Human Evolution

Quartzite handaxe iconic

Stone artefacts are humankind’s most enduring legacy.  Stone tools were first made in Africa about 3.3 million years ago and stone flaking has continued uninterrupted to the present day.  It is safe to say that most, if not all, of our direct hominin and human ancestors knew the rudiments of controlled flaking.  It is only in recent millennia that a sizeable percentage of humans could go through life without this skill.  

Scores of flakes are struck from a stone to initially produce a tool and to maintain it through its use-life.  Because of this, combined with the exceptionally deep chronology of this technology, it can be conservatively estimated that hominins have produced more than one artefact for each square metre of our planet’s land surface.  Stone tools endure on the landscape and cannot be easily ignored, and, as the archaeologist Richard Bradley put it, ancient peoples were ‘forced to use these scraps of ancient material culture to understand their place in the world’.  Archaeologists use the scientific method to continue to do this today, and research over the last 160 years has created the ‘standard sequence’ of technological change over the course of human evolution.  

  

Oldowan Industry

Our earliest evidence for stone flaking is stone tools dating to 3.3 million years ago from the site of Lomekwi 3 in the West Turkana region of Kenya.  These early ‘Lomekwian’ tools—about 20 artefacts were excavated from secure context—are unsophisticated and may have resulted from the use of stone as hammers and percussion tools.  Deliberate, fully-controlled stone-flaking emerges with the Oldowan Industry by ca. 2.6 million years ago.  The famous palaeoanthropologist Mary Leakey named the industry after the earliest stone tools excavated from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania from the 1930s to the 1960s.  The Oldowan is conventionally said to end at about 1.76 million years ago, when it is supplanted by the Acheulean Industry, but Oldowan-style tools continued to be made throughout human history.  The Oldowan Industry is primarily attributed to the hominin Homo habilis, although australopithecines or other a different species of Homo may have also made these stone tools.

Core, Tanzania

Oldowan Core

Spheroid, Olduvai Gorge

Spheroid

Homo floresiensis

In 2003, the Australian-Indonesian team led by archaeologist Mike Morwood of the University of New England discovered a skeleton of a tiny individual in Liang Bua Cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia.  Rokus Awe Due, a local bone expert, immediately observed that although the sizes of the bones indicated that the individual was a female about the height of a 5-year-old child, the wear on the teeth and the advanced fusion of sutures suggested she was an adult in her 30s.  Also, anatomical features of the skull, mandible, and limb bones were highly unusual.  Palaeoanthropologist Peter Brown confirmed Rokus’s observations, and in 2004 the research team, led by Morwood and Brown, announced a new species of human to the scientific community, which they named Homo floresiensis.  Morwood nicknamed the find ‘Hobbit’ after the famous story by J. R. R. Tolkien and the popular Peter Jackson film. 

Soa core 11

Bifacial Core

Soa core 3 conjoin

Centripetal Core

Liang Bua centripetal core re-do

Centripetal Core

Centripetal core Liang Bua 7

Centripetal Core

Flake, Kobatuwa

Flake

Core 10, Soa basin

Multiplatform Core

Core 9 So'a Basin

Multiplatform Core

Core 7, Soa Basin

Multiplatform Core

Core 6, Soa Basin

Multiplatform Core

Core 5 Soa basin

Multiplatform Core

Multiplatform Mata Menge 7

Multiplatform Core

Core 8, pick, Soa Basin

Multiplatform Core, ‘Pick’

Core 4 soa basin

Retouched Cobble, ‘Perforator’

Liang Bua perforator

Retouched Flake

Acheulean Industry

The Acheulean Industry was named after stone artefacts recovered in the 1850s from ancient river terraces in a quarry at Saint-Acheul (Amiens), in France.  The Oldowan and Acheulean industries define the Lower Palaeolithic period.  The Acheulean emerged in Africa about 1.76 million years ago, and the end-date is generally thought to be about 100,000 BP, so Acheulean tools were likely made by more than one hominin species (including Homo habilis and Homo erectus).  The key artefact type of the Acheulean is the ‘handaxe’, so-named because early researchers thought they were chopping tools that were held in the hand.  These objects are bifacial:  flaked to two opposite faces from a common platform edge.  The platform edge is very sharp and is presumed to be the working edge of the tool.  

Cleaver, Sudan

Acheulean Cleaver

Handaxe, Swanscombe

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe UK, Iver AIA

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe Quartzite England AIA

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe UK, giant ficron 2023

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe AIA ambiguous label

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe St Acheul

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe on a flake

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe with shell fossil

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe France

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe, Broom, England

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe, Morocco

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe, UAE

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe UAE

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe Morocco

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe, Western Sahara

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe, Algeria

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe, Tanzania

Acheulean Handaxe

Handaxe twisted cordate Manchester uni

Acheulean Handaxe, ‘s-twist’

Flake, Biddenham AIA

Flake

Levallois Method

The Middle Palaeolithic emerged from the Lower Palaeolithic by about 250,000 BP in Africa and 150,000 BP in Europe.  In the Lower Palaeolithic, flakes struck from cores tended to be amorphous in shape and size.  Towards the end of the Lower Palaeolithic and into the Middle Palaeolithic, cores began to be shaped so that a flake with a predetermined shape could be struck off.  Archaeologists refer to this as a ‘prepared core’ technology because the core was carefully prepared by prior anticipatory flaking before striking off the desired objective flake.  The objective flake was then retouched and used as the tool.  Prepared-core technologies require more advanced cognitive abilities than the simpler preceding approaches, and their emergence is considered by many archaeologists to signal an important change in hominin evolution.  The Levallois Method is the earliest widespread example of prepared core technology.

Aterian Point 1

Aterian Point

Aterian point 2 17 Jul 2023

Aterian Point

Levallois core Germany re-do 1

Levallois Core

Levallois Nubian re-do silver

Levallois Core

Levallois core 1

Levallois Core

Levallois core plaster cast

Levallois Core

Levallois core, Israel

Levallois Core

Levallois nubian core quartzite egypt

Levallois Core

screenshot (7)

Levallois Core

Levallois Les eysies 1

Levallois Core

Levallois Nubian YP

Levallois Core

Levallois flake plaster

Levallois Flake

Levallois flake France

Levallois Flake

Levallois point Israel

Levallois Point

Eoliths

The term eoliths (literally ‘dawn stones’) refers to objects once thought to be the earliest stone tools.  They are now known to be examples of natural fracture—not deliberately fashioned tools—and, as such, are rarely a topic of modern archaeological research.  However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, eoliths were one of the central topics in the developing field of stone artefact analysis.  The 30-year controversy over whether they were natural or cultural in origin was exceptionally heated and emotional in certain quarters, particularly in Britain. 

Eolith core 1

Eolith Core

Eolith core 2

Eolith Core

Eolith flake 1

Eolith Flake

Eolith, flake 2

Eolith Flake

Eolith flake 3

Eolith Flake

Eolith flake 4

Eolith Flake

Eolith AIA 1

Eolith Piece

Eolith retouched cobble

Eolith Retouched Cobble

Flake, taphonomic damage

Flake