Paleolithic handaxe

A gorgeous item, Paleolithic art in the form of a hand axe created sometime from 300,000 to 500,000 years ago, discovered in Toft, England. Though not a culture like we think of a culture, this is part of what is known as the Acheulean culture, or Acheulean tradition, of tool making you can find all over Europe, Africa, and Asia. It went on for a million and a half years or so, slowly, infinitesimally changing, for about five times as long as the 300,000 years we Homo sapiens have existed. This beautiful thing was created by someone in the last third of that span, towards the northwestern extremity of that range, when the island of Great Britain was on the eastern edge of a vast plain that extended from the Pyrenees and Alps and Carpathians north across verdant grasslands where the English Channel and much of the North Sea are now. The maker of this thing, or their parents, or perhaps their parents hundreds of generations earlier had walked across that plain to the place where this was flaked—striking stone against stone with just the right touch at just the right angle using techniques that went back well over a million years—in what is now Toft, England, about an hour or so northwest of London.

We’re stepping out of history into Deep Time trying to imagine such a span of time, perhaps not Geologic Deep Time, with its sweep of hundreds of millions years, but certainly hominid Deep Time, with endless integers of a million years. Acheulean culture existed in this Deep Time, a million and a half million years ago, and the visionary creature (or visionary to us, anyway) who made this back then was not one of us, not at all. We are a different and later species of hominid, of human. This gorgeous handaxe would have been shaped by a Homo erectus or a Homo heidelbergensus, and we really have no idea what they saw in it, or thought about it, or what significance the fossil shell uncovered by their flaking had to them. We only know what we what we know of if, with our huge Homo sapien brains whirring, that it’s a fossil, something that lived and died millions and millions of years before, deep in paleontological time. Of course there is absolutely no way whatsoever the Homo erectus who discovered it could have even had a glimmer of any of that. It requires a frontal lobe of the sort that he or she did not have. It never really occurs to us that before Homo sapiens had even evolved by genetic mutation from a single mating pair of Homo erectus, that for millions of years such entirely different human creatures wandered from Africa across half the globe, thinking thoughts that we can never possibly know. But we can look at what they made, and must have marveled at, and showed the others, communicating with gestures and expressions and sounds without uttering or even thinking a single word.

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