Fossils in Acheulean Handaxes

  • Top image: An Acheulean handaxe knapped around a Cretaceous fossil of the bivalve Spondylus spinosus (West Tofts, Norfolk, England).
  • Bottom image: An Acheulean handaxe knapped around an echinoid Conulus fossil (Middle Gravels: Swanscombe, Kent, England).

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(Image sources: Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, London and The Geological Society, London).

Humans shaped stone axes 1.8 million years ago, study says

A new study suggests that Homo erectus, a precursor to modern humans, was using advanced toolmaking methods in East Africa 1.8 million years ago, at least 300,000 years earlier than previously thought. The study, published this week in Nature, raises new questions about where these tall and slender early humans originated and how they developed sophisticated tool-making technology.

Homo erectus appeared about 2 million years ago, and ranged across Asia and Africa before hitting a possible evolutionary dead-end, about 70,000 years ago. Some researchers think Homo erectus evolved in East Africa, where many of the oldest fossils have been found, but the discovery in the 1990s of equally old Homo erectus fossils in the country of Georgia has led others to suggest an Asian origin. The study in Nature does not resolve the debate but adds new complexity. At 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus in Dmanisi, Georgia was still using simple chopping tools while in West Turkana, Kenya, according to the study, the population had developed hand axes, picks and other innovative tools that anthropologists call “Acheulian.” Read more.

Rift Valleys Acheulian Sites
Source: http://bit.ly/1b9LZa2

(image) The Western Rift Valley in January licensed under Creative Commons (http://earth.imagico.de/cc.php) The Rift Valleys of East Africa extend in a “Y” shape southward from the Red Sea in the north, through Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania to Zambia and Mozambique. Overall, the system is about 6,000 kilometers long. What people might assume to be a single rift somewhere in East Africa is really a series of distinct rift basins which are all related and produce the distinctive geology and topography of East Africa.  The largest lakes include the Tanganyika, Victoria, Turkana, Malawi,………. Read More

Read and find more great archaeology blogs at: Archaeology Blog Project

Recent arguments I've been in online

Not on Tumblr but elsewhere I’ve argued:

1.  The use/function of Acheulian “Hand axes.”

This would be limited to those iconic teardrop or “Almond shaped” artifacts with a cutting edge all the way around.

2.  Aquatic Ape.

JTEM argues that AA has to be true to some degree.  Maybe we’re talking just one of a number of populations which were ancestral to modern humans, but there has to be “Aquatic Ape” somewhere in our line.  Period.

3.  Historical revisionism.

One of the… the… um… the “discussion” groups I frequent is visited regularly by a Holocaust denier.

4.  The bible as history.

The above is a bit of a misnomer as nobody I come into contact with openly (admittedly) argues in favor the bible (or any other religious text) as a literal history.  Mostly the arguments center on what (if any) underlying truth may or may not exist — what the real history of the region, sans bible, looks like.

5.  Politics.

Obama is a freaking NeoCon.  Get over it.  And there’s nothing more deliciously ironic than an ObamaBot  DEFENDING  all those policies they would (and in most cases “Did”) attack when they were coming from Bush, even as they accuse you of being a “NeoCon” or “Conservative” for opposing all the insanity…

I mean, if tax give-aways and interventionist foreign policies were bad under Bush then they are WORSE under Obama, because Obama promised change.  He road into the Whitehouse atop a mandate for change… but instead delivered “More of the same.”


So, if you’re looking for a spirited debate then JTEM is your man. But, be warned though.  JTEM is always switched “on.”

 Refitting of layers of a core from which a biface was knapped

English translation:

"Here are the "guts of a biface". This is in the Museum of Archaeology in Valencia. I imagine that the author is Juan Antonio Marín. It’s no small work to create a refitting".

En español:

"Así son "las tripas de un bifaz". Esto está en el Museo Arqueológico de Valencia. Imagino que el autor es Juan Antonio Marín. En fin, menudo curro para realizar el remontaje".

(Source: Arqueologia Paleorama en Red)

An exciting discovery

The discovery of Acheulian tools no younger than one million years, and possibly as old as 1.5 million years, in Tamil Nadu overturns the current thinking that hominins or early humans lived in India merely 0.6 million to 0.5 million years ago. The exciting finds are from a site at Attirampakkam, in the Kortallayar River basin, about 60 km northwest of Chennai. Previous age estimates indicated that hominins who moved out of Africa dispersed across Asia and Europe around the same time. This was inconsistent with the widely accepted current theories of early human migration from Africa to Asia. By dating the artifacts as at least one million years old, a paper published online in Science (“Early Pleistocene presence of Acheulian hominins in South India” by Shanti Pappu et al., March 25, 2011) comes close to placing them in sync with the migration of early humans from Africa to the rest of the world through Asia. Read more.

Open Access Archaeology Digest #546
Open Access (free to read) articles on archaeology:

Excavations of a medieval cemetery at Skaill House, and a cist in the Bay of Skaill, Sandwick, Orkney.

