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Goodwill Hunting? Debates on the 'meaning' of lower palaeolithic handaxe form revisited

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JournalWorld Archaeology
DateE-pub ahead of print - 15 Nov 2012
DatePublished (current) - 2012
Issue number3
Volume44
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)378-392
Early online date15/11/12
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

There has been intense debate over the ‘meaning’ of Lower Palaeolithic handaxe form for more than a decade. Handaxes date from around 1.7 million years onwards, and many show attention to elements of form such as symmetry and a conformity to the ‘golden ratio’ which go beyond immediate function. Our challenge in interpreting such patterning is that we cannot assume a ‘modern’ cognition to the makers of Acheulian handaxes nor capacities to negotiate concepts such as status or symbolism which we use to explain non-functional or elaborate forms in modern contexts. Existing interpretations of handaxe form have been dominated by the seminal ‘sexy handaxe theory’ (Kohn and Mithen 1999) which envisaged the production of handaxes as driven by sexual selection processes common to all mammal species. In contrast it is argued here that an emerging concern with reputation building seen amongst higher primates developed within highly collaborative Acheulian societies into a concern with ‘trustworthiness’ and the expression of ‘gestures of goodwill’ to others via handaxe form.

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© 2012 Taylor & Francis. This is an author produced preprint version of a paper published in World Archaeology. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.

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