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Handaxes: The First Aesthetic Artefacts

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Evolutionary Aesthetics

Abstract

The first stone artefacts made by our human ancestors appear 2.5 million years ago and are referred to as the Oldowan culture. These are nodules of basalt, chert and limestone that have been struck with a hammerstone to remove flakes. Both the flakes and the remnants of the nodules, referred to as cores, were used for the processing of animal carcasses; they may have also been used for other activities such as cracking nuts, chopping plants, removing bark and throwing at prey (Schick and Toth 1993). Although such artefacts have traditionally been associated with Homo habilis, it is possible that several early hominids including australopithecines produced such tools (Susman 1991). With regard to aesthetics, Oldowan tools have little appeal. There was no intentionally imposed design with the resulting cores simply being a product of the original shape of the nodule and the number of flakes removed. By 1.4 million years ago, however, a new type of artefact appears in the archaeological record — the handaxe. This appears quite different to anything in the Oldowan culture due to a deliberately imposed form that often exhibits considerable symmetry.

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Mithen, S. (2003). Handaxes: The First Aesthetic Artefacts. In: Voland, E., Grammer, K. (eds) Evolutionary Aesthetics. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-07142-7_9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-07142-7_9

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-642-07822-4

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