Human perception of symmetry, raw material and size of Palaeolithic handaxes

D. Tumler, L. Basell, F. Coward


It has often been assumed that handaxes were crafted and used primarily by adult males (Hawkes et al. 1997; Kohn & Mithen 1999; Niekus et al. 2012). However, there is no clear scientific or ethnographic evidence to support this. This study aimed to assess modern perceptions of essential morphological traits, including symmetry, raw material and size of handaxes, with a view to ascertaining whether differences exist between males and females in different age groups in their perception of bifaces. A statistical analysis was performed on data gathered through questioning more than 300 individuals, including males and females, adults and subadults (divided into juveniles and children). The study showed that most people prefer symmetrical to asymmetrical handaxes. In particular, females demonstrated a statistically significant preference for symmetrical handaxes. Juveniles and children were significantly more attracted towards symmetrical bifaces than adults, and adult females prefer smaller tools. These results suggest new avenues for research into Palaeolithic tool manufacture and use.

Full reference: Tumler D., Basell, L. & Coward, F. 2017. Human perception of symmetry, raw material and size of Palaeolithic handaxes. Lithics: the Journal of the Lithic Studies Society 38: 5–17.

Keywords: Palaeolithic, handaxe, biface, children, juvenile, women, symmetry, raw material, experimental archaeology

Supplementary material: Analysis of how females and males (children, juveniles and adults) respond to handaxe symmetry, colour and size: PDF.

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