Factors affecting Acheulean handaxe variation: Experimental insights, microevolutionary processes, and macroevolutionary outcomes


The ‘Acheulean’ is comprised of individual knapping events undertaken by individual hominins. In other words, it is a particular component of hominin behavior that we draw out and amalgamate into a wider pattern.'' The resultant phenomenon (i.e., the Acheulean’') is an entity that stretches over the space of three continents and spans a time period in excess of one million years. If such an exercise has any merit, it is because it provides a means of comparative (behavioral) analysis over these swathes of time and space. Comparative research can document, measure, and statistically assess temporo-spatial patterns of artifactual variation, and so test hypotheses regarding the character of that variation. However, it does not provide an independent means of examining some of the key phenomena which it is necessary to further understand in order to increase our comprehension of this archaeological legacy. Here, we review and synthesize recent experimental work that we have undertaken, which has specifically investigated some of the factors potentially responsible for the generation and constraint of variation within the Acheulean techno-complex. We examine issues of raw material, copying errors, and their relationship to mechanisms of social learning. Understanding these microevolutionary factors via experiments, we contend, is essential in order to reach a secure understanding of the macroscale phenomenon typically referred to as the Acheulean.'' Moreover, we outline how a quantitative genetic’’ framework to these issues provides an essential means of linking these inherent micro- and macro-evolutionary factors into a coherent whole, while also simultaneously reconciling the potential influence of different sources of variation that are part of a temporally and geographically dispersed entity such as the Acheulean.

Quaternary International 411, 386–401. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2015.08.021