A New Stone Technology Enters Europe


September 06, 2009

The finding of the earliest Achulean lithics in Europe was reported in last week’s Nature by researchers Gary Scott and Luis Gilbert, with the Berkeley Geochronology Center.

Paleomagnetic analysis established a date of approximately 900,000 years ago in southeastern Spain, at Solana del Zamborino.  Until now the oldest Achulean implements were also found in Spain and dated to about 500,000 years ago.

“Stone tools are durable reminders of the activities, skills and customs of early humans, “ say the authors of this paper.  The oldest stone tools were found at Gona in Ethiopia and estimated to be 2.6 million years old.  This early technology is called “Olduwan” (from Olduvai Gorge, where many examples of this type have been found) and was flake based, meaning flakes were struck from a core stone by striking it with a hammer stone, producing chips or flakes.  The flakes from a core that is flint or a similar hard, fine grain stone tend to be sharp edged and are good for cutting.

About 1.5 million years ago, also in eastern Africa, a new technology emerged and has been called Achulean.  Achulean is a core based, bifacial technology, meaning the hammer stone is used to shape the core on both sides and produces hand axes and choppers.

The Acvhulean process resulted in a wider range of useful implements and also may have marked a change in cognitive skills.  One can strike a core with a hammer stone and obtain, almost by serendipity, sharp cutting tools, even points.  In order to produce a bifacial hand axe, the maker has to visualize, before he starts, the purpose of the tool and the shape he wants.  Olduwan flaking existed for a million years, extending from Europe to eastern Asia as Homo erectus moved out of Africa.  The Nature paper this week reveals Achaean technology, predominant in Africa and the Levant for several hundred thousand years, came to Europe about 900.000 years ago.

Here is a link to the article in Nature.

See also the story below this one, “Heat Hardening Makes Better Stone Tools.”