“Rock on!” Incredible to think that one of humanity’s first symbolic and representational efforts may have been the excessive and demonstrative shaping of stone hand axes!
Little did Jagger know how ironic it was that in 1972 The Rolling Stones released an album with a hit song — “Rocks Off” — and throughout the concert tour, that paragon of 60’s rock-sex, Micky Mick, kept mumbling in his Brit accent, “rocks off, rocks off.” I was lucky to see them in the Akron Ohio (world headquarters of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.) football stadium called “The Rubber Bowl.” The show opened with a guy named Stevie Wonder and his band and ended with riot police battling concert-goers in the outfield grass area. ‘Those were the days,’ we say, but only rivaled by these current crazy times! So, maybe we have not come very far after all!
Equally, maybe Mick was not so much ‘on the cutting edge.’ There are some curious facts that have led to some curious speculation about Stone Age Hand Axes. In some areas of France disproportionate numbers of these have been found that seem to be meticulously done and show no signs of wear or use! An inordinate amount of these “tools” exhibiting no signs of use and exquisitely and painstakenly finished, what? Some anthropologists and biologists have been led to suggestion these axes may have “risen” to some symbolic value.
Dating back to the Lower Paleolithic era, these tools are preceded in the fossil evidence by only one previous tool technology associated with our Homo hablis ancestors. Homo hablis was likely to have been between 3 to 4 feet tall (100 to 130 cm) and weighted 40 to 70 lbs (20-40 kg). Homo hablis still spent time in the trees. It is suspected they traveled and lived in groups of up to 70 individuals. It is the first of the Genus, Homo, and evidence suggests its appearance is around 3 million years ago (mya).
The Acheulean Ax is found with the evidence for Homo erectus in most of Africa, some of Europe, and southwest Asia. Larger than hablis, its height was 4 to 6 feet (145-185 cm) and weighed up to 150 lbs (70 kg). It was the first human-like species to exhibit a flat face and walk with a modern gait. Less hair, also. Probably the first to use fire and hunt in groups, and the first of our ancestors to move beyond Africa about 2 mya.
These are our guys and gals. They found themselves driven to shape stone in an effort to impress each other.
All the above are Hominids, the Taxonomic Family of all Great Apes. That includes Orangutan, Gorilla, the Genera Pan which is Chimps and Bonobo, and the Genera Australopithecus (all extinct) and Homo which now includes only we modern Humans as remaining. Gorillas branched off in the vicinity of 9 mya; Pan around 6 mya.
Australopithecus evolved in eastern Africa about 4 mya and was significantly bipedal. It was probably the first to use and make tools to a limited extent, both of stone and animal bone. They largely lived in the trees, though this is still debated. They are believed to be our direct ancestors, to have evolved into Homo hablis.
BUT, BACK TO THE STONES! How exceptional is this? Not very, in nature’s terms. Many animals, including the human animal, build artifacts and even their bodies, to ‘prove’ their worthiness. That’s what a lot of males are ‘in to’: the Peacock and the Peahen, the male Bower bird and the female. It can be a very expensive effort, in terms of time and energy; but it is what it takes in many species to keep their kind going. “I want it, I want it”, they seem to say, without ever really saying it.
Biologists call this Sexual Selection and it usually involves males ‘showing off’ to gain the favor of a female. Of course, in many other species, males simply fight, even if ‘only’ ritually, other males for the dominant mating role.
There is speculation that processes akin to Sexual Selection, involving extravagant and excessive Ritual and expenditures of energy, may account for Various Human Practices—–including Religion.