Minds in Materials: Revealing Cognition Through the Archaeological Analysis of Acheulean Handaxes

Author Name(s)

Josh DesLaurier

Faculty Advisor(s)

Jaime Matera, Colleen Delaney


This research examines how Acheulian handaxe morphology may be used to infer the cognitive abilities of ancient hominin species. These handaxes are often classified as a single archaeological type despite showing extensive morphological variation across their 1.6-million-year history that spans three continents. Being considered a single type has major implications for the cognition of their creators, as explored and explained in this research. I present various debates surrounding these handaxes as addressed by existing literature and use new data I collected from a previously uncatalogued set of over 200 surface-collected handaxes from the Kem Kem Basin in Morocco to elucidate those debates. After combining these two approaches, I conclude that morphology alone is not an adequate standard for establishing Acheulean handaxes as a single type. I propose that future research on handaxes should focus on factors such as flake scars and use wear analysis to increase our understanding of how these tools were produced and used, which will provide further insights into the cognitive abilities of our ancestors.


1 thought on “Minds in Materials: Revealing Cognition Through the Archaeological Analysis of Acheulean Handaxes”

  1. Dr. Weldon Zane Smith

    Thanks for sharing your research, Josh, I found it very interesting. It makes me wonder just how many handaxes might have been overlooked by people who found one but just considered it some random “rock”. I think you’re right that information about these tools are important for understanding the history of development of our species and others.

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