A Handaxe made of Ignimbrite



Early humans were inventive when appling their techniques to new materials. This handaxe from an Acheulian scatter was produced from ignimbrite.

Ignimbrite is a pumice-dominated pyroclastic flow deposit formed from the cooling of pyroclastic material ejected from an explosive volcanic eruption. As the pyroclastic material settles it can build up thick layers, and if the temperature is sufficiently high (> 535°C) it can weld into rock. Ignimbrites are made of a very poorly sorted mixture of volcanic ash (or tuff when lithified) and pumice lapilli, commonly with scattered lithic fragments. The ash is composed of glass shards and crystal fragments. While most volcanic rocks are found close to the eruptive source, ignimbrite of reasonable thickness can often be found tens to hundreds of kilometers from the site of eruption.

Ignimbrites may be white, grey, pink, beige, brown or black as shown in this post, depending on their composition and density. Many pale ignimbrites are dacitic or rhyolitic. Darker colored ignimbrites may be densely welded volcanic glass or, less commonly, mafic in composition.

Ignimbrites were used in East Africa, allways in small quantities since the Oldowan, especially at Melka Kunture, but also at Gona, Ethiopia and East Turkana (Koobi Fora), Kenya. During the Earliest Paleolithic, volcanic rocks in general, allways coming from small distances, such as lavas, were common, and in many areas basement quartzes and quartzites were also used. In North Africa, as at Ain Hanech, fine-grained limestones were also a major source of raw material. At some sites, cherts/flints were also locally available in larger quantities (some Bed II sites at Olduvai and at Ain Hanech), but generally their frequency is rather low. During the Acheulian and the MSA, ignimbrites in Africa were still constantly in use, but in negligables quantities.

In Europe, the only published handaxe made from ignimbrites is known from the assemblage at Pontnewydd; Wales / UK (ca 250 k.a.). Two fine Middle Paleolithic”Keilmesser” from the Middle European Micoquian, made from Dalarna-ignimbrite were found at Salzkotten-Oberntudorf near Paderborn in Westphalia (ca 80-40 k.a.). The handaxe displayed here is a perfect small cordiform  made of this volcanic raw material, indicating that some fine grained ignimbrites were appropriate for producing even the finest handaxe, comparable to much later examples from the MTA.

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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2 Responses to A Handaxe made of Ignimbrite

  1. Iceras says:

    From what site is the photographed handaxe ?

  2. Katzman says:

    The handaxe is from an Acheulian scatter in Mauretania

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