Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Symmetry is its own reward: on the character and significance of Acheulean handaxe symmetry in the Middle Pleistocene

  • Mark White (a1) and Frederick Foulds (a1)
Abstract

Bilateral symmetry in handaxes has significant implications for hominin cognitive and socio-behavioural evolution. Here the authors show that high levels of symmetry occur in the British Late Middle Pleistocene Acheulean, which they consider to be a deliberate, socially mediated act. Furthermore, they argue that lithic technology in general, and handaxes in particular, were part of a pleasure-reward system linked to dopamine-releasing neurons in the brain. Making handaxes made Acheulean hominins happy, and one particularly pleasing property was symmetry.

Copyright
Corresponding author
*Author for correspondence (Email: mark.white@durham.ac.uk)
References
Hide All
Ashton, N.M. & McNabb, J.. 1994. Bifaces in perspective, in Ashton, N.M. & David, A. (ed.) Stories in stones: 182–91. London: Lithic Studies Society.
Ashton, N.M. & White, M.J.. 2003. Bifaces and raw materials: flexible flaking in the British Earlier Palaeolithic, in Soressi, M. & Dibble, H. (ed.) From prehistoric bifaces to human behaviour: 109–23. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Balodis, I.M. & Potenza, M.N.. 2015. Anticipatory reward processing in addicted populations: a focus on the monetary incentive delay task. Biological Psychiatry 77: 434–44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.08.020
Beyene, Y., Katoh, S., WoldeGabriel, G., Hart, W.K., Uto, K., Sudo, M., Kondo, M., Hyodo, M., Renne, P.R., Suwa, G. & Asfaw, B.. 2013. The characteristics and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 110: 1584–91. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1221285110
Bridgland, D.R. & White, M.J.. 2014. Fluvial archives as a framework for the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic: patterns of British artefact distribution and potential chronological implications. Boreas 43: 543–55. https://doi.org/10.1111/bor.12059
Cole, J. 2015. Examining the presence of symmetry within Acheulean handaxes: a case study in the British Palaeolithic. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24: 713–32. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774315000141
Corbey, R., Jagich, A., Vaesen, K. & Collard, M.. 2016. The Acheulean handaxe: more like a bird's song than a Beatles’ tune? Evolutionary Anthropology 25: 619. https://doi.org/10.1002/evan.21467
Gamble, C.S. 1999. The Palaeolithic societies of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gamble, C.S., Gowlett, J. & Dunbar, R.. 2014. Thinking big. London: Thames & Hudson.
Hardaker, T. & Dunn, S.. 2005. The Flip Test—a new statistical measure for quantifying symmetry in stone tools. Antiquity Project Gallery 79 (306). Available at: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/hardaker306/ (accessed 27 February 2018).
Hodgson, D. 2009. Evolution of the visual cortex and the emergence of symmetry in the Acheulean techno-complex. Palevol 8: 9397. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crpv.2008.10.009
Hodgson, D. 2011. The first appearance of symmetry in the human lineage: where perception meets art. Symmetry 3: 3755. https://doi.org/10.3390/sym3010037
Hodgson, D. 2015. The symmetry of Acheulean handaxes and cognitive evolution. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 2: 204208.
Isaac, G. 1977. Olorgesailie: archaeological studies of a Middle Pleistocene lake basin in Kenya. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.
Kaimal, G., Ray, K. & Muniz, R.. 2016. Reduction of cortisol levels and participants’ responses following art making. Art Therapy 33: 7480. https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832
Kohn, M. & Mithen, S.. 1999. Handaxes: products of sexual selection? Antiquity 73: 518–26. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00065078
Le Tensorer, J.M. 2006. Les cultures acheuléenes et la question de l'emergence de la pensée symbolique che Homo erectus à partir des données relatives à la form symétrique et harmonique des bifaces. Palevol 5: 127–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crpv.2005.12.003
Lycett, S. 2008. Acheulean variation and selection: does handaxe symmetry fit neutral expectations. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 2640–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2008.05.002
Machin, A.J., Hosfield, R.T. & Mithen, S.J.. 2007. Why are some handaxes symmetrical? Testing the influence of handaxe morphology on butchery effectiveness. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 883–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2006.09.008
McNabb, J. 2012. The importance of conveying visual information in Acheulean society: the background to the visual display hypothesis. Human Origins 1: 123.
