This handaxe was recovered from the Somme River gravels at St Acheul, a suburb of Amiens in France, and the type-site for the Acheulean industry. The handaxes from these gravels date between ca. 450,000-550,000 BP.
This flint handaxe is part of a collection of Paleolithic artifacts that was acquired in 1929 by James Bell Bullitt during a tour of western Europe and later donated to the University of North Carolina. The original flakes scars are patinated to a yellow colour, and more recent damage—probably from rolling in the Somme gravels—is white in colour. The proximal end of the handaxe (or ‘butt’) was left unflaked by the hominin flintknapper, perhaps to protect the hand during use.
The artefact is curated in the North Carolina Archaeological Collection, Research Laboratories of Archaeology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, catalog no. 515a1 (specimen 1).
Handaxes were discovered by workmen quarrying the river gravels at St Acheul, Amiens, and Abbeville in the 1830s (the workmen called them langues de chat, or ‘cat’s tongues’), and the antiquarian Boucher de Perthes recognised that they were deliberately fashioned tools in 1842. He was among the first researchers to recognise that humans were alive at the same time as extinct elephants and rhinoceros of the Pleistocene period. He published his findings in 1847, but his observations were not widely accepted until finally vindicated in 1859 by the geologist Joseph Prestwich and antiquarian John Evans of the British scientific establishment. This softened the ground for Charles Darwin’s model of evolution in On the Origin of Species in 1859, and, in 1871, his ideas on human evolution in The Descent of Man.