33688Re: [AAT] He: hand axes
- Feb 5, 2006[Resending - this doesn't seem to have got through the first time]
On Fri, 3 Feb 2006 12:34:13 -0300, "Gerard Michael Burns"
>Please don't get mad at me, but I have to utttterrrly go after everythingHey, I never get mad at anyone presenting a reasoned argument from the
>you have said.
>Well, in his definition of 'local material', he says that "the vast
>Okay, maybe he didn't explain this as clearly as you would have liked, but
>he did specifically define what he meant by "local material", and then _did
>not_ use "local", but "at the source" to describe where many Achulean
>handaxes are found.
majority of handaxes were made of local material" (ie up to 40 km from
the source), but let's not quarrel over his use of words. Many
handaxes are found "at the source", others are found up to 40 km away,
so we can perhaps agree that, even if many, or even most, are found at
source, at least some were transported up to 40 km, either as unworked
cobbles, or partly or wholly worked artefacts.
>In any case, as in the example I posted from anotherI don't know about 'never' and 'always', but the evidence I have seen
>writer, there are supposed to be quite a few cases where large numbers of
>"handaxes" are found right in the midst of the same cobbles from which they
>were manufactured. This is almost impossible to explain except as per Baker.
>In other sources, I have read that these "handaxes" are nonetheless
>_"never"_ found with their own manufacturing "debris" (which would be the
>flakes), meaning either that the flakes were carried off by the
>manufacturer, or else that they were _always_ very cleanly washed away by
>some natural process.
certainly supports the situation you describe in general. I agree this
is difficult to explain in any other way.
>> Some were clearly used asThere is microwear analysis consistent with use as butchery tools and
>> cutting tools, some were not.
>I am unaware of clear indications that handaxes were used as cutting tools.
>But since flashlights are sometimes used as hammers, and cellphones as
>doorstops, it wouldn't be remarkable, especially if you had a given core
>sitting around the cave for several months. What were they used to cut?
>Wood? Bone? Hides and meat? Other rocks?
also for woodworking. Nevertheless, large numbers (possibly most, I
don't have numbers on this) were never used at all, despite having
good sharp edges, and this is clearly inconsistent with the idea that
they were *intended* as cutting tools. But, as you say, anything with
a sharp edge may be used at some stage, but I agree that the flakes
were the preferred cutting tools (well, even Homo erectus was surely
too smart to design a hand-held cutting tool with a sharp edge all the
>> Some may have been thrown as huntingYes, very true, but I was thinking more of William Calvin's proposed
>Maybe on a rare occasion, but try it. I have tried throwing rocks of this
>size and shape. They would have some effect at a range of 4-6 meters (7-8
>meters at an extreme outside), but would rarely hit hard enough to cause
>significant discomfort to anything larger than a rabbit at greater range-
>and even at 4-5 meters they won't fell most medium or large animals with any
>hint of regularity, not even a medium-sized dog (personal experience). It is
>a suicide weapon against large or medium animals, and enormously larger than
>would be best for throwing at rabbit-sized animals (rabbits can be hunted
>effectively with rocks, but best with rocks less than half the size of a
type of early hunting, where you get up a tree at a waterhole or river
crossing and wait for a herd of something-or-other to mill about
underneath, then you lob branches or sharp stones into the pack; with
luck, one or two individuals will be hit, will buckle at the knees and
get trampled in the ensuing panic. It seems plausible, and certainly a
stone sharpened all the way round would be much more effective than a
flake or Oldowan-type tool.
>> My final thought is that any thesis which rests on the premise thatOK, fair point.
>> "since there is no fossil hand evidence to suggest otherwise, my
>> theory is intact" is in a fairly precarious position.
>I know of no one who has advanced such a thesis. The reference to the lack
>of a hand from He is only relevant to Baker's ancillary attempt to explain
>the size differences between He handaxes and those produced by Hs. I find
>his supposition reasonable, and supportive of his general thesis, but not
>And remember, that evenTo my mind, this is the most compelling argument in favour of Baker's
>those who believe the "handaxe" to have been a purposeful tool have been
>unable to come up with a convincing use for it, and a very convincing use
>would need to exist for such incredible consistency.
line. If, after so many years of trying, no one has found a convincing
use for handaxes, maybe there simply isn't one.
> On the other hand, theWith *all* the finds? Have a look at this site:
>symmetry of these artifacts can be easily explained as the byproduct of
>continully seeking the next flake from a core until the core becomes too
>small to be easily worked. And that explanation as being the normal origin
>of the "handaxes" is the only one consistent with all the finds.
After a short preamble (assuming, naturally, that handaxes are
intentionally designed objects :-), it consists of a large number of
photos and drawings of various handaxes. It is clear that they vary
widely, and while there are many that look as if usable flakes have
been knapped off and they were then just discarded, many have a
remarkable degree of symmetry and look (to me) as if smaller flakes
have been removed round the edges to produce the symmetry. The last
two photos are particularly striking illustrations of what I mean.
>All the profound papers analyzing the cognition of He based on the symmetryYes, indeed. We always carry our own culture with us. Look at all
>of his "handaxes" are probably better evidence of our own mindset, our need
>to use stories to offer a framewrk for retaining and understanding scattered
>facts, than as evidence of what He was up to with his battered rocks. See,
>Landau: Human Evolution as Narrative, American Scientist, vol 72, pp 262-268
those man-the-mighty-hunter, killer-ape and
bipedalism-to-provision-the-waiting-female theories from a few decades
ago, which fitted right in with the prevailing (Western) social
There is no doubt that it has been *assumed* for many years that
handaxes are intentionally designed artefacts, and the few who
disagreed with that were perhaps pursuing their own agenda. Davidson
and Noble, for instance, were leading proponents of the
revolution-at-40kya theory, and cognitively advanced Homo erectus
designing aesthetically pleasing handaxes didn't fit that idea at all.
Don't misunderstand me, I like Baker's work very much, and I think it
does answer some of the really puzzling questions about handaxes: the
tear-drop shape, for example, why many were never used, and why many
were found at source but with no debitage.
If you asked 100 experienced knappers to produce as many usable flakes
as possible from a large cobble, I can well believe that the resultant
cores would be readily identifiable as handaxes, and could comfortably
sit alongside any museum's collection.
However, I find it more difficult to believe that *all* discovered
handaxes were produced simply by knapping off flakes until no more
could be made. Some of them are just too symmetrical for that to be
plausible. But there does seem to be evidence of a progression from
the roughly produced to the more 'perfected' form, and I would be
happy to accept that handaxes *originated* as the byproduct of flake
production, but that later producers sometimes tinkered with them to
enhance the symmetry.
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