The Handaxe Aesthetic

Author(s): Thomas Wynn

Year: 2015


Perhaps the most intractable puzzle of the Palaeolithic is the Acheulean handaxe. Despite a century and a half of scrutiny by several generations of archaeologists, a comprehensive understanding of these enigmatic but ubiquitous artifacts remains out of reach. The typological approach that dominated Palaeolithic studies for a century arguably generated more puzzles than it resolved (‘stasis’, the ‘Movius line’) and the functional/materialist approach simply confirmed that they were tools. Cognitive archaeologists have made some headway by treating handaxes as vehicles for studying issues in cognitive evolution, but many questions remain. One is the question of aesthetics. Though the term is avoided by many Palaeolithic specialists, it is nevertheless possible to document the emergence and development of an aesthetic component to handaxes. The nascent field of neuroaesthetics, and the perspective of embodied/extended cognition, combine to suggest a scenario in which the manufacture of handaxes provided the primary scaffold by which aesthetic appreciation evolved.

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Cite this Record

The Handaxe Aesthetic. Thomas Wynn. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395510)