Handaxes are the iconic tool associated with our hominin ancestors. They are flaked bifacially—on two faces—with a sharp, knife-like edge between them.
Handaxes are relatively large, oval- or teardrop-shaped tools, and the elegance and simplicity of the best-made examples has intrigued archaeologists and artists alike. The British Museum’s History of the World in 100 Objects begins with a homage to a bifacial handaxe.
Handaxes were made by our early hominin ancestors from about 1.75 million years ago. Homo erectus made vast numbers of handaxes prior to going extinct ca. 108,000 years ago, but other archaic hominins made them too, including Neanderthals. Our own species—Homo sapiens—made handaxes during our early evolution in Africa, and in parts of North America and Australia handaxes were made and used in the recent past. Handaxes served as heavy cutting tools that could be held in the hand, and the flakes struck from them could serve as knives or scraping tools.