(/əˈʃuːliən/; also Acheulian and Mode II), from the French acheuléen, is an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture characterized by distinctive oval and pear-shaped "hand-axes" associated with early humans. Acheulean
tools were produced during the Lower Palaeolithic
Lower Palaeolithic
era across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia, and Europe, and are typically found with Homo erectus remains. It is thought that Acheulean
technologies first developed in Africa out of the more primitive Oldowan
technology as long as 1.76 million years ago, by Homo
habilis. Acheulean
tools were the dominant technology for the vast majority of human history.[3][4][5]


1 History of research 2 Dating the Acheulean 3 Acheulean
stone tools

3.1 Stages 3.2 Manufacture 3.3 Use

3.3.1 Hand-axe
as a left over core 3.3.2 Money

3.4 Distribution

4 Acheulean
tool users 5 See also 6 References 7 Bibliography 8 External links

History of research[edit] The type site for the Acheulean
is Saint-Acheul, a suburb of Amiens, the capital of the Somme department in Picardy, where artifacts were found in 1859.[6] John Frere
John Frere
is generally credited as being the first to suggest a very ancient date for Acheulean
hand-axes. In 1797, he sent two examples to the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
in London from Hoxne
in Suffolk. He had found them in prehistoric lake deposits along with the bones of extinct animals and concluded that they were made by people "who had not the use of metals" and that they belonged to a "very ancient period indeed, even beyond the present world".[7] His ideas were, however, ignored by his contemporaries, who subscribed to a pre-Darwinian view of human evolution.[citation needed] Later, Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes, working between 1836 and 1846, collected further examples of hand-axes and fossilised animal bone from the gravel river terraces of the Somme near Abbeville in northern France. Again, his theories attributing great antiquity to the finds were spurned by his colleagues, until one of de Perthe's main opponents, Dr Marcel Jérôme Rigollot, began finding more tools near Saint Acheul. Following visits to both Abbeville
and Saint Acheul by the geologist Joseph Prestwich, the age of the tools was finally accepted.[citation needed] In 1872, Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet
Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet
described the characteristic hand-axe tools as belonging to L'Epoque de St Acheul. The industry was renamed as the Acheulean
in 1925.[citation needed] Dating the Acheulean[edit]

