ABSTRACT

The Acheulean biface, or handaxe, is possibly the most intriguing starting point for an investigation of the individual in the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic, because it signals one of the most important steps in human technical and social evolution. In particular, such bifaces provide the first indication of the use of artefacts beyond an ape-grade technology (Wynn and McGrew 1989) and they continue, as many of the chapters in this volume demonstrate, to be the focus of investigations in this distant period. The handaxe also played a crucial role in the establishment of human antiquity in the formative phase of Palaeolithic archaeology (for discussion see Grayson 1983). The importance of bifaces to these developments was the result of one visually striking characteristic that we have trained ourselves to appreciate for its taxonomic and typological advantages: similarity in style. It was their recurrent style, as revealed by their apparent similarity, which suggested to those archaeological pioneers that bifaces were recognisable human artefacts. In order to understand why the Acheulean biface is such a style icon both for our own discovery of a remote past and for the inception of such behaviour in human evolution it is necessary to gain an understanding of the role of style and how it relates to individuals and their social practices in the Lower Palaeolithic.