Elongated Handaxes

aisne aggsbach paleolithique biface grandThis is a lanceolate handaxe, an old quarry find from the Aisne, made of quartzite and about 22 cm in length. Even larger lanceolates from this area, unfortunately undated,  have been described by Harper Kelley (Bulletin de la Société préhistorique de France via Persee; http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/08/handaxe-from-the-presles-et-boves-gravels-at-vailly-sur-aisne/).

Some handaxes were made much more elongate, than the average bifaces in Acheulian ensembles. As Gowlett recently suggested, it is improbable that this happened by accident: the elongation had to be “constructed”. In one approach, very common in Africa, a large preform or blank is struck by the maker as a single flake, and then trimmed to its final form. The other major approach, common in Europe, is to work the piece from a nodule, often on flint. A series of strikes roughs out the handaxe which may then be thinned in a long process. Again, it is not easy for the maker to maintain length, and it cannot be done without a specific intention.

Excellent raw materials found in large nodules or blocks are the prerequisite of large handaxe manufacture. From a functional point of view, elongated shapes demonstrate a better ratio of cutting edge to overall weight than less elongated shapes, although this is at the expense of a higher likelihood for end-shock to occur during manufacture. The influence of raw materials is most important at the beginning of the process of façonnage, but later steps are more dependent on reshaping and the knappers’ skills. If there were a mental template and the desire for symmetry involved in the creation of handaxes remains an open question- the pros and cons have beeen discussed in much detail during the last 30 years .

A good example of an large handaxe is known from Kathu Pan in the Northern Cape, South Africa, and dated by association with tooth-plates of the extinct Elephas Reckii  to approximately 750 k.a. BP. This handaxe is fully symmetric and measuring about 27 cm in length (http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/09/short-history-of-the-acheulian-in-south-africa-the-chronology/).

Large handaxes and cleavers, often with a lenght of ca 20 cm, are the halmark of many Middle Pleistocene Acheulian sites in the Rift valley, as already described in this blog http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/06/rift-valleys-acheulian-sites/).

At the Masek Beds, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, were found five finely shaped handaxes in white quartzite, measuring about 27 cm in length and were dated between 600 and 400 k.a. Superposed drawings of their outline shapes show them to be almost perfect matches. Mary Leakey described them as “elongate, with delicately trimmed tips…. In spite of the material being coarse grained, and intractable, these tools have been elaborately trimmed over both faces…. The close similarity in technique, size and form suggests the possibility that they may have been the work of a single craftsman”.

Older publications highlight the large handaxes (“gigantolithes”) from the Maghreb  and the Sahara (for example: http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/10/the-acheulian-of-tihodaine-tassili-najjer/). Most of them are suggested to be dating < 400 k.a. – but intact deposits with radiometrically dates are still very rare.

The famous Furze Platt hand axe (http://piclib.nhm.ac.uk/results.asp?image=001676)is dated to MIS 8-10 and was found in 1919. It weighs 2.8 kilos and is 30.6 cm long. Another large handaxe is known from Shrub Hill, UK and is dated to MIS 9 has a length of 29 cm. An important archaeological dig at Cuxton in Kent, dated most probably to MIS7 (250 k.a. BP) uncovered a sharply pointed 31 cm handaxe. The Handaxe was preserved together with a large Cleaver and is in almost mint condition and displays exquisite workmanship in addition to its extreme size (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5098748.stm).

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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 Elongated Handaxes

  1. please contact me !
    I´ve similar handaxes.
    Best regards,

  2. Katzman says:

    You can contact me via katzmanaggsbach@gmail.com

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