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The oldest hand-axes in Europe

Abstract

Stone tools are durable reminders of the activities, skills and customs of early humans, and have distinctive morphologies that reflect the development of technological skills during the Pleistocene epoch. In Africa, large cutting tools (hand-axes and bifacial chopping tools) became part of Palaeolithic technology during the Early Pleistocene (1.5 Myr ago)1,2,3. However, in Europe this change had not been documented until the Middle Pleistocene (<0.5 Myr ago)4,5. Here we report dates for two western Mediterranean hand-axe sites that are nearly twice the age of the supposed earliest Acheulian in western Europe. Palaeomagnetic analysis of these two sites in southeastern Spain found reverse polarity magnetozones, showing that hand-axes were already in Europe as early as 0.9 Myr ago. This expanded antiquity for European hand-axe culture supports a wide geographic distribution of Palaeolithic bifacial technology outside of Africa during the Early Pleistocene.

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Figure 1: Location maps and geological sketch.
Figure 2: Magnetostratigraphy and lithostratigraphy.
Figure 3: Magnetochronology of Palaeolithic sites.

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Acknowledgements

Partial funding and support was from the Fullbright Scholar Program (L.G.), Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología (L.G.), project 05584/ARQ/07 of the Fundación Séneca (M. Walker), project CGL2005-05337BTE of the Dirección General de Investigación (L. Rosell), and the Earthwatch Institute (L.G.). For discussions, laboratory, and field assistance we thank J. Gibert, M. Walker, R. Martin, C. Ferràndez, J. Butterworth, L. Hinton, M. Lería, A. López-Jiménez, M. López-Martínez, S. Matson, J. Ortega, F. Ribot, A. Ruiz-Bustos and L. Smeenk. We also thank the Museo Arqueológico de Vélez Rubio (Almería) for access to their collection from Solana del Zamborino, R. Goméz Torres for access to the Solana del Zamborino site, and M. Walker for access to fossils/artefacts and sampling at Estrecho del Quípar. We acknowledge the late J. Gibert Clols for encouraging the development of this research and providing the large mammal fauna identifications.

Author Contributions The authors of this paper contributed equally. G.R.S. directed the palaeomagnetic measurements and assisted in field sampling, and L.G. directed the palaeomagnetic field sampling and assisted in laboratory measurements.

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Correspondence to Luis Gibert.

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This file contains Supplementary Methods, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary References, Supplementary Figures 1-4 with Legends and Supplementary Table 1. (PDF 763 kb)

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Scott, G., Gibert, L. The oldest hand-axes in Europe. Nature 461, 82–85 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08214

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