An Acheulean
handaxe, Haute-Garonne France – MHNT

Providing calendrical dates and ordered chronological sequences in the study of early stone tool manufacture is often accomplished through one or more geological techniques, such as radiometric dating, often potassium-argon dating, and magnetostratigraphy. From the Konso Formation of Ethiopia, Acheulean
hand-axes are dated to about 1.5 million years ago using radiometric dating of deposits containing volcanic ashes.[8] Acheulean
tools in South Asia have also been found to be dated as far as 1.5 million years ago.[9] However, the earliest accepted examples of the Acheulean
currently known come from the West Turkana
West Turkana
region of Kenya
and were first described by a French-led archaeology team.[10] These particular Acheulean
tools were recently dated through the method of magnetostratigraphy to about 1.76 million years ago, making them the oldest not only in Africa but the world.[11] The earliest user of Acheulean
tools was Homo
ergaster, who first appeared about 1.8 million years ago. Not all researchers use this formal name, and instead prefer to call these users early Homo
erectus.[5] From geological dating of sedimentary deposits, it appears that the Acheulean
originated in Africa and spread to Asian, Middle Eastern, and European areas sometime between 1.5 million years ago and about 800 thousand years ago.[12][13] In individual regions, this dating can be considerably refined; in Europe for example, it was thought that Acheulean
methods did not reach the continent until around 500,000 years ago. However more recent research demonstrated that hand-axes from Spain were made more than 900,000 years ago.[13] Relative dating techniques (based on a presumption that technology progresses over time) suggest that Acheulean
tools followed on from earlier, cruder tool-making methods, but there is considerable chronological overlap in early prehistoric stone-working industries, with evidence in some regions that Acheulean
tool-using groups were contemporary with other, less sophisticated industries such as the Clactonian[14] and then later with the more sophisticated Mousterian, as well. It is therefore important not to see the Acheulean
as a neatly defined period or one that happened as part of a clear sequence but as one tool-making technique that flourished especially well in early prehistory. The enormous geographic spread of Acheulean techniques also makes the name unwieldy as it represents numerous regional variations on a similar theme. The term Acheulean
does not represent a common culture in the modern sense, rather it is a basic method for making stone tools that was shared across much of the Old World.[citation needed] The very earliest Acheulean
assemblages often contain numerous Oldowan-style flakes and core forms and it is almost certain that the Acheulean
developed from this older industry. These industries are known as the Developed Oldowan
and are almost certainly transitional between the Oldowan
and Acheulean.[citation needed] Acheulean
stone tools[edit] Stages[edit] In the four divisions of prehistoric stone-working,[15] Acheulean artefacts are classified as Mode 2, meaning they are more advanced than the (usually earlier) Mode 1 tools of the Clactonian
or Oldowan/ Abbevillian
industries but lacking the sophistication of the (usually later) Mode 3 Middle Palaeolithic
technology, exemplified by the Mousterian
industry.[citation needed] The Mode 1 industries created rough flake tools by hitting a suitable stone with a hammerstone. The resulting flake that broke off would have a natural sharp edge for cutting and could afterwards be sharpened further by striking another smaller flake from the edge if necessary (known as "retouch"). These early toolmakers may also have worked the stone they took the flake from (known as a core) to create chopper cores although there is some debate over whether these items were tools or just discarded cores.[16] The Mode 2 Acheulean
toolmakers also used the Mode 1 flake tool method but supplemented it by using bone, antler, or wood to shape stone tools. This type of hammer, compared to stone, yields more control over the shape of the finished tool. Unlike the earlier Mode 1 industries, it was the core that was prized over the flakes that came from it. Another advance was that the Mode 2 tools were worked symmetrically and on both sides indicating greater care in the production of the final tool.[citation needed] Mode 3 technology emerged towards the end of Acheulean
dominance and involved the Levallois technique, most famously exploited by the Mousterian
industry. Transitional tool forms between the two are called Mousterian
of Acheulean
Tradition, or MTA types. The long blades of the Upper Palaeolithic
Upper Palaeolithic
Mode 4 industries appeared long after the Acheulean
was abandoned.[citation needed] As the period of Acheulean
tool use is so vast, efforts have been made to classify various stages of it such as John Wymer's division into Early Acheulean, Middle Acheulean, Late Middle Acheulean
and Late Acheulean[17] for material from Britain. These schemes are normally regional and their dating and interpretations vary.[18] In Africa, there is a distinct difference in the tools made before and after 600,000 years ago with the older group being thicker and less symmetric and the younger being more extensively trimmed.[19] Manufacture[edit] The primary innovation associated with Acheulean
hand-axes is that the stone was worked symmetrically and on both sides. For the latter reason, handaxes are, along with cleavers, bifacially worked tools that could be manufactured from the large flakes themselves or from prepared cores.[20] Tool types found in Acheulean
assemblages include pointed, cordate, ovate, ficron, and bout-coupé hand-axes (referring to the shapes of the final tool), cleavers, retouched flakes, scrapers, and segmental chopping tools. Materials used were determined by available local stone types; flint is most often associated with the tools but its use is concentrated in Western Europe; in Africa sedimentary and igneous rock such as mudstone and basalt were most widely used, for example. Other source materials include chalcedony, quartzite, andesite, sandstone, chert, and shale. Even relatively soft rock such as limestone could be exploited.[21] In all cases the toolmakers worked their handaxes close to the source of their raw materials, suggesting that the Acheulean
was a set of skills passed between individual groups.[22] Some smaller tools were made from large flakes that had been struck from stone cores. These flake tools and the distinctive waste flakes produced in Acheulean
tool manufacture suggest a more considered technique, one that required the toolmaker to think one or two steps ahead during work that necessitated a clear sequence of steps to create perhaps several tools in one sitting.[citation needed] A hard hammerstone would first be used to rough out the shape of the tool from the stone by removing large flakes. These large flakes might be re-used to create tools. The tool maker would work around the circumference of the remaining stone core, removing smaller flakes alternately from each face. The scar created by the removal of the preceding flake would provide a striking platform for the removal of the next. Misjudged blows or flaws in the material used could cause problems, but a skilled toolmaker could overcome them.[citation needed] Once the roughout shape was created, a further phase of flaking was undertaken to make the tool thinner. The thinning flakes were removed using a softer hammer, such as bone or antler. The softer hammer required more careful preparation of the striking platform and this would be abraded using a coarse stone to ensure the hammer did not slide off when struck.[citation needed] Final shaping was then applied to the usable cutting edge of the tool, again using fine removal of flakes. Some Acheulean
tools were sharpened instead by the removal of a tranchet flake. This was struck from the lateral edge of the hand-axe close to the intended cutting area, resulting in the removal of a flake running along (parallel to) the blade of the axe to create a neat and very sharp working edge. This distinctive tranchet flake can be identified amongst flint-knapping debris at Acheulean
sites.[citation needed] Use[edit]

hand-axe from Egypt. Found on a hill top plateau, 1400 feet above sea level, 9 miles NNW of the city of Naqada, Egypt. Paleolithic. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London

