Wednesday, December 20, 2006
A hand axe discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in Kenya is over a million and a half years old. As a metaphor for the first thing made by man, it prefigures the whole world of making and shaping. No earlier artifact exists on earth. All art and technology began when early man chipped an oval stone flint with symmetrical precision to produce a point and extremely sharp edges. The prosaic name given to these exquisite objects is Acheulian hand axe. In a world where tools might have been the most important things made, their qualities were sometimes brought to a perfection far beyond the needs of practicality. Craft, symmetry and elegance speak of pride in creation, pleasure in contemplation, prestige in possession. There are three factors which set this particular artifact apart from other prehistoric tools. Firstly, if does not reflect the natural shapes of stones nor is it the result of natural fractures. There is nothing accidental about the design. Secondly, the design seems to be the result of a shared aesthetic as these tools are found all over Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe. A vast distance at the time. Thirdly, they were made with a painstaking refinement which far exceeds practical requirements. They are 'the first real evidence of style'. (Lyall Watson. The Lightning Bird. Simon and Schuster, NY. 1983) Note: the hand axe pictured above was found in Germany.