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33618Re: [AAT] He: hand axes

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  • Pauline M Ross
    Feb 1, 2006
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      On Wed, 01 Feb 2006 09:39:12 +0000, Pauline M Ross
      <pmross@...> wrote:

      >>[Michael] Awesome to the max. He has nailed it. No doubt. And I usually don't talk
      >>like that.
      >A cautionary comment: I haven't yet read the whole article, but I
      >should point out that the idea of hand-axes as cores to produce flakes
      >is one of the earliest proposed explanations for them. However, the
      >symmetry, the carefully produced shape and the continuing production
      >for over a million years suggests there was something more going on.
      >I will comment further when I have read the article in full.

      Well, having read the whole thing, it's certainly an interesting point
      of view, although I don't find it totally convincing. Some specific

      - The photograph of two handaxes with the author's hand for scale is
      illuminating: the smaller, almost discoid one is very easy to envisage
      as the core resulting from repeated flaking; the larger, pointed one
      is a different kettle of fish.

      - The author's admission that he has only examined a small number of
      handaxes makes it less convincing.

      - I would question his assertion that handaxes "were found at their
      quarry (material source)", when he defines 'local' as less than 40 km.
      That's too great a distance to claim the material is at source.

      - I would have been interested to see a photograph of the result of
      the informal experiment (by Bob Patten) where removing flakes
      systematically produced a handaxe - was it like either of the two in
      the photograph, and if so which one? It would also have been
      informative to repeat the experiment with other knappers.

      - The discussion of external and inertial supports was interesting and
      illuminating, and certainly suggests how the teardrop shape

      - The soft and hard hammer logic is persuasive, but (in my view) isn't
      particularly important. So they used a simpler technique and therefore
      weren't as advanced cognitively as some people thought. <Shrug>

      Marek Kohn wrote a whole book on handaxes and their meaning (called
      "As We Know It", a stupid title, and based on the premise that
      handaxes were a means of sexual selection). He discusses the ideas of
      Davidson and Noble that the handaxe is a residual core: "They cite
      Bruce Bradley and C. Garth Sampson, who discovered, when trying to
      replicate bifaces found at the British site of Caddington, that a
      typical Caddington handaxe form invariably appeared at some stage in
      the process. But the local style was fairly rough and ready. Davidson
      and Noble's argument loses persuasiveness when extended across the
      range of handaxes. It takes a modern knapper a great deal of effort to
      replicate the more highly worked types. There are only so many ways to
      knap stone: if Acheulean forms were the outcome of constraints, it
      seems likely that knappers would have discovered techniques which
      simulated these constraints, and thus reduced the amount of conscious
      effor required."

      That seems like a fairly flimsy argument to me, but I would put it
      this way: it is likely that a basic handaxe shape will emerge as part
      of a flake-removal process in many cases, but many handaxes are just
      too symmetrical and detailed to be merely biproducts.

      Perhaps the answer is that simple flake removal produced an initial
      rough handaxe shape, which was then sometimes enhanced for some other

      Pauline Ross
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