Loren Eiseley
Loren Eiseley
calculated[23] that Acheulean
tools have an average useful cutting edge of 20 centimetres (8 inches), making them much more efficient than the 5-centimetre (2 in) average of Oldowan tools.[citation needed] Use-wear analysis
Use-wear analysis
on Acheulean
tools suggests there was generally no specialization in the different types created and that they were multi-use implements. Functions included hacking wood from a tree, cutting animal carcasses as well as scraping and cutting hides when necessary. Some tools, however, could have been better suited to digging roots or butchering animals than others.[citation needed] Alternative theories include a use for ovate hand-axes as a kind of hunting discus to be hurled at prey.[24] Puzzlingly, there are also examples of sites where hundreds of hand-axes, many impractically large and also apparently unused, have been found in close association together. Sites such as Melka Kunturé in Ethiopia, Olorgesailie
in Kenya, Isimila in Tanzania, and Kalambo Falls
Kalambo Falls
in Zambia
have produced evidence that suggests Acheulean
hand-axes might not always have had a functional purpose.[citation needed] Recently, it has been suggested[25] that the Acheulean
tool users adopted the handaxe as a social artifact, meaning that it embodied something beyond its function of a butchery or wood cutting tool. Knowing how to create and use these tools would have been a valuable skill and the more elaborate ones suggest that they played a role in their owners' identity and their interactions with others. This would help explain the apparent over-sophistication of some examples which may represent a "historically accrued social significance".[26] One theory goes further and suggests that some special hand-axes were made and displayed by males in search of mate, using a large, well-made hand-axe to demonstrate that they possessed sufficient strength and skill to pass on to their offspring. Once they had attracted a female at a group gathering, it is suggested that they would discard their axes, perhaps explaining why so many are found together.[27] Hand-axe
as a left over core[edit] Stone knapping with limited digital dexterity makes the center of gravity the required direction of flake removal. Physics then dictates a circular or oval end pattern, similar to the handaxe, for a leftover core after flake production. This would explain the abundance, wide distribution, proximity to source, consistent shape, and lack of actual use, of these artifacts.[28][additional citation(s) needed] Money[edit] Mimi Lam, a researcher from the University of British Columbia, has suggested that Acheulean
hand-axes became "the first commodity: A marketable good or service that has value and is used as an item for exchange."[29] Distribution[edit]



Yuanmou County

Koobi Fora



Bose Basin

Map of Afro-Eurasia
showing important sites of the Acheulean
industry (clickable map).

The geographic distribution of Acheulean
tools – and thus the peoples who made them – is often interpreted as being the result of palaeo-climatic and ecological factors, such as glaciation and the desertification of the Sahara Desert.[30]

from Saint Acheul

stone tools have been found across the continent of Africa, save for the dense rainforest around the River Congo
River Congo
which is not thought to have been colonized by hominids until later. It is thought that from Africa their use spread north and east to Asia: from Anatolia, through the Arabian Peninsula, across modern day Iran[31] and Pakistan, and into India, and beyond. In Europe their users reached the Pannonian Basin
Pannonian Basin
and the western Mediterranean regions, modern day France, the Low Countries, western Germany, and southern and central Britain. Areas further north did not see human occupation until much later, due to glaciation. In Athirampakkam at Chennai
in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
the Acheulean
age started at 1.51 mya and it is also prior than North India
North India
and Europe.[32] Until the 1980s, it was thought that the humans who arrived in East Asia abandoned the hand-axe technology of their ancestors and adopted chopper tools instead. An apparent division between Acheulean
and non- Acheulean
tool industries was identified by Hallam L. Movius, who drew the Movius Line
Movius Line
across northern India to show where the traditions seemed to diverge. Later finds of Acheulean
tools at Chongokni in South Korea
South Korea
and also in Mongolia
and China, however, cast doubt on the reliability of Movius's distinction.[33] Since then, a different division known as the Roe Line
Roe Line
has been suggested. This runs across North Africa to Israel
and thence to India, separating two different techniques used by Acheulean
toolmakers. North and east of the Roe Line, Acheulean
hand-axes were made directly from large stone nodules and cores; while, to the south and west, they were made from flakes struck from these nodules.[34]

