This quartzite Acheulean handaxe is from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Africa. The handaxe was excavated by Louis Leakey from Bed IV of site HK (Hopwood’s Korongo). The site was excavated from 1931-1932, and again in 1969. The results of the latter excavation indicate that the assemblage is in a disturbed deposit in the Post-Masek Beds, dated to ca. 400,000-600,000 BP.
This handaxe was made between about 400,000-600,000 BP, long after the earliest examples at Olduvai. It is made from the coarse quartzite typical of many of the stone artefact assemblages from Olduvai Gorge.
The handaxe is curated by the University of Cambridge, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Accession No. 1934.1111A.
Handaxes are the earliest and longest-used ‘designed’ tool in human history, emerging in the archaeological record in Kenya (Kokiselei) and Ethiopia (Konso) ca. 1.75-1.8 million years ago. In North Africa, handaxes have been dated at Oued Boucherit in Algeria to 1.7 million years ago, and 1.3 million years ago at the Thomas Quarry site on the outskirts of Casablanca, Morocco. The earliest handaxes were likely made by Homo erectus, with the later handaxes in North Africa and Europe made by Homo heidelbergensis (also known as Homo rhodesiensis). The Acheulean period is thought to have ended about 170,000 BP, replaced by prepared core technologies, although handaxe manufacture persisted for longer in some regions.
Bifacially-flaked handaxes are characteristic of the Acheulean period. Mary Leakey analysed the stone tool assemblages excavated from sites in the Olduvai Gorge, and argued that the Acheulean stone tools, inducluding handaxes, emerged from the preceding Oldowan technology. She called the intervening assemblages ‘Developed Oldowan’, defined in part by having fewer than 40% bifacial handaxes. Although handaxes are now considered the defining feature of the Acheulean, they date earlier than this at Olduvai Gorge.