various stages of it such as John Wymer
John Wymer
Dr John James Wymer, was a British archaeologist and one of the leading experts on the Palaeolithic period.Born near Kew Gardens in Surrey, Wymer was introduced to archaeology by his parents who would take him to gravel pits to search for ancient sites...

's division into Early Acheulean, Middle Acheulean, Late Middle Acheulean and Late Acheulean for material from Britain. These schemes are normally regional and their dating and interpretations vary.

In Africa, there is a distinct difference in the tools made before and after 600,000 years ago with the older group being thicker and less symmetric and the younger being more extensively trimmed. This may be connected with the appearance of Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis is an extinct species of the genus Homo which may be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo sapiens. The best evidence found for these hominins date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago. H...

in the archaeological record at this time who may have contributed this more sophisticated approach.

Manufacture


The primary innovation associated with Acheulean hand-axes is that the stone was worked symmetrically and on both sides. For the latter reason, handaxes are, along with cleavers
Cleaver (tool)
In archaeology, a cleaver is a name given to a type of biface stone tool of the Lower Palaeolithic.Cleavers are a little like hand axes. 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...

, known as biface
Biface
In archaeology, a biface is a two-sided stone tool and is used as a multi purposes knife, manufactured through a process of lithic reduction, that displays flake scars on both sides. A profile view of the final product tends to exhibit a lenticular shape...

 tools.

Tool types found in Acheulean assemblages include pointed, cordate, ovate, ficron
Ficron
A ficron handaxe is a name given to a type of prehistoric stone tool biface with long, curved sides and a pointed, well-made tip. They are found in Middle Palaeolithic and Acheulean contexts. The name was created by the French archaeologist François Bordes....

 and bout-coupé
Bout-coupé
Bout-coupé is a term used by archaeologists to describe a type of handaxe that constituted part of the Mousterian industry of the Middle Palaeolithic.The handaxes are bifacially-worked and in the shape of a rounded triangle...

 hand-axes (referring to the shapes of the final tool), cleavers, retouched flakes, scrapers, and segmental chopping tools. Materials used were determined by available local stone types; flint
Flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

 is most often associated with the tools but its use is concentrated in Western Europe; in Africa sedimentary
Sedimentary rock
Sedimentary rock are types of rock that are formed by the deposition of material at the Earth's surface and within bodies of water. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause mineral and/or organic particles to settle and accumulate or minerals to precipitate from a solution....

 and igneous rock
Igneous rock
Igneous rock is one of the three main rock types, the others being sedimentary and metamorphic rock. Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava...

 such as mudstone
Mudstone
Mudstone is a fine grained sedimentary rock whose original constituents were clays or muds. Grain size is up to 0.0625 mm with individual grains too small to be distinguished without a microscope. With increased pressure over time the platey clay minerals may become aligned, with the...

 and basalt
Basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

 were most widely used for example. Other source materials include chalcedony
Chalcedony
Chalcedony is a cryptocrystalline form of silica, composed of very fine intergrowths of the minerals quartz and moganite. These are both silica minerals, but they differ in that quartz has a trigonal crystal structure, while moganite is monoclinic...

, quartzite
Quartzite
Quartzite is a hard metamorphic rock which was originally sandstone. Sandstone is converted into quartzite through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression within orogenic belts. Pure quartzite is usually white to gray, though quartzites often occur in various shades of pink...

, andesite
Andesite
Andesite is an extrusive igneous, volcanic rock, of intermediate composition, with aphanitic to porphyritic texture. In a general sense, it is the intermediate type between basalt and dacite. The mineral assemblage is typically dominated by plagioclase plus pyroxene and/or hornblende. Magnetite,...

, sandstone
Sandstone
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.Most sandstone is composed of quartz and/or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. Like sand, sandstone may be any colour, but the most common colours are tan, brown, yellow,...

, chert
Chert
Chert is a fine-grained silica-rich microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline or microfibrous sedimentary rock that may contain small fossils. It varies greatly in color , but most often manifests as gray, brown, grayish brown and light green to rusty red; its color is an expression of trace elements...

 and shale
Shale
Shale is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock composed of mud that is a mix of flakes of clay minerals and tiny fragments of other minerals, especially quartz and calcite. The ratio of clay to other minerals is variable. Shale is characterized by breaks along thin laminae or parallel layering...

. Even relatively soft rock such as limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 could be exploited. In all cases the toolmakers worked their handaxes close to the source of their raw materials suggesting that the Acheulean was a set of skills passed between individual groups.