The Acheulian in East Asia: a Cautionary Note

Trails through the Landscape of the Colorado Desert

Learn more about Open Access and Archaeology at: http://bit.ly/YHuyFK

Stone tools helped shape human hands

“AROUND 1.7 million years ago, our ancestors’ tools went from basic rocks banged together to chipped hand axes. The strength and dexterity needed to make and use the latter quickly shaped our hands into what they are today – judging by a fossil that belongs to the oldest known anatomically modern hand.

The 1.7-million-year-old Acheulean hand axes were some of the first stone tools. Over the next million years, these chunky teardrop-shaped rocks became widely used before being replaced by finer, more precise flint tips. But how our ancestors’ hands evolved into a shape that could make such tools is a bit of a mystery.

Before the hand axes appeared, our ancestors had primitive wrists: good for hanging from branches, but too weak to grasp and handle small objects with much force. And no hand bones had been found to fill the gap between 1.7 million years ago and 800,000 years ago – by which time humans had developed the hands we have today. Now, a new fossil is helping bridge that gap.

In 2010, a team led by Fredrick Kyalo Manthi of the National Museums of Kenya discovered an intriguing bone in the north of the country. Carol Ward of the University of Missouri and colleagues identified it as a third metacarpal, the long bone in the palm between the middle finger and the wrist.

Like modern human metacarpals, it has a small lump at its base – the styloid. This projection helps stabilise the wrist when the hand is gripping small objects between the thumb and fingers. Isotope dating revealed the bone to be about 1.4 million years old. It is likely to have belonged to Homo erectus.

Hand bones of early Homo erectus are almost unknown, says Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. “Having such a well-preserved specimen begins to answer questions about hand evolution,” he says.

"This is an exciting find," agrees Mary Marzke of Arizona State University in Tempe. It shows that our ancestors’ hands were already evolving into their modern form 1.4 million years ago. The forceful, repetitive and sustained processes of tool use, such as digging with rocks, would have made stronger hands desirable, says Marzke.

This would have been particularly useful for knocking off flakes to form and sharpen hand axes, says Potts. Once the important wrist features were in place, it became easier for later hominids to make smaller, finer tools.

Because the fossil is younger than the first tools, Ward’s team believe it is the first evidence of anatomy evolving to suit a new technology. As stone tools became more widespread, those who had the wrist structure to use them would have had an evolutionary advantage over their weaker-wristed kin. “The way we look today has been shaped by our behaviour over millions of years,” says Ward. She presented the research at this week’s meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Knoxville, Tennessee”

***I asked a friend who was at the lecture at the AAPAs and who is also a specialist in hand bone evolution about his thoughts on this research. His response, “My thoughts may be summarized as Bad ass, and amazing. Totally believe it and it looks human but distinctly different. Super. Long and thin, but otherwise just like ours.”

(Text source: New Scientist; image: mine)

A MATLAB based orientation analysis of Acheulean handaxe accumulations in Olorgesailie and Kariandusi, Kenya Rift

“The Pleistocene archeological record in East Africa has revealed unusual accumulations of Acheulean handaxes at prehistoric sites. In particular, there has been intensive debate concerning whether the artifact accumulation at the Middle Pleistocene Olorgesailie (Southern Kenya Rift) and Kariandusi (Central Kenya Rift) sites were a result of fluvial reworking or of in situ deposition by hominids. We used a two-step approach to test the hypothesis of fluvial reworking. Firstly, the behavior of handaxes in water currents was investigated in a current flume and the flow threshold required to reorientate the handaxes was determined. The results of these experiments suggested that, in relatively high energy and non-steady flow conditions, handaxes will reorientate themselves perpendicular to the current direction. Secondly, an automated image analysis routine was developed and applied to archeological plans from three Acheulean sites, two at Olorgesailie and one at Kariandusi, in order to determine the orientations of the handaxes. A Rayleigh test was then applied to the orientation data to test for a preferred orientation. The results revealed that the handaxes at the Upper Kariandusi Site and the Olorgesailie Main Site Mid Trench had a preferential orientation, suggesting reworking by a paleocurrent. The handaxes from the Olorgesailie Main Site H/6A, however, appeared to be randomly oriented and in situ deposition by the producers therefore remains a possibility” (read more).

(Source: Journal of Human Evolution, in press 2013)


Mount Carmel (Israel) Lithic Artefacts

  • Top: Convergent scraper from Mugharet et-Tabun, Israel (Upper Acheulo-Mousterian layer; ca. 200-275 kya).
  • Centre right: Acheulean handaxe from Mugharet et-Tabun, Israel (Upper Acheulean layer; ca. 300-400 kya).
  • Centre left: Blade core from Mugharet el-Wad, Israel (Upper Paleolithic layers; ca. 30-40 kya).
  • Bottom: Backed knife from Mugharet es-Skhul (Lower Mousterian layer; ca. 100-130 kya).

(Source: Wesleyan Archaeology and Anthropology Collections)