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21 February 2018
Giant handaxes and prehistoric Europeans

An exceptionally high density of 'giant' handaxes has been uncovered at the Porto Maior site, in the Miño River basin of northwest Spain - the first such discovery outside Africa. The excavation of river sediments revealed about 3700 stone artefacts, 290 of which were used in the assemblage studied by the researchers, primarily composed of Large Cutting Tools (LCTs) - 'giant' handaxes about 18 centimetres long.
     Characteristic of so-called Acheulean technology due to their distinctive shape, the handaxes were not made on-site, but brought from elsewhere. Results indicate that the lithic tool-bearing deposits date to between 293,000 and 205,000 years ago, raising questions about the origin and mobility of prehistoric populations in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene, between 773,000 and 125,000 years ago.
     The high density of tools found reflects trends at Acheulean sites in Africa and the Near East, reinforcing the possibility of an African origin for the Acheulean tradition of southwest Europe.
     While the age of the Porto Maior site is consistent with previous findings on the Iberian Peninsula with respect to the expansion of the Acheulean tradition, there is also evidence of completely different tool assemblages being used there during the same era. The researchers say that the technological overlap suggests the co-existence of culturally distinct human populations of different geographical origins: "The African affinities of the LCT assemblage at Porto Maior may be consistent with a technology brought in by an 'intrusive' population, which differed from the core and flake industries of established human groups in southwest Europe."
     The findings have important implications for understanding the human occupation of the continent.

Edited from Scimex (15 February 2018)

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