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

A hard hammerstone would first be used to rough out the shape of the tool from the stone by removing large flakes. These large flakes might be re-used to create tools. The tool maker would work around the circumference of the remaining stone core, removing smaller flakes alternately from each face. The scar created by the removal of the preceding flake would provide a striking platform
Striking platform
In lithic reduction, the striking platform is the surface on the proximal portion of a lithic flake on which the detachment blow fell; this may be natural or prepared...

 for the removal of the next. Misjudged blows or flaws in the material used could cause problems, but a skilled toolmaker could overcome them.

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

Final shaping was then applied to the usable cutting edge of the tool, again using fine removal of flakes. Some Acheulean tools were sharpened instead by the removal of a tranchet flake
Tranchet flake
In archaeology, a tranchet flake is a characteristic type of flake removed by a flintknapper during lithic reduction.It involves removing a flake parallel to the final intended cutting edge of the tool which creates a single straight edge as wide as the tool itself...

. This was struck from the lateral edge of the hand-axe close to the intended cutting area, resulting in the removal of a flake running across the blade of the axe to create a neat and very sharp working edge. This distinctive tranchet flake can been identified amongst flint-knapping debris at Acheulean sites.

Use


Loren Eiseley
Loren Eiseley
Loren Eiseley was an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s. During this period he received more than 36 honorary degrees and was a fellow of many distinguished professional societies...

 calculated that Acheulean tools have an average useful cutting edge of 8 inches (20 cm) making them much more efficient than the 2 inch average of Oldowan tools.

Use-wear analysis
Use-wear analysis
Use-wear analysis is a method in archaeology to identify the functions of artefact tools by closely examining their working surfaces and edges. It is mainly used on stone tools, and is sometimes referred to as "traceological analysis" .Using a high-powered microscope it is possible to closely study...

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

Alternative theories include a use for ovate hand-axes as a kind of hunting discus
Discus
Discus, "disk" in Latin, may refer to:* Discus , a progressive rock band from Indonesia* Discus , a fictional character from the Marvel Comics Universe and enemy of Luke Cage* Discus , a freshwater fish popular with aquarium keepers...

 to be hurled at prey. Puzzlingly, there are also examples of sites
Archaeological site
An archaeological site is a place in which evidence of past activity is preserved , and which has been, or may be, investigated using the discipline of archaeology and represents a part of the archaeological record.Beyond this, the definition and geographical extent of a 'site' can vary widely,...

 where hundreds of hand-axes, many impractically large and also apparently unused, have been found in close association
Archaeological association
Association in archaeology has more than one meaning and is confusing to the layman. Archaeology has been critiqued as a soft science with a somewhat poor standardization of terms.-Finds and objects:...

 together. Sites such as Melka Kunturé
Melka Kunture
Melka Kunture is a Palaeolithic site in 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...

 in Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, Olorgesailie
Olorgesailie
Olorgesailie is a geological formation in East Africa containing a group of Lower Paleolithic archaeological sites. It is on the floor of the Eastern Rift Valley in southern Kenya, southwest of Nairobi along the road to Lake Magadi. Olorgesailie is noted for the large number of Acheulean hand...

 in Kenya, Isimila in Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

 and Kalambo Falls
Kalambo Falls
Kalambo Falls on the Kalambo River is a 772ft single drop waterfall on the border of Zambia and Tanzania at the southeast end of Lake Tanganyika. The falls are some of the tallest uninterrupted falls in Africa...

 in Zambia
Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

 have produced evidence that suggests Acheulean hand-axes may not always have had a functional purpose.

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

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

Hand-axe as a left over core


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

Distribution


The geographic distribution of Acheulian tools - and thus the peoples who made them - is often interpreted as being the result of palaeo-climatic and ecological
Ecology
Ecology is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount , number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems...

 factors, such as glaciation and the desertification
Desertification
Desertification is the degradation of land in drylands. Caused by a variety of factors, such as climate change and human activities, desertification is one of the most significant global environmental problems.-Definitions:...

 of the Sahara Desert.

Acheulean stone tools have been found across the continent of Africa, save for the dense rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

 around the River Congo which is not thought to have been colonized by humans until later. It is thought that from Africa their use spread north and east to Asia: from Anatolia
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

, through the Arabian peninsula
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

, across modern day Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

and Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, and into India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and beyond. In Europe their users reached the Pannonian Basin
Pannonian Basin
The Pannonian Basin or Carpathian Basin is a large basin in East-Central Europe.The geomorphological term Pannonian Plain is more widely used for roughly the same region though with a somewhat different sense - meaning only the lowlands, the plain that remained when the Pliocene Pannonian Sea dried...

 and the western Mediterranean regions, modern day France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

, western Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, and southern and central Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

. Areas further north did not see human occupation until much later, due to glaciation.

