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Stone handaxe
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THIS small handaxe is one of the most beautiful in the British Museum. It is made from quartz with attractive amethyst banding, a difficult material from which to make tools because it is extremely hard. The toolmaker would have had to hit with considerable force and accuracy to remove flakes. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin, symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers’ art.

After roughing out the basic form of this handaxe, the maker went on to refine its shape, straighten its edges and thin it down. This added little to its usefulness: a simple, sharp quartz flake would have worked as well. It suggests that the skill invested in producing such beautiful and sometimes very large handaxes may have had other purposes. Perhaps some pieces were status symbols or had ritual significance.

Stone handaxe


From Bed IV, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania
Lower Palaeolithic, c. 800,000 years old
L. 13.6 cm
W. 7.7 cm
D. 4.1 cm



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