(trihedral) Amar Merdeg, Mehran, National Museum of Iran

tool users[edit] For further details of the known environment and people during the time when Acheulean
tools were being made, see Palaeolithic
and Lower Palaeolithic. Acheulean
tools were not made by fully modern humans – that is, Homo sapiens – although the early or non-modern (transitional) Homo sapiens idaltu did use Late Acheulean
tools, as did the proto- Neanderthal
species.[35] Most notably, however, it is Homo ergaster (sometimes called early Homo
erectus), whose assemblages are almost exclusively Acheulean, who used the technique. Later, the related species Homo
heidelbergensis (the common ancestor of both Neanderthals and Homo
sapiens) used it extensively.[citation needed] The symmetry of the hand-axes has been used to suggest that Acheulean tool users possessed the ability to use language;[36] the parts of the brain connected with fine control and movement are located in the same region that controls speech. The wider variety of tool types compared to earlier industries and their aesthetically as well as functionally pleasing form could indicate a higher intellectual level in Acheulean tool users than in earlier hominines.[37] Others argue that there is no correlation between spatial abilities in tool making and linguistic behaviour, and that language is not learned or conceived in the same manner as artefact manufacture.[38] Lower Palaeolithic
Lower Palaeolithic
finds made in association with Acheulean
hand-axes, such as the Venus of Berekhat Ram,[39] have been used to argue for artistic expression amongst the tool users. The incised elephant tibia from Bilzingsleben[40] in Germany, and ochre finds from Kapthurin in Kenya[41] and Duinefontein in South Africa,[42] are sometimes cited as being some of the earliest examples of an aesthetic sensibility in human history. There are numerous other explanations put forward for the creation of these artefacts, however; and there is no unequivocal evidence of human art until around 50,000 years ago, after the emergence of modern Homo
sapiens.[43] The kill site at Boxgrove
in England is another famous Acheulean
site. Up until the 1970s these kill sites, often at waterholes where animals would gather to drink, were interpreted as being where Acheulean
tool users killed game, butchered their carcasses, and then discarded the tools they had used. Since the advent of zooarchaeology, which has placed greater emphasis on studying animal bones from archaeological sites, this view has changed. Many of the animals at these kill sites have been found to have been killed by other predator animals, so it is likely that humans of the period supplemented hunting with scavenging from already dead animals.[44] Excavations at the Bnot Ya'akov Bridge
Bnot Ya'akov Bridge
site, located along the Dead Sea rift in the southern Hula Valley
Hula Valley
of northern Israel, have revealed evidence of human habitation in the area from as early as 750,000 years ago.[45] Archaeologists from the Hebrew University
Hebrew University
of Jerusalem claim that the site provides evidence of "advanced human behavior" half a million years earlier than has previously been estimated. Their report describes an Acheulean
layer at the site in which numerous stone tools, animal bones, and plant remains have been found.[46] Only limited artefactual evidence survives of the users of Acheulean tools other than the stone tools themselves. Cave
sites were exploited for habitation, but the hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic
also possibly built shelters such as those identified in connection with Acheulean
tools at Grotte du Lazaret[47] and Terra Amata near Nice
in France. The presence of the shelters is inferred from large rocks at the sites, which may have been used to weigh down the bottoms of tent-like structures or serve as foundations for huts or windbreaks. These stones may have been naturally deposited. In any case, a flimsy wood or animal skin structure would leave few archaeological traces after so much time. Fire
was seemingly being exploited by Homo ergaster, and would have been a necessity in colonising colder Eurasia from Africa. Conclusive evidence of mastery over it this early is, however, difficult to find.[citation needed] See also[edit]

Oldowan Lithic reduction Lower Palaeolithic Palaeolithic Stone Age Stone tools Ndutu cranium