Until the 1980s it was thought that the humans who arrived in East Asia abandoned the hand-axe technology of their ancestors and adopted chopper
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....

 tools instead. An apparent division between Acheulean and non-Acheulean tool industries was identified by Hallam L. Movius
Hallam L. Movius
Hallam Leonard Movius was an American archaeologist most famous for his work on the palaeolithic period.He was born in Newton, Massachusetts and became a professor of archaeology at Harvard University in 1930...

, who drew the Movius Line
Movius Line
The Movius Line is a theoretical line drawn across northern India first proposed by the American archaeologist Hallam L. Movius in 1948 to demonstrate a technological difference between the early prehistoric tool technologies of the east and west of the Old World.Movius had noticed that assemblages...

 across northern India to show where the traditions seemed to diverge. Later finds of Acheulean tools at Chongokni in South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

 and also in Mongolia
Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest...

 and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, however, cast doubt on the reliability of Movius's distinction. Since then, a different division known as the Roe Line
Roe Line
The Roe Line is a suggested distinction between two forms of prehistoric stone tool named in honour of the archaeologist Derek Roe by Clive Gamble and Gilbert Marshall....

 has been suggested. This runs across North Africa to Israel and thence to India, separating two different techniques used by Acheulean toolmakers. North and east of the Roe Line, Acheulean hand-axes were made directly from large stone nodules and cores; while, to the south and west, they were made from flakes struck from these nodules.

Acheulean tool users


Acheulean tools were not made by fully modern human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s - that is, Homo sapiens - although the early or non-modern (transitional) Homo sapiens idaltu
Homo sapiens idaltu
Homo sapiens idaltu is an extinct subspecies of Homo sapiens that lived almost 160,000 years ago in Pleistocene Africa. is from the Saho-Afar word meaning "elder or first born"....

did use Late Acheulean tools, as did the proto-Neanderthal
Neanderthal
The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

 species. Most notably, however, it is Homo ergaster
Homo ergaster
Homo ergaster is an extinct chronospecies of Homo that lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, about 2.5–1.7 million years ago.There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

(sometimes called early Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

), whose assemblages are almost exclusively Acheulean, who used the technique. Later, the related species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis is an extinct species of the genus Homo which may be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo sapiens. The best evidence found for these hominins date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago. H...

used it extensively.

The symmetry of the hand-axes has been used to suggest that Acheulean tool users possessed the ability to use language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

; the parts of the brain
Brain
The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...

 connected with fine control and movement are located in the same region that controls speech. The wider variety of tool types compared to earlier industries and their aesthetically and well as functionally pleasing form could indicate a higher intellectual level in Acheulean tool users than in earlier hominines. Others argue that there is no correlation between spatial abilities in tool making and linguistic behaviour, and that language is not learned or conceived in the same manner as artefact manufacture.

Lower Palaeolithic finds made in association with Acheulean hand-axes, such as the Venus of Berekhat Ram
Venus of Berekhat Ram
The Venus of Berekhat Ram is a pebble found at Berekhat Ram on the Golan Heights in the summer of 1981 by archaeologist N. Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. An article by Goren-Inbar and S...

, have been used to argue for art
Art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

istic expression amongst the tool users. The incised elephant
Elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

 tibia
Tibia
The tibia , shinbone, or shankbone is the larger and stronger of the two bones in the leg below the knee in vertebrates , and connects the knee with the ankle bones....

 from Bilzingsleben in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, and ochre
Ochre
Ochre is the term for both a golden-yellow or light yellow brown color and for a form of earth pigment which produces the color. The pigment can also be used to create a reddish tint known as "red ochre". The more rarely used terms "purple ochre" and "brown ochre" also exist for variant hues...

 finds from Kapthurin
Kapthurin
The Kapthurin formation is a basalt outcrop in Kenya near Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo.Part of the East African Rift System, it is also an important archaeological site in the study of early humans who occupied the area and left Acheulean stone tools and animal bones behind.Argon argon dating of...

 in Kenya and Duinefontein
Duinefontein
Duinefontein 1 and 2 are early prehistoric archaeological sites near Cape Town in South AfricaThey have produced Acheulean stone tools and animal bones dating from between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago. It was not a settlement site but instead seems to have been a waterside location where animals...

 in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, are sometimes cited as being some of the earliest examples of an aesthetic sensibility in human history. There are numerous other explanations put forward for the creation of these artefacts, however; and there is no unequivocal evidence of human art until around 50,000 years ago, after the emergence of modern Homo sapiens.

