This is an Acheulean quartzite cleaver from Morocco. Cleavers are similar to handaxes, but they were made on large flake blanks that were modified so that the edge of the flake became the cutting edge at the distal end of the tool. The Acheulean period dates to between ca. 170,000 BP to 1.7 million BP in the Sahara Desert region of North Africa.
This large quartzite cleaver was made on a flake of enormous size struck from a boulder core. The cleaver is about 19 cm long and the flake blank it was made on may have been up to 25 cm in largest dimension. Cortex is not present on the dorsal surface of the cleaver, suggesting that the flake blank was struck after prior flake removals from the boulder core. Striking flakes this size requires considerable technical skill. It appears that the cleaver was oriented from side-to-side within the flake blank, with one of the blank’s lateral margins forming the unmodified cutting edge at the distal end of the cleaver. This edge would have been exceptionally sharp when freshly made but has been rounded by weathering over the aeons. The sides and butt of the cleaver were shaped by bifacial hard-hammer percussion.
Bifacially-flaked handaxes and cleavers are characteristic of the Acheulean period. Cleavers are particularly abundant at the Algerian site of Ternifine, dated to ca. 700,000 BP—composing almost half of the 104 bifaces recovered from excavations at the site. 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). Homo heidelbergensis is thought by many palaeoanthropologists to be the most recent common ancestor between modern humans like us and the Neanderthals. Fossils of Homo heidelbergensis have been found in the Sahara Desert region dating from ca. 600,000-700,000 BP, contemporary with North African Acheulean stone technology. 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.