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Antiquity 68, 260, p585–589 Abstract ^ Barton, RNE, Stone Age
Stone Age
Britain English Heritage/BT Batsford:London 1997 qtd in Butler, 2005. See also Wymer, JJ, The Lower Palaeolithic Occupation of Britain, Wessex Archaeology and English Heritage, 1999. ^ Ashton, NM, McNabb, J, and Parfitt, S, Choppers and the Clactonian, a reinvestigation, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 58, pp21–28, qtd in Butler, 2005 ^ Wymer, JJ, 1968, Lower Palaeolithic
Lower Palaeolithic
Archaeology in Britain: as represented by the Thames Valley, qtd in Adkins, L and R, 1998 ^ Collins, D, 1978, Early Man in West Middlesex, qtd in Adkins, L and R, 1998 ^ Stout, Dietrich; Apel, Jan; Commander, Julia; Roberts, Mark (2014). "Late Acheulean
technology and cognition at Boxgrove, UK" (PDF). Journal of Archaeological Science. 41: 576–590. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.10.001. ISSN 0305-4403.  ^ Barham, Lawrence; Mitchell, Peter (2008). The First Africans (1st ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-521-61265-4.  ^ Paddayya, K, Jhaldiyal, R and Petraglia, MD, Excavation of an Acheulian workshop at Isampur, Karnataka
(India) Antiquity 74, 286, pp 751–752 Abstract ^ Gamble, C and Steele, J, 1999, Hominid ranging patterns and dietary strategies in Ullrich, H (ed.), Hominid evolution: lifestyles and survival strategies, pp 396–409, Gelsenkirchen: Edition Archaea. ^ Unattributed citation in Renfrew and Bahn, 1991, p277 ^ O'Brien, E, 1981, The projectile capabilities of an Acheulian handaxe from Olorgesailie, Current Anthropology 22: 76–9. See also Calvin, W, 1993, The unitary hypothesis: a common neural circuitry for novel manipulations, language, plan-ahead and throwing, in K.R. Gibson & T. Ingold (ed.), Tools, language and cognition in human evolution: 230–50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ^ Gamble, C, 1997, Handaxes and palaeolithic individuals, in N. Ashton, F. Healey & P.Pettitt (ed.), Stone Age
Stone Age
archaeology: 105–9. Oxford: Oxbow Books. Monograph 102. ^ White, MJ, 1998, On the significance of Acheulian biface variability in southern Britain, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 64: 15–44. ^ Kohn, M and Mithen, S, 1999, Handaxes: products of sexual selection?, Antiquity 73, 518–26 Abstract ^ "The Acheulean
Handaxe".  ^ Welsh, Jennifer (2012-02-29). "Tools May Have Been First Money". Retrieved 2016-12-01.  ^ Todd, L, Glantz, M and Kappelman, J, Chilga Kernet: an Acheulean landscape on Ethiopia's western plateau Antiquity 76, 293 pp 611–612 Abstract ^ Biglari, F. and Shidrang, S. 2006 The Lower Paleolithic
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External links[edit]

Look up Acheulean
in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Media related to Acheulean
at Wikimedia Commons

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Stone roof Roundhouse Stilt house

Alp pile dwellings

Wattle and daub

Water management

Check dam Cistern Flush toilet Reservoir Water well

Other architecture

Archaeological features Broch Burnt mound

fulacht fiadh

Causewayed enclosure

Tor enclosure

Circular enclosure


Cursus Henge


Oldest buildings Megalithic architectural elements Midden Timber circle Timber trackway

Sweet Track

Arts and culture

Material goods

Baskets Beadwork Beds Chalcolithic Clothing/textiles


Cosmetics Glue Hides

shoes Ötzi


amber use

Mirrors Pottery

Cardium Grooved ware Linear Jōmon Unstan ware

Sewing needle Weaving Wine

Winery wine press


of the Upper Paleolithic Art
of the Middle Paleolithic

Blombos Cave

List of Stone Age
Stone Age
art Bird stone Bradshaw rock paintings Cairn Carved Stone Balls Cave

painting pigment

Cup and ring mark Geoglyph Golden hats Guardian stones Megalithic art Petroform Petroglyph Petrosomatoglyph Pictogram Rock art

Stone carving

Sculpture Statue menhir Stone circle

list British Isles and Brittany

Venus figurines


Burial mounds

Bowl barrow Round barrow

Mound Builders
Mound Builders

U.S. sites

Chamber tomb



Dartmoor kistvaens

Clava cairn Court tomb Cremation Dolmen

Great dolmen

Funeral pyre Gallery grave

transepted wedge-shaped

Grave goods Jar burial Long barrow

unchambered Grønsalen

Megalithic tomb Mummy Passage grave Rectangular dolmen Ring cairn Simple dolmen Stone box grave Tor cairn Tumulus Unchambered long cairn

Other cultural


sites lunar calendar

Behavioral modernity Origin of language


Prehistoric medicine Evolutionary musicology

music archaeology

Prehistoric music

Alligator drum flutes Divje Babe flute gudi

Prehistoric numerals Origin of religion

religion Prehistoric religion Spiritual drug use

Prehistoric warfare Symbols