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Creation 16(3):28–30, June 1994

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Axing evolutionary ideas—stone dead!


One of the most popular myths of human evolution is that stone tools testify to the increasing mental and conceptual abilities of humans as they evolved. The most ‘primitive’ stone tools, Oldowan (named after Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania), once were identified by evolutionists with Homo habilis, the most ‘primitive’ of humans.

Acheulean tools (named for the French site at which they were discovered) were associated with the more evolved Homo erectus. Neanderthal was said to be associated with the even more advanced Mousterian tool kits. The most sophisticated and artistic stone tools once were identified with Cro-Magnon and other relatively modern peoples.

Thus, stone tools were once considered an almost independent confirmation of the evolutionary development of the human mind.

Things are different now. Almost every basic style of tool has been found with almost every category of human fossil material. Stringer and Grun write: ‘The simplistic equation of hominids and technologies in Europe has thus been abandoned’.1

The mistake of the evolutionary archaeologist was to identify simple with primitive. Louis and Mary Leakey were among the first to identify the simple Oldowan tools with the primitive Homo habilis, both alleged to be about two million years old. However, Mary Leakey tells of discovering Oldowan type tools in Kanapoi Valley, northern Kenya, associated with potsherds and hut circles that gave evidence of being rather recent. She writes:

‘…the occurrence of an industry restricted to heavy duty tools of Lower Palaeolithic facies associated with pottery and hut circles, is an anomaly hard to explain. It may be noted, however, that a crude form of stone chopper is used in the present time by the more remote Turkana tribesmen in order to break open the nuts of the doum palm.’2

Successful inventions

On these ‘primitive’ Oldowan tools Lawrence Robbins (Michigan State University) commented: ‘It is interesting that these oldest of technological items were among the most successful inventions for they continued to be manufactured throughout the entire Stone Age.’3

If these Oldowan tools were so successful and efficient that they were used throughout the entire alleged Stone Age (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic), if they were the best tools for certain jobs, and if they are still the best tools for certain jobs in some part of the world today, is it intellectually honest for evolutionists to refer to them as primitive and use them as evidence for the evolution of the human brain?

José-Manuel Benito Álvarez (CC BY-SA 2.5) via Wikimedia997-stone-tool
Acheulean hand axe

One of the most common Acheulean tools is the hand axe, which in the past has been almost exclusively identified with Homo erectus. So complete was this identification with Homo erectus that if hand axes were found at a habitation site, it was called a Homo erectus site even though no Homo erectus fossils were found there to so identify it.

Now it is known that Acheulean tools, including hand axes, have also been found with Homo sapiens (‘modern-type’) fossils, Furthermore, many Asian Homo erectus fossils are found with tools considered to be more primitive than those of the Acheulean Culture. (In Asia, it is now believed, bamboo tools were used more extensively than stone tools, which could account for stone tools being less frequent and more ‘primitive’ there.)

The Acheulean hand axe, however, was truly used world-wide. It is found from northern Europe to southern Africa, and from the Mediterranean to India and Indonesia. It is also mystifying. Although it is called a hand axe, no one knows for sure what its use was. In shape it resembles a giant almond, pointed at one end and round on the other. The pointed end is thinner, the rounded end thicker, but overall it is rather flat like an almond.

Because the rounded end is thicker, it has an eccentric centre of gravity; in lengthwise cross section, it looks like a very tall and skinny teardrop. The length ranges from a few inches to well over a foot. I have seen some that were rather crudely made and others that were works of art. It has a cutting edge all around its perimeter, and as far as we know, it was never hafted (used with a handle).

The assumption is that it was some type of chopper; hence its name. The problem is that since it is sharp all around, it could do as much chopping on the hand using it, as it did on the object being chopped.

Eileen M. O’Brien (University of Georgia) has a better idea.4 Her experiments led her to conclude that the hand axe was actually a flying projectile weapon, thrown discus style and used in the hunting of large game.

To test this idea, she had a fibreglass replica made of one of the largest hand axes in the collection at the National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi. It was about a foot long and weighed a bit over four pounds (two kilograms). She then had several discus throwers practise with it.

Spins like a discus

When thrown, the hand axe spun horizontally as it rose, like a discus. However, when it reached its maximum altitude it flipped on to its edge and descended that way. It landed on its knife-sharp edge 93 per cent of the time, and 70 per cent of the time it landed point first. The average throw was over 30 metres (100 feet), and it was usually accurate to within two yards right or left of the line of trajectory.

The Olympic record for the discus, which weighs about the same as O’Brien’s hand axe replica, is well over 60 metres (200 feet). O’Brien believes that ancient humans could have attacked large animals perhaps 200 feet away with great accuracy.

One of the previously puzzling aspects of hand axes is that they are found in great numbers in places that used to be streams, rivers, or lakes. It would be logical for bands of ancient humans to attack animals when they came to water. Axes that landed in the dirt could be retrieved. However, axes that were thrown and landed in the water usually would not be recovered, which could explain why we find them in those places today.

Also significant is that the Acheulean hand axe first appears in the archaeological record at about the same time as evidences of large animal kills—hippopotamus, elephant, and Dinotherium (an extinct elephant-like animal with large tusks in the lower jaw). Bands of ancient humans, throwing four-pound hand axes 200 feet, could inflict heavy damage on even the largest and toughest game.

Although it was round, the discus of the ancient Greeks was unhafted, edged all around, and made of stone. To some people, the discus throw seems a strange and unlikely sport. O’Brien suggests the possibility that the Olympic discus throw is a carry-over from the hand-axe hunting technique of ancient humans. She asks: ‘…is it possible that the ancient Greeks preserved as a sport a tradition handed down from ‘that distant yesterday?’5

If that is the case, that ‘distant yesterday’ may not have been so long ago.

(This article has been adapted from Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids (Michigan), 1992, pp. 141—143.)


  1. Chris B. Stringer and Rainer Grun, Time for the Last Neanderthals, Nature, Vol. 351, June 27, 1991, p. 701. Return to text.
  2. M.D. Leakey, Primitive Artifacts from Kanapoi Valley, Nature, No. 5062, November 5, 1966, p. 581. Return to text.
  3. Lawrence H. Robbins, Archaeology in the Turkana District, Kenya, Science, Vol. 176, April 28, 1972, p.360. Return to text.
  4. Eileen M. O’Brien, ‘What Was the Acheulean Hand Ax?’, Natural History, July 1984, pp. 20—23. Return to text.
  5. ibid, p. 23. Return to text.

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