The kill site at Boxgrove
Boxgrove
Boxgrove is a village and civil parish in the Chichester District of the English county of West Sussex, about five kilometres north east of the city of Chichester. The village is just south of the A285 road which follows the line of the Roman road Stane Street.The parish has an area of...

 in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 is another famous Acheulean site. Up until the 1970s these kill sites, often at waterhole
Depression (geology)
A depression in geology is a landform sunken or depressed below the surrounding area. Depressions may be formed by various mechanisms.Structural or tectonic related:...

s where animals would gather to drink, were interpreted as being where Acheulean tool users killed game, butchered their carcasses, and then discarded the tools they had used. Since the advent of zooarchaeology
Zooarchaeology
Zooarchaeology, also known as Archaeozoology, is the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. The remains consist primarily of the hard parts of the body such as bones, teeth, and shells...

, which has placed greater emphasis on studying animal bones from archaeological sites, this view has changed. Many of the animals at these kill sites have been found to have been killed by other predator animals, so it is likely that humans of the period supplemented hunting with scavenging from already dead animals.

Excavations at the Bnot Ya'akov Bridge
Bnot Ya'akov Bridge
Bnot Ya'akov Bridge is a bridge across the Jordan River on Highway 91, straddling the border between Israel proper and the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights...

 site, located along the Dead Sea rift
Dead Sea Transform
The Dead Sea Transform fault system, also sometimes referred to as the Dead Sea Rift, is a geologic fault which runs from the Maras Triple Junction to the northern end of the Red Sea Rift...

 in the southern Hula Valley of northern Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, have revealed evidence of human habitation in the area from as early as 750,000 years ago. Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem ; ; abbreviated HUJI) is Israel's second-oldest university, after the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The Hebrew University has three campuses in Jerusalem and one in Rehovot. The world's largest Jewish studies library is located on its Edmond J...

 claim that the site provides evidence of "advanced human behavior" half a million years earlier than has previously been estimated. Their report describes an Acheulian layer at the site in which numerous stone tools, animal bones, and plant remains have been found.

Only limited artefactual evidence survives of the users of Acheulean tools other than the stone tools themselves. Cave sites were exploited for habitation, but the hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic also possibly built shelters such as those identified in connection with Acheulean tools at Grotte du Lazaret
Grotte du Lazaret
The Grotte du Lazaret is a cave now in the eastern suburbs of the French town of Nice and now overlooking the Mediterranean Sea....

and Terra Amata
Terra Amata
Terra Amata is an archeological site in open air located on the slopes of Mount Boron in Nice, at a level 26 meters above the current sea level of the Mediterranean. It was discovered and excavated in 1966 by Henry de Lumley...

 near Nice
Nice
Nice is the fifth most populous city in France, after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, with a population of 348,721 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of more than 955,000 on an area of...

 in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. The presence of the shelters is inferred from large rocks at the sites, which may have been used to weigh down the bottoms of tent-like structures or serve as foundations for huts or windbreaks. These stones may have been naturally deposited. In any case, a flimsy wood or animal skin structure would leave few archaeological traces after so long. Fire
Fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

 was seemingly being exploited by homo ergaster, and would have been a necessity in colonising colder Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

 from Africa. Conclusive evidence of mastery over it this early is difficult to find however.
For further details of the known environment and people during the time when Acheulean tools were being made, see Palaeolithic and Lower Palaeolithic.

See also

  • Lithic reduction
    Lithic reduction
    Lithic reduction involves the use of a hard hammer precursor, such as a hammerstone, a soft hammer fabricator , or a wood or antler punch to detach lithic flakes from a lump of tool stone called a lithic core . As flakes are detached in sequence, the original mass of stone is reduced; hence the...

  • Stone Age
    Stone Age
    The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period, lasting about 2.5 million years , during which humans and their predecessor species in the genus Homo, as well as the earlier partly contemporary genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus, widely used exclusively stone as their hard material in the...

  • Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures
    Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures
    The synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures gives a rough picture of the relationships between the various principal cultures of prehistory outside the Americas, Antarctica, Australia and Oceania...

  • Stone tools

External links