Repository logo

Acheulean Handaxes in Medieval France: An Earlier 'Modern' Social History for Palaeolithic Bifaces

Published version

Repository DOI



Change log


DeSilva, J 
Kangas, S 


jats:pHandaxes have a uniquely prominent role in the history of Palaeolithic archaeology, and their early study provides crucial information concerning the epistemology of the field. We have little conclusive evidence, however, of their investigation or societal value prior to the mid seventeenth century. Here we investigate the shape, colour and potential flake scarring on a handaxe-like stone object seen in the Melun Diptych, painted by the French fifteenth-century artist Jean Fouquet, and compare its features with artefacts from diverse (including French) Acheulean handaxe assemblages. Commissioned by a high-status individual, Étienne Chevalier, Fouquet's work (jats:italicÉtienne Chevalier with Saint Stephen</jats:italic>) depicts an important religious context, while the handaxe-like object points to the stoning to death of an important Christian saint. Our results strongly support the interpretation that the painted stone object represents a flint Acheulean handaxe, likely sourced from northern France, where Fouquet lived. Identifying a fifteenth-century painting of a handaxe does not change what we know about Acheulean individuals, but it does push back the evidence for when handaxes became a prominent part of the ‘modern’ social and cultural world.</jats:p>



4301 Archaeology, 4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology

Journal Title

Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Cambridge University Press (CUP)