Discovery of giant hand axes suggest a prehistoric ‘Game of Thrones’ scenario in ancient Europe


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Even our earliest human ancestors made and used know-how — one thing we will look again on because of the lasting nature of stone instruments.

An exceptionally excessive density of big hand axes dated to 200,000-300,000 years in the past has been uncovered at an archaeological web site in Galicia, northwest Spain.

The invention of those hand axes means that various varieties of stone instrument applied sciences have been concurrently being utilized by completely different populations on this space — supporting the concept a prehistoric Sport of Thrones situation existed as Neanderthals emerged in Europe.

Extra proof for this concept comes from fossil data displaying that a number of human lineages lived in southwest Europe across the identical time interval.


Porto Maior is close to the city of As Neves (Pontevedra, Galcia) on a terrace 34m above the present degree of the Miño River, which borders northern Portugal and Spain.

The archaeological web site at Porto Maior preserves an historical stone instrument tradition often called the Acheulean. Characterised by symmetrically knapped stones or massive flakes (often called bifaces), the Acheulean is the primary refined handaxe know-how recognized within the early human settlement file of Europe.

Whereas Acheulean websites are widespread throughout the continent, Porto Maior represents Europe’s first in depth accumulation of huge slicing instruments (LCTs) within the Acheulean custom. Till now, such excessive densities of LCTs had solely been present in Africa. This new discovering reinforces an African origin for the Acheulean in Europe, and confirms an overlap in time-frames of distinctly completely different stone instrument cultures on the continent.

At across the identical time that hand axes have been getting used at Porto Maior, a distinct stone instrument custom (the Early Center Palaeolithic) was current in Iberia, for instance at Ambrona and Cuesta de la Bajada. In central and jap Europe — the place instruments have been made solely on small flakes — the Acheulean custom has by no means been discovered.



Porto Maior introduces additional complexity to this overlapping technological sample, and means that distinct early human populations of various geographical origins coexisted throughout the Center Pleistocene (between 773,000 and 125,000 years in the past).


In whole, 3698 discarded artefacts have been recovered from river-lain sediments on the web site, with 290 of those making up the studied assemblage reported in our new paper.

The stone instrument assemblage consists of 101 LCTs in authentic place, and which might be on common 18cm lengthy, with a most size of 27cm. These handaxe dimensions are exceptionally massive by European Acheulean requirements (sometimes solely Eight-15cm lengthy). The assemblage additionally incorporates massive cleavers, a sort of instrument sometimes present in African websites.

Laboratory analyses point out that the instruments have been used to course of exhausting supplies such wooden and bone, in actions that would have included the breaking apart of carcasses.

The Spanish web site of Porto Maior clearly resembles in depth accumulations of very massive instruments beforehand solely seen in Africa and the Close to East. These similarities reinforce the concept of an African origin for the Acheulean custom of southwest Europe.

Additionally they elevate new questions relating to the origin and mobility of prehistoric human populations — the ancestors of Neanderthals — that occupied the European continent throughout the Center Pleistocene interval earlier than the arrival of our personal species, Homo sapiens.


The Acheulean toolmaking custom originated in Africa about 1.7 million years in the past, and disappeared on that continent by 500,000 years in the past. The precise kind of Acheulean instruments described at Porto Maior is unique to southwest Europe, suggesting that the know-how was introduced into the area by an “intrusive” inhabitants.

The age of Porto Maior is according to earlier findings from Iberia that recommend that the Acheulean tradition skilled an enlargement within the area between 400,000 to 200,000 years in the past.

This newest discovery helps the more and more complicated narrative growing from ongoing research of human fossils from Europe; particularly that human teams of probably completely different origins and evolutionary phases coexisted throughout the continent throughout a time when the emergence of Neanderthals was going down.

Whereas it’s clear that extra human fossil and stone instrument websites have to be reliably dated throughout the area, an image seems to be rising of a turbulent Sport of Thrones fashion situation of hominin evolution in Eurasia throughout the Center Pleistocene interval.

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