British/European Later Acheulian 'Handaxe Sculpture' Symbolizing Traditon

This symbolic tradition is best exemplified in the British ‘Pointed Cordiform Group’ of the British 'Ovate-Cordiform' Acheulian stone tool industry as defined by Derek Roe (1981: table 13) [Roe, D. (1981). The Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Periods in Britain. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul].

It appears at Later Acheulian sites such as Swanscombe Middle Gravels (OIS 11), Hoxne Upper (OIS 9), Wolvercote (OIS 9) and Furze Platt (OIS 9). Fortunately these examples of palaeoart are fairly securely dated but the identification of them as art is new. The 'Pointed Cordiform' artists appear to place signifiers such as fossil shells or contrasting color mineral inclusions as well as sculpted head/profiles upon the basic handaxe shape. These motifs appear to signify ‘womb-center’, ‘ascending spirit’ and other themes that were part of the symbolism of the earlier Middle Acheulian Abbevillian-style handaxes. These ‘handaxe sculptures’ seem to represent a divine ‘Birthgiver’ or ‘Lifegiver’, or a figure some might call ‘The Acheulian Great Goddess.’ Examples come from the Swanscombe Middle Gravels, Wolvercote, West Tofts, Norfolk (dating not secure, perhaps OIS 7) and Cys-la-Commune, Aisne, France (Final Acheulian OIS5e). As the Cys-la-Commune handaxe suggests, there are many more examples of the ‘handaxe sculpture’ tradition in the European ‘Classic Acheulian’ tool tradition. For a more detailed analysis of Later Acheulian artistic traditions see Notes on Later Acheulian Symbol Systems and Spiritual Principles.

Credit for identifying the ‘head’ and ‘womb’ motifs in the handaxe symbolizing tradtion goes to the Archaeologishe Berichten, Elst, NL, group and especially Jan Evert Musch (1990) [Musch, J.E. (1990). Animal farm: Palaeolithic sculptures from the Northwest European plains. Precirculated paper, World Archaeological Congress, 1986. Stichtung Archaeologishe Berichten Elst, NL] and J. van Es (1989:122, 132) [Van Es, J. and Franssen, C.J.H. (1989). Een vroege microkern-traditie van de Peelhorst het Boukoulien. Archaeologische Berichten 19:6-25, 93-133. Elst, NL].

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