Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 396–422 | Cite as

The Mental Template in Handaxe Manufacture: New Insights into Acheulean Lithic Technological Behavior at Boxgrove, Sussex, UK

  • Paula García-MedranoEmail author
  • Andreu Ollé
  • Nick Ashton
  • Mark B. Roberts


The morphological variability of large cutting tools (LCT) during the Middle Pleistocene has been traditionally associated with two main variables: raw material constraints and reduction intensity. Boxgrove — c.500 ka — is one of the most informative sites at which to analyze shaping strategies and handaxe morphological variability in the European Middle Pleistocene, because of the large number of finished handaxes, and the presence of complete operational chains. We focused on the entire handaxe and rough-out sample from Boxgrove-Q1/B with the aim of assessing the role of raw material characteristics — size, form, and homogeneity of nodules — in the shaping process, and to ascertain if they represent real constraints in the production of handaxes. Additionally, given the large number of handaxes and the intensity of the thinning work at Boxgrove, we also aimed to determine if reduction intensity affected the final shape to the degree that some authors have previously postulated. The methodology combines traditional technological descriptions, metrical analysis, and experimental reproduction of shaping processes together with geometric morphometry and PCA. The conclusions we draw are that the Q1/B handaxe knapping strategies were flexible and adapted to the characteristics of the blanks. These characteristics affected the reduction strategy but there is no clear relationship between initial nodule or blank morphology and final handaxe shape. Throughout the experiments, we explored the capacity to solve problems arising from reduction accidents, which led to re-configuring the knapping strategy to achieve the predetermined “mental template.” Furthermore, no substantial morphological differences related to reduction intensity were noticed with the Q1/B handaxes. Systematic re-sharpening as the cause of shape variation seems highly unlikely, perhaps related to the short use-life of the Boxgrove-Q1/B handaxes. Preferred forms constitute part of a broader pattern emerging for specific handaxe types at different times during the British Acheulean. The patterns have tentatively been interpreted as the result of changing environments and the movement of hominin populations.


Acheulean Handaxe Shaping strategies Morphometry 



We are deeply grateful to the Boxgrove team at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, and the British Museum for giving us access to the archaeological material, and all the facilities during the process. We are grateful to the knappers J.M. Vergès, M. Guardiola, and J. Guiu, plus one of the authors (A.O.). P.G.M. benefited from a pre-doctoral research grant from the Fundación Siglo para las Artes en Castilla y León, and from two pre-doctoral mobility grants to London by University of Burgos, supported by Dr. Carlos Díez. The experimental session was supported by the Catalan AGAUR project 2008-PBR-00033. This work was developed within the frame of the projects 2017-SGR-1040 (AGAUR), 2014/2015/2016PFR-URV-B2-17 (URV), and CGL2015-65387-C3-1-P (MINECO/FEDER), and inside the CERCA Programme/Generalitat de Catalunya. P.G.M. has been granted a fellowship from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement N. 748316.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Paula García-Medrano
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andreu Ollé
    • 2
    • 3
  • Nick Ashton
    • 1
  • Mark B. Roberts
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Britain, Europe & PrehistoryBritish MuseumLondonUK
  2. 2.Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES)TarragonaSpain
  3. 3.Àrea de Prehistòria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)TarragonaSpain
  4. 4.Institute of ArchaeologyLondonUK

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