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From side to side: symmetry in handaxes in the British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic

From side to side: symmetry in handaxes in the British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic
From side to side: symmetry in handaxes in the British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic
The Acheulean is defined by its iconic tool type, the handaxe, and a suite of other large cutting tools (LCTs). These tools retain information on technical and procedural practices concerned with the manufacture of these butchery tools and carcass processing knives. The Acheulean straddles the period in which more ancient hominin species (H. erectus and H. heidelbergensis) give way to archaic H. sapiens (sensu lato) amongst whom the ancestor of modern humans may be found. The roots of modern behaviour may be present in these handaxe making hominin species, and the handaxes themselves, through proxy data such as bilateral symmetry, may chart hominin cognitive evolution as researchers such as T. Wynn and F. Coolidge (2016), amongst others, have argued. But the search for the earliest consistent application of symmetry, and its persistence thereafter has been hampered by the lack of large datasets, spanning the temporal extent of the Acheulean, and analysed through a single consistent methodology. Our paper has two aims. The first, and in the absence of a large comparative data set of earlier Acheulean handaxes, is to assess the degree to which symmetry is consistently applied to the making of handaxes in the later Acheulean (=<0.5 mya), a time when bilateral planform symmetry should already be an integral component in handaxe making. The dataset we select is the British Acheulean from MIS 13 – MIS 3/4. To the best of our knowledge this is the first time handaxe symmetry has been assessed on a large body of British Acheulean handaxes. Our second aim is to present a relatively simple and low tech methodology for the analysis of handaxes and their symmetry that is widely available and does not require expensive equipment or specialist software/technical knowledge. It works from orthogonal handaxe photographs which many researchers will already have. From such data it may be possible to begin to construct the larger datasets necessary to answer symmetry related questions regarding cognitive evolution. This offers us the opportunity to raise a number of key methodological questions which we believe ought to be debated by researchers before the generation of appropriate datasets begins.
2352-409X
293-310
McNabb, John
59e818b1-3196-4991-93eb-75ed9c898e71
Cole, James
91180b3c-8c9f-4306-9a73-e422a4ddcf2a
Hoggard, Christian
7afc1a7b-4448-4857-8449-89f4f978fd52
McNabb, John
59e818b1-3196-4991-93eb-75ed9c898e71
Cole, James
91180b3c-8c9f-4306-9a73-e422a4ddcf2a
Hoggard, Christian
7afc1a7b-4448-4857-8449-89f4f978fd52

McNabb, John, Cole, James and Hoggard, Christian (2018) From side to side: symmetry in handaxes in the British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 17, 293-310. (doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2017.11.008).

Record type: Article

Abstract

The Acheulean is defined by its iconic tool type, the handaxe, and a suite of other large cutting tools (LCTs). These tools retain information on technical and procedural practices concerned with the manufacture of these butchery tools and carcass processing knives. The Acheulean straddles the period in which more ancient hominin species (H. erectus and H. heidelbergensis) give way to archaic H. sapiens (sensu lato) amongst whom the ancestor of modern humans may be found. The roots of modern behaviour may be present in these handaxe making hominin species, and the handaxes themselves, through proxy data such as bilateral symmetry, may chart hominin cognitive evolution as researchers such as T. Wynn and F. Coolidge (2016), amongst others, have argued. But the search for the earliest consistent application of symmetry, and its persistence thereafter has been hampered by the lack of large datasets, spanning the temporal extent of the Acheulean, and analysed through a single consistent methodology. Our paper has two aims. The first, and in the absence of a large comparative data set of earlier Acheulean handaxes, is to assess the degree to which symmetry is consistently applied to the making of handaxes in the later Acheulean (=<0.5 mya), a time when bilateral planform symmetry should already be an integral component in handaxe making. The dataset we select is the British Acheulean from MIS 13 – MIS 3/4. To the best of our knowledge this is the first time handaxe symmetry has been assessed on a large body of British Acheulean handaxes. Our second aim is to present a relatively simple and low tech methodology for the analysis of handaxes and their symmetry that is widely available and does not require expensive equipment or specialist software/technical knowledge. It works from orthogonal handaxe photographs which many researchers will already have. From such data it may be possible to begin to construct the larger datasets necessary to answer symmetry related questions regarding cognitive evolution. This offers us the opportunity to raise a number of key methodological questions which we believe ought to be debated by researchers before the generation of appropriate datasets begins.

Text JASREP_2017_463 McNabb et al clean copy - Accepted Manuscript
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Accepted/In Press date: 8 November 2017
e-pub ahead of print date: 21 November 2017
Published date: February 2018

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 416467
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/416467
ISSN: 2352-409X
PURE UUID: ef3a8464-bb30-4107-bd45-0d92dd2b0c4f

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Date deposited: 19 Dec 2017 17:30
Last modified: 01 May 2018 16:30

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Author: John McNabb
Author: James Cole
Author: Christian Hoggard

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