McNabb, J., Binyon, F. & Hazelwood, L.. 2004. The large cutting tools from the South African Acheulean and the question of social traditions. Current Anthropology 45: 653–68. https://doi.org/10.1086/423973
McPherron, S. 1994. A reduction model for variability in Acheulian biface morphology. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
McPherron, S. 2013. Perspectives on stone tools and cognition in the Early Paleolithic record, in Sanz, C.M., Call, J. & Boesch, C. (ed.) Tool use in animals: cognition and ecology: 286309. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mithen, S. 2008. ‘Whatever turns you on’: a response to Anna Machin. Antiquity 82: 761–69. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00097374
Pope, M., Russel, K. & Watson, K.. 2006. Biface form and structured behaviour in the Acheulean. Lithics 27: 4457.
Porr, M.K. 2005. The making of the biface and the making of the individual, in Gamble, C. & Porr, M. (ed.) The hominin individual in context: archaeological investigations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic landscapes, locales and artefacts: 6880. London: Routledge.
Ramachandran, V. & Hirstein, W.. 1999. The science of art: a neurological theory of aesthetic experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6: 1551.
Roe, D.A. 1968. British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic handaxe groups. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 34: 182. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X00013840
Sampson, C.G. (ed.). 1978. Paleoecology and archaeology of an Acheulian site at Caddington, England. Dallas (TX): Southern Methodist University.
Saragusti, I., Sharon, I., Katzenelson, O. & Avnir, D.. 1998. Quantitative analysis of the symmetry of artefacts: Lower Palaeolithic handaxes. Journal of Archaeological Science 25: 817–25. https://doi.org/10.1006/jasc.1997.0265
Saragusti, I., Karasik, A., Sharon, I. & Smilansky, U.. 2005. Quantitative analysis of shape attributes based on contours and section profiles in artefact analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 841–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2005.01.002
Schultz, W. 2015. Neuronal reward and decision signals: from theories to data. Physiological Reviews 95: 853951. https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00023.2014
Sinclair, A. & McNabb, J.. 2005. All in a day's work: Middle Pleistocene individuals, materiality and the lifespace at Makapansgat, South Africa, in Gamble, C. & Porr, M. (ed.) The hominin individual in context: archaeological investigations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic landscapes, locales and artefacts: 176–96. London: Routledge.
Smith, W.G. 1894. Man the primeval savage. London: Stanford.
Spikins, P. 2012. Goodwill hunting? Debates over the ‘meaning’ of Lower Palaeolithic handaxe form revisited. World Archaeology 44: 378–92. https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2012.725889
Underhill, D. 2007. Subjectivity inherent in by-eye judgements and the large cutting tools at the Cave of Hearths, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 18: 112. https://doi.org/10.5334/pia.305
Wenban-Smith, F. 2004. Handaxe typology and the Lower Palaeolithic cultural development: ficrons, cleavers and two giant handaxes from Cuxton. Lithics 25: 1121.
White, M.J. 1998a. On the significance of Acheulean biface variability in southern Britain. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 64: 1544. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X00002164
White, M.J. 1998b. Twisted ovate bifaces in the British Lower Palaeolithic: some observations and implications, in Ashton, A., Healy, F. & Pettitt, P. (ed.) Stone Age archaeology: essays in honour of John Wymer: 98104. Oxford: Oxbow.
White, M.J. 2006. Axeing cleavers: reflections on broad-tipped large cutting tools in the British Lower and Middle Palaeolithic, in Goren-Inbar, N. & Sharon, G. (ed.) Axe age: Acheulean toolmaking, from quarry to discard: 365–86. Jerusalem: Equinox.
White, M.J. 2015. ‘Dancing to the rhythms of the biotidal zone’: settlement history and culture history in Middle Pleistocene Britain, in Coward, F., Hosfield, R., Pope, M. & Wenban-Smith, F. (ed.) Settlement, society and cognition in human evolution: 154–73. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139208697
White, M.J. & Plunkett, S.J.. 2004. Miss Layard excavates: a Palaeolithic site at Foxhall Road, Ipswich, 1903–1905. Liverpool: WASP.
Wynn, T. 1995. Handaxe enigmas. World Archaeology 27: 1024. https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.1995.9980290
Wynn, T. 2002. Archaeology and cognitive evolution. Behavioural and Brain Sciences 25: 389437. https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.1995.9980290
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords

Type Description Title
PDF
Supplementary materials

White and Foulds supplementary material
White and Foulds supplementary material 1

 PDF (1.4 MB)
1